Say what you will about the state of the rivalry, but Pitt could do Penn State a favor this week against the Fighting Irish.
Penn State may have been off this past weekend after the tough home loss to Ohio State the previous week, but the Nittany Lions jumped up a few spots in the major polls this week anyway. Losses taken by Oklahoma and LSU knocked the Sooners and Tigers from the ranks of the unbeaten and Auburn took their second loss of the year, thanks to Joe Moorhead and Mississippi State. All three teams were ranked ahead of Penn State in the AP and coaches poll before their losses and now all three have fallen behind the Nittany Lions.
There was one team that managed to stay comfortably ahead of Penn State; Notre Dame. Behind the quarterback play of Ian Book and a defense that continues to thrive, the Irish went into Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia and avoided any threat of an upset by Virginia Tech. And because the Hokies couldn’t throw Penn State and any other playoff hopeful a bone by handing Notre Dame their first loss of the year, the Irish have quickly become a valid threat to make the College Football Playoff at the end of the season.
Although Notre Dame will have plenty of travel to take on in the second half of the season with two trips to California to play Navy in San Diego and a regular season finale at USC in addition to playing a game at Northwestern and at Yankee Stadium against Syracuse. Notre Dame will have just one home game after this coming weekend for the rest of the season, but the flow of this season suggests Notre Dame will be a favorite in every game left for them to play before the College Football Playoff selection committee must make their decision.
Will you root for Pitt?
Picking up the pom-pom for a rival school is rarely easy, and this week’s game in South Bend likely will not see too many Penn State fans actively rooting for Pitt. But it is clear that Pitt could lend Penn State a giant helping hand this weekend.
Notre Dame is a 21-point favorite against the Panthers, so it goes without much argument a Panthers victory would be a stunner. Remember that Pitt has already been dominated against ranked opponents this season with their 51-6 loss at Penn State in Week 2 and their 45-14 loss a couple of weeks ago at UCF. Now the Panthers are once again on the road to play an undefeated ranked team.
Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi says he is not focusing on talking about pulling off any major upsets as Pitt has done in recent years (beating Clemson in 2016 and Miami in 2017), nor should he. Pitt’s very recent history of winning a game against a playoff contender will surely be mentioned by some, but expecting them to do it once a year is unfair. However, if they managed to do it this weekend against Notre Dame, the Panthers would be doing a lot of good for teams like Penn State.
As previously outlined, Penn State still has a chance to remain on the College Football Playoff radar, even if Ohio State goes on to run the table and win the Big Ten. At 11-1, Penn State would be on the bubble for a playoff spot should one of the four spots open up. For now, getting Notre Dame out of the way is essential, and one loss could potentially be enough to make it a possibility. Given Penn State’s only loss is a one-point setback against Ohio State, the Nittany Lions could potentially have the upper hand if compared against a Notre Dame team that, hypothetically speaking, loses at home to a team Penn State squashed by 45 points. Keep in mind, Penn State would also have a win over Michigan (on the road) to add to the like-opponents comparing-and-contrasting between Penn State and Notre Dame.
You see how things could get interesting if Pitt pulls the stunner in South Bend? And that doesn’t even bring up the possibility Pitt manages to sneak into the top 25 by the end of the season. At 3-3, Pitt getting into the top 25 is an uphill climb, but a win on the road against a No. 5 Notre Dame helps Pitt head in that direction. Home games against Duke and Virginia Tech and a road game at Virginia are no guarantees either way, but what if the Panthers started stringing together some wins after last week’s win against a Syracuse team that gave Clemson a good run?
Pitt making an appearance in the top 25 would be of help to Penn State too.
UCF is rooting for Pitt too
Of course, what is good for Penn State is also good for a program like UCF. Every team wanting to get a spot in the College Football Playoff is hoping for Notre Dame to lose at some point. A Pittsburgh win would help out UCF in many the same ways it would Penn State.
Like Penn State, UCF owns a blowout win over the Panthers so they could use that to their advantage as well against Notre Dame (especially if we are looking at an undefeated UCF at the end of the season). UCF could also get a boost from Navy upsetting Notre Dame, as it would help boost the AAC a little bit more.
UCF is only two spots behind Penn State in the AP poll and one spot behind in the coaches poll. If both continue to win games, we will see how the selection committee is viewing everything at the end of the month. At that time, we will learn just how realistic of a shot UCF may have at a spot in the College Football Playoff. But for Penn State and UCF, the more Pitt wins, the better.
Michigan State, Michigan State, Michigan State…
This should go without saying, but any talk about whether or not Penn State fans should be pulling for Notre Dame opponents is pointless if the Nittany Lions do not take care of their own business. This week, that means scoring revenge on Michigan State, the second of two teams to beat Penn State last season and the one team that essentially slammed the door completely shut on Penn State’s playoff chances (as remote as they may have been anyway).
As it turns out, Penn State faces the Spartans under slightly similar conditions from a year ago, coming off a fourth-quarter meltdown resulting in a one-point loss to Ohio State. The difference this year, of course, is Penn State gets the game against Michigan State at home and the Nittany Lions are coming off a bye week to regroup after the last game. Michigan State also makes the trip to Happy Valley looking disorganized on offense after suffering a loss at home to Northwestern.
As stated previously, Penn State has to win the rest of their games in order to even entertain the thought of getting invited to the College Football Playoff. Even then, a bunch of things likely need to happen out of their control anyway. Focusing on one game at a time as they come is the only way to go from here. WIn all of the remaining games and then see how the dust settles around the rest of the nation at the end of the season.
But as a fan, you can feel free to root to your heart’s content for whatever gives your team the best chance to make the playoff. It just so happens that this week may have to include pulling at least a slight bit for Pitt.