Onward Debates: Who is Penn State’s Biggest Rival?

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There’s no doubt that Penn State has a number of rivalries when it comes to the world of sports. Whether on the gridiron, the hardwood, or anywhere else, there are a select few teams that hype up the fan base and the players — whether or not they admit it’s more than “just another game” to the media — when they see the name on the schedule. A few of our writers came up with a shortlist that includes Ohio State, Michigan, Pitt, and Temple. Penn State Altoona was briefly considered but didn’t make the Final Four.

Without further ado, here’s Mike Reisman, Bill DiFilippo, Tim Gilbert, and Zach Berger debating Penn State’s biggest rival:

Pitt is Penn State’s Biggest Rival — Mike Reisman

There’s no way to beat a natural rivalry. It takes nothing to get started and even if it’s lopsided, it’s still a fun game. But when it comes to Penn State-Pitt, it’s so much more than that. It’s not just some nice game between two schools that happen to be somewhat near each other. It’s a rivalry that’s been around since 1893, facing two of the state’s biggest schools against each other in games that rarely disappoint.

This is a rivalry that was a staple in both teams’ schedules from 1900 to 1992, being played annually the Saturday after Thanksgiving and giving students from both schools a reason to come home early.

This is the rivalry that saw Penn State knock off Dan Marino and a previously undefeated Pitt team in 1981, thwarting the Panthers’ title hopes. It saw two 9-1 in a defensive struggle the next year, ending in a 19-10 Penn State win that led the Nittany Lions into the National Championship game.

This is a rivalry with a rich history of two schools, separated by only 115 miles, that just downright hate each other. There’s just something special about beating a school that close where, chances are, you know someone who you can make fun of for losing the next day. It’s everything a cross-state rivalry should have, that’s been building for over 100 years now.

While the rivalry hasn’t been quite as active lately, the next few years may revive the hate between the two schools, as Penn State and Pitt have a four game series scheduled, starting in 2016. While they may not be 1981-caliber, James Franklin may have lit a little fire underneath the Pitt football program by constantly saying his goal is to “#DominateTheState,” indirectly (or directly, maybe) calling out Pitt. While they may not address it directly, Pitt students, players and football staff know and hear these mantras. The next time these two play each other, Heinz Field should be a loud, intense battleground.

In the end, there’s just something about an in-state rivalry with more than 100 years of history that can’t be beat, even by Big Ten teams like Ohio State and Michigan. It’s a rivalry with incredible games in its history and it’s really a shame the University doesn’t push harder to get more games against Pitt in every sport.

Oh, and they claim 9 national titles, which is total bullshit. Also, 48-14 (never forget). Also, this.

Penn State’s Biggest Rival is Michigan — Bill DiFilippo

Let me get this out of the way right off of the bat: Penn State and Michigan are rivals, but Penn State’s hatred of Michigan is in no way reciprocated. The Wolverines save that hatred for Ohio State. If you want to say that Penn State’s biggest rival isn’t Michigan for that reason, I’d totally understand.

However, among Michigan, Ohio State, Pitt, and Temple, Penn State’s biggest rival is Michigan. My thinking:

  1. In order to be a rival, it needs to be a school that you play in every sport. Penn State plays Michigan and Ohio State in everything, and occasionally plays Pitt and Temple, which takes both schools out of the equation for me.
  2. In order to be a rival, it needs to be a school that you actually have competitive games/matches/meets against. When Penn State plays Pitt or Temple in basically any sport, you assume the Nittany Lions are going to annihilate the Panthers or Owls. With Ohio State and Michigan, it’s more of a toss up…well, unless it’s basketball.
  3. The opposing fans needs to be the absolute sphincters. Every fan base falls into this category.

Beyond athletics, Penn State’s rivalry with Michigan goes deeper. These are two of the premier academic universities in the country, two schools where their graduates will compete against each other in boardrooms and in offices for the best jobs in America. We always hear about the value of a Penn State degree, and how having it gives you a leg up on basically anyone else. Michigan is similar. Both schools will give you an excellent education and prepare you for what’s ahead.

Of course, these two schools don’t have the rich history that Penn State has with Pitt, the in-state rivalry that Penn State has with Temple, or the fact that one of the other schools is Ohio State in Penn State’s rivalry with Ohio State. However, for Penn State and Michigan, the rivalry is bigger than sports, and for that reason, it’s the biggest rivalry that Penn State has.

One last note: Michigan’s fake fight song is one of the best songs of all time, and it was made by a Penn State grad. It’s (insert whatever time it is at the moment here)…

It’s Temple. It’s Definitely Temple. — Tim Gilbert

Temple isn’t really a rival, it’s more of that guy who won’t shut up about something and never goes away even though you obviously don’t want to hang out with them.

I’ll explain: We’re objectively better than Temple at mostly everything, like academics (it’s not close), football, campus setting…I don’t need to list these. But because Temple’s basketball team is consistently better than ours, my Temple friends always use that as an argument point.

This year, Penn State is better, but Temple clearly has been a lot better recently — this will be the first season Temple doesn’t go dancing since 2007. The success of Temple’s basketball program is obviously not a valid argument that Penn State is somehow a worse school, but it’s pretty much all Temple has going for it in terms of colloquial arguments among friends. It’s all sorts of annoying.

We just need to make the tournament a couple of times so we can finally tap Temple on the head and send it on its way.

The answer is obviously The Ohio State University — Zach Berger

Before I get into the specifics and history of Penn State and Ohio State’s rivalry, just take a second and think about what team draws your ire the most when it comes to football. What team inspires hate weeks that take over Twitter leading up to Saturday football? What team would make you happier than any to see the Nittany Lions dismantle on the gridiron?

If you didn’t answer Ohio State to the above questions, that’s because your name is either Mike Reisman, Tim Gilbert, or Bill DiFilippo, my esteemed partners in this debate who all have one thing in common: They’re wrong.

Before Penn State joined the Big Ten, the rivalry between these two schools was essentially nonexistent. They had met a number of times, the first coming way back in 1912 when Penn State trounced the Buckeyes 37-0 on the road before winning the next three games of the series.

By the time that the Nittany Lions joined the conference in 1993, Penn State led 6-2 in all-time series. The best part of this rivalry is probably the number of high-profile matchups the teams have taken part in. In 1975, Penn State and Ohio State were ranked #7 and #3 respectively when they played and then #7 and #2 the next year. In 1978, a #5 Penn State team beat a #6 Ohio State team 19-0 on the road. They only met in postseason play one time, coming in the 1980 Fiesta Bowl. Penn State won 31-19.

There are a number of iconic games in Big Ten play since ’93. The first conference game they played mirrored this season’s matchup as Penn State won 63-14 on home turf, as opposed to a 63-14 loss in Columbus back in October. There’s the time that #3 Penn State travelled to Columbus in 2008 to win a close 13-6 matchup against the #10 Buckeyes or going a bit farther back, the 2005 game in which #18 Penn State topped #6 OSU 17-10 at home.

This series isn’t just about big games, though. It’s about the Paterno-Tressel rivalry as an undertone to the hatred between fans of both schools. There’s the fact that it’s about as close as a series gets, with Ohio State leading 16-13, although the NCAA counts that a little differently. There’s the fact that the game this past season drew the largest crowd in the history of the Shoe, proof that they consider Penn State to be their biggest rival or damn close to it. Hell, there’s even the fact that they just stole our most important assistant coach and the last remaining member of the Paterno era on staff.

Maybe I’m crazy and the fact that they aren’t in-state and the fact that they’ve whooped us over the last decade or so take away from the rivalry. But I’m sticking by my argument: Ohio State is without a doubt Penn State’s biggest rival on the football field, and no other sports really matter when you take into consideration that every football game in last 13 years between the teams has drawn at least 105,000 fans.

Photo By: Grant Brown

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