Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett and Adam Rittenberg
It has been nine years since rivals Penn State and Pitt last played, and the debate about the discontinued series still rages in the Keystone State. When will they meet again? Not in the regular season any time soon. But there's a new subplot in the discussion this fall, as the Nittany Lions and Panthers are separated by just three spots in the BCS standings.
Both teams are playing their best football right now and remain alive in their respective conference title races. And maybe, just maybe, the 12th-ranked Lions and 15th-ranked Panthers will meet in a BCS bowl down the road. The big question: Which has the better team?
Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break it all down.
Adam Rittenberg: We already debated Iowa and Cincinnati. Now let's get really personal. There are enough fans on both sides who want to see the series resume, but we both know how BCS teams hate to part with home games. Any chance we see Penn State and Pitt meet in a BCS bowl game?
Brian Bennett: It's certainly possible that both teams get into the BCS. But I see the chances of them meeting in a bowl as slim. Penn State would have to be an at-large pick, since there's no way Pitt is going to the Rose Bowl, and the options are limited elsewhere. Plus, the game wouldn't generate a whole lot of interest outside of Pennsylvania, where it would be enormous.
The bigger question I have is, why aren't these two teams still playing in the regular season? All indications are that Pitt would welcome the resumption of the series. Panthers fans blame Joe Paterno for killing the rivalry. How much truth do you think there is to that?
Rittenberg: Paterno wasn't pleased when Pitt joined the Big East, which prevented him from forming a new conference with Eastern schools. Penn State also must play at least seven home games a year. That's non-negotiable. The Lions can't afford to lose revenue from cramming their enormous stadium and continue to play other attractive nonconference opponents (i.e. Alabama) unless Pitt agreed to a 2-for-1 with two games in State College. I know the fans don't like to hear it, but the two schools are in different financial positions, and Pitt plays one more non-league game (5) than Penn State.
We could talk about this all day, but let's get to the teams. How do you think Pitt matches up against Penn State?
Bennett: As with all the Big East contenders, you have to start on the offensive side of the ball. Those not playing close attention this year may view Pitt as a typical Dave Wannstedt, defensive-minded team. But the Panthers can really score and are averaging 34 points a game. They've got answers everywhere, from a terrific veteran offensive line, a true freshman back in Dion Lewis who's already gone over 1,000 yards, a stud receiver in Jonathan Baldwin, two top flight tight ends and a fifth-year senior quarterback, Bill Stull, who has made tremendous strides.
Defensively, Pitt has one of the top defensive front lines anywhere, with sack specialists Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard on the outside and bullrushing tackle Mick Williams on the inside. The Panthers have been exploited, however, in the passing game against the outside linebackers and the defensive backs, which is where I would think the Nittany Lions would attack with Daryll Clark.
But Penn State's offense hasn't been overly impressive this year. Has the Spread HD gone low def?
Rittenberg: Offense, offense, offense. That's all I hear from you, Bennett. Before getting to the Spread HD, which looks pretty good to me, let's talk a little D (you like my rhymes?).
Penn State's defense is simply dominant this season. I won't bore you with stats, but Penn State ranks in the top 10 nationally in seven major statistical categories, including No. 1 in points allowed (8.88 ppg). The defensive line is ferocious, led by tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu and budding star Jack Crawford at defensive end. Linebacker U. is back as Navorro Bowman and The 'Stache (Josh Hull) have been fabulous and Sean Lee is getting healthier each week. They would digest Lewis.
The Lions are getting better each week on offense as a new-look line jells. Clark and running back Evan Royster have been fabulous since the Iowa loss, and the new group of wide receivers has seen different stars emerge each week (Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Graham Zug). Tight end Andrew Quarless is a major matchup problem, and backup running back Stephfon Green can go the distance on any play.
Penn State might be the most complete team in the Big Ten right now. So what do you think? Who would win if these rivals decided to play this year?
Bennett: This why I'm glad I cover the Big East and not the Big Ten: I enjoy the forward pass and seeing teams score.
I'm with you on Penn State's defense -- it's stacked. That would probably be the difference in the Pennsylvania Bowl. Although I think Pitt could still move the ball, it likely wouldn't come anywhere close to its usual points total against the Nittany Lions, while that improving offense behind Clark would get the job done.
So I give the slight nod to Penn State as remaining the big dog in the state, but the gap is narrowing once again. Now, what can we do to talk these two teams into actually playing one another?
Rittenberg: I agree that Penn State would win the game, especially with the way the Nittany Lions are playing right now. The Big East doesn't have a defense ranked in the top 20 nationally, and the Nittany Lions' size and speed on that side would pose problems. Pitt's defensive line could hurt Penn State, but Clark still would make plays in the pass game. I've been very impressed with Pitt this year, as much as I'm reluctant to buy into Wanny-coached team (sorry, Bears fan here).
How do we get these two together again? I wonder if Pitt would be willing to do a 3-for-2. Otherwise, maybe they could meet at a neutral site and split the revenue. Or we could wait for Paterno to retire. On second thought, that'll never happen.