How has Pitt Football fared against the Big 10 Conference?

In 1939, the University of Chicago discontinued its football program as it had not won a Big 10 Conference game since 1936, and the university decided to de-emphasize athletics, and in 1946, the University of Chicago withdrew from the Big 10 Conference.

With nine members, schools such as Iowa State, Marquette, Michigan State, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Pitt, yes, Pitt were hoping to become the conference’s 10th member.

Pitt coveted joining the Big 10 and began playing Big 10 schools in earnest. In the 1940’s and early ‘50s, Big 10 schools were frequent Pitt opponents on the gridiron. In 1941, 1946, 1949, 1950, and 1951, Pitt football played four Big 10 teams each season. In 1945, Pitt played five Big 10 schools, and in 1947, Pitt played six Big 10 teams, and just like the University of Chicago, Pitt fared poorly against Big 10 teams. From 1940 through mid-way through the 1947 season, Pitt lost 24 consecutive games against Big 10 teams. In 1950, Michigan State was added to replace the University of Chicago as a conference member.

Pitt football fans often deride the Big 10 as being overrated in part to not give any credit to their hated rival Penn State for playing in a more difficult football conference, but how has Pitt fared against each team from the Big 10 Conference since 1972 as well as all-time?  I selected 1972 as that year the Panthers under Head Coach Johnny Majors became relevant and respectable and would go on to have the Panthers greatest years since the 1930’s.

ILLINOIS – Pitt is 2-6 all-time against the Illini, but since 1972, Pitt has a 2-0 record against Illinois with the last meeting taking place in 1982. Pitt won the last two games in 1981 and 1982, but in the prior five meetings from 1944-1967, all Pitt losses, Pitt never managed to score more than seven points against the Illini.

INDIANA – Another one of the weak sisters of the Big 10 yet Pitt all-time is only 2-7 against the Hoosiers – in football! Go figure. The last time Pitt faced Indiana was in 1952 with Pitt winning 28-7 at Pitt Stadium.

IOWA – Against the Iowa Hawkeyes, Pitt all-time is 3-4 and only 1-3 since 1972. Iowa has won the last three meetings between the two schools with the last game taking place in 2015.

MARYLAND – The Maryland Terrapins joined the Big 10 Conference in 2014 and have not played Pitt since 1992. Pitt is 2-3 all-time against Maryland and lost their last meeting to Maryland 47-34 at Pitt. For a school that’s relatively close for fans of both schools to make this road trip, it’s surprising Pitt hasn’t faced Maryland in over 25 years and only six times total all-time.

MICHIGAN – It’s only 283 miles from the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to Heinz Field. With Pitt often clamoring for help with attendance, it would seem having Michigan Wolverine fans come visit Pittsburgh would happen occasionally. That is not the case whatsoever. Pitt has played Michigan only twice all-time, both times in Ann Arbor, with the scores being 40-0 in 1941 and 69-0 in 1947 in Michigan’s favor. Apparently, being defeated 109-0 taught the Panthers not to play the Wolverines ever again.

MICHIGAN STATE – Who doesn’t love a former assistant coach going up against his former boss and head coach?  Michigan State would certainly spark that intrigue in having Pitt Head Coach Pat Narduzzi going up against his former boss and Michigan State Head Coach Mark Dantonio. Current Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi was Dantonio’s defensive coordinator before taking the head coaching job at Pitt. Pitt has a 0-6-1 all-time record against Michigan State with the last meeting taking place in 2007. Since 1972, Pitt is 0-2 against the Spartans.

MINNESOTA – The Minnesota Golden Gophers could well be Pitt Panthers midwestern sibling. Both play in a city of comparable size that has a long-established NFL team. Minnesota had great success before World War II as did Pitt. The University of Minnesota stopped playing in their on-campus stadium in 1982 and began playing in the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and demolished their on-campus football stadium in 1992 and came to regret having to play in an off-campus professional football stadium. Minnesota learned the error of their ways and returned the football program back to campus where it belongs and built a beautiful on-campus stadium in 2009. Pitt has a 3-9 record all-time against Minnesota and is 2-0 since 1972 with the last meeting in 1992.

NEBRASKA – Nebraska is 15-6-3 all-time against Pitt but only joined the Big 10 Conference in 2011 and has not played Pitt as a Big 10 member. The Cornhuskers have visited Heinz Field and won both of their recent two meetings against Pitt in 2004 and 2005. Prior to that, Pitt last faced Nebraska in 1958.

NORTHWESTERN – A perennial doormat from the early ‘70s to the mid ‘90s until Gary Barnett took over at Northwestern in 1995, the Wildcats have defeated Pitt in four of the seven meetings between the two schools all-time. Since 1972, Pitt is 1-2 having against Northwestern losing in 1972 and again in their most recent meeting most recently, in the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl 31-24. Pitt defeated Northwestern 21-14 in 1973.

OHIO STATE – Along with Michigan, Ohio State was the other half of the big two little eight for so many years in the Big 10. Pitt is 5-19-1 all-time against the Buckeyes, but only 1-6 since 1972 with the last game between the two schools in 1996 in which Ohio State won 72-0. Much like the blowout losses against Michigan, Pitt has wanted no part of Ohio State since 1996. It’s a shame because Buckeye Nation would certainly bring a lot of fans to Heinz Field.

PENN STATE – Even before the four-game series with Penn State took place, I predicted and wrote in: that the Nittany Lions would lose the first game of the four-game series and then win the next three as Penn State head coach James Franklin improved Penn State’s recruiting and that Pitt’s recruiting was not keeping pace and it became evident on the field in three consecutive losses.

Pitt is 43-53-4 all-time against Penn State but only 2-6 since 1997 when Penn State started playing a Big 10 schedule. Pitt has lost 10 of the past 12 games against Penn State and Pitt’s last win at Beaver Stadium was seven games and 31 years ago.

PURDUE – Pitt has a 3-4 record all-time against the Boilermakers and has a 2-0 record against Purdue since 1972 winning in 1985 and 1986.

RUTGERS – Pitt is 22-8 all-time against its former Big East foe Rutgers but since Rutgers has joined the Big 10 in 2014, the Scarlet Knights have not faced Pitt on the gridiron. The last time these two schools met was in 2012 and Pitt was victorious 27-6.

WISCONSIN –  Pitt’s next scheduled taste of Big 10 football will be when the Panthers visit Camp Randall in 2026 and the Badgers come to Heinz Field in 2027.  No need to remind Pitt fans that the Badgers are coached by former Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst and what an interesting storyline that presents provided Chryst is still head coach at Wisconsin. The Panthers are 3-0 all-time versus Wisconsin all-time and last faced the Badgers in 1967 in Madison, Wisconsin.

Pitt’s overall record against the Big 10 since 1972 is 11-19 for a winning percentage of .367. To recap Pitt versus the Big 10 since 1972: Illinois 2-0, Iowa 1-3, Michigan State 0-2, Minnesota 2-0, Northwestern 1-2, Ohio State, 1-6, Penn State 2-6 and Purdue 2-0.

Pitt, while playing in the Big East Conference, often called the Big Least Conference, only managed to win one conference title in 22 seasons (1991-2012) and that was in a four-way tie for first place in 2004.  If that’s all the success Pitt could manage against the likes of West Virginia, Connecticut, Syracuse and Boston College, imagine how would Pitt fare against Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State every year?

If Pitt were in the Big 10 Conference, Pitt would obviously be in the Big 10 East division and instead of playing Georgia Tech, Miami and Virginia Tech as they do every year in the ACC, in addition to facing Penn State, the Panthers would play Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State annually. Pitt’s record against those three schools since 1972 is 1-8 and 5-27-2 all-time. The winning percentage for that is .111 since 1972 and .176 all-time. If you include the games against Penn State, another Big 10 East team that Pitt would certainly play annually instead of Duke, since 1972 Pitt is 3-14 against those four Big 10 East schools for a winning percentage of .176. Pitt fans should be very thankful they’re in the ACC Coastal division and not in the Big 10 East.

When Pitt fans discredit the Big 10 Conference, they look like the 98-lb. weakling saying they could beat a professional wrestler. Talk is cheap and if Pitt fans are going to talk-the-talk, they should at least be able to back it up and walk-the-walk and past and recent history has shown that they have not done that against Big 10 teams recently or for that matter, ever.

 John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

Photo credit: pennstatenews on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The Flaw in Claiming the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are the Greatest College Football Team Ever

When the discussion comes up about which is the greatest college football team of all-time, some college football fans will say it was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team. If you ask them why, invariably you will hear, “Look at all those players that went on to play in the NF….” Stop right there!

What does that have to do with how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes performed on the field in 2001? Absolutely nothing. You judge a team on what it did on the field THAT year and THAT year alone. Period. Future performance does not influence or change any game results that took place in the past.

Some of those players on that team may have become farmers, plumbers, accountants, janitors, or 400-pound slobs. That doesn’t detract what happened on the field in 2001. Nor should what any players from that team accomplished after 2001 aid in judging that team.

All that matters when you’re judging a team from a particular year is what they accomplished THAT YEAR and nothing else. Nothing else. Why is that such a hard concept to understand? Yet so many use that argument in trying to claim the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were the greatest college football team of all-time.

Using that same argument, if some little league team had Mike Trout and Bryce Harper on it, then that team had to the be the greatest little league team ever having two future major league baseball stars on it, right? Or in the Hurricanes’ case, how does what some of their players did in 2010 make what they did in 2001 better?

Florida State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward opted to play in the National Basketball Association rather than the National Football League. Does that in any way diminish what he accomplished in college?

Then how and why does what someone did after their college career, in this case the Miami Hurricanes football team in 2001, affect the results of what occurred and how those performances and results are evaluated? It shouldn’t and to those that think it does, that is a fallacy and a misperception. What occurred after 2001 should not influence how the 2001 Miami Hurricanes are judged.

Spare me the “look at all those players they had that went on to play in the NFL” argument like Willis McGahee who only rushed for 314 yards for the Hurricanes in 2001 or tight end Kellen Winslow who had only two receptions in 2001. Those future NFL players were non-factors on that 2001 Miami squad.

If you want to say they were the most-talented college football team ever, I have no qualms about that. Perhaps they were. They were a great football team but they struggled against 14th-ranked Virginia Tech barely winning 26-24 with Ed Reed making a game-saving interception erasing Virginia Tech’s last threat.

The Hurricanes also struggled against an unranked Boston College team winning 18-7 in a game that was much closer than the final score indicated. Miami failed to score an offensive touchdown in the entire game against Boston College and the Golden Eagles played without William Green, the nation’s leading rusher, and gave “the greatest college football team of all time” all they could handle.

With Miami clinging to a 12-7 lead in the game’s final minute, BC drove to Miami’s nine-yard line but quarterback Brian St. Pierre’s pass was intercepted by defensive tackle Matt Walters. Reed took the ball from Walters and ran it back for Miami’s only touchdown with only 13 seconds left in the game.

A team laden with that kind of talent shouldn’t have struggled against any team they faced. The highest-ranked team Miami faced was fourth-ranked Nebraska which had a largely one-dimensional offense. The Cornhuskers were the only top-ten team the Hurricanes faced that season. That’s not Miami’s fault but that’s just how their schedule played out.

You judge a team solely on what it did that year on the field of play and by that criteria, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes were great, but by no means were they the best college football team of all-time.  

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog:

Photo credit: jcsizmadi on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA


Big Mo, Little Mo and Cookie

On Sunday, September 8th, the Valley News Dispatch published a letter to the editor I had submitted regarding the Highlands School District not recognizing Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski and the 1953 Har-Brack Tigers football team.  The Valley News Dispatch has a 250-word limit for publication which limits additional description and greater detail.

As a side note, I sent the letter to each member of the Highland School Board and never received a response from anyone. Below is the letter in its entirety as originally written:

It is a fairly common practice that school districts recognize outstanding achievements by their students and sports teams often in trophy cases, with photos, signs and/or on the high school gymnasium wall, etc. Some communities display signs as well welcoming visitors and displaying, “Welcome to (town name), Home of (the individuals name or their school district’s team’s accomplishment.)

There are three individuals that grew up within the Highlands School District in the small towns of Natrona and Brackenridge, that reached the highest level of their sport, and to my knowledge there is no displayed recognition of their accomplishments within the Highlands School District. Those individuals are: Cookie Gilchrist, Dick Modzelewski and Ed Modzelewski.

The list of their accomplishments are as follows:

Cookie Gilchrist

Five-time Canadian Football League All-Star

Four-time American Football League All-Star

First 1,000-yard rusher in AFL history

Led the AFL in Rushing in 1962 and 1964

1962 American Football League Most Valuable Player

Set AFL single-game rushing record with 243 yards against the NY Jets

Member of the All-Time American Football League Team.

Member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame


Dick Modzelewski – “Little Mo”

Two-time Football All-American at the University of Maryland

1952 Outland Trophy winner as the nation’s premier college lineman

Named to the National Football League Pro Bowl 1964

Set NFL record playing for 180 consecutive games

Coached in the NFL for 12 years

Elected to the College Football Hall of Fame 1993

Member of the National Polish Sports Hall of Fame


Ed Modzelewski – “Big Mo”

Football All-American University of Maryland 1951

1952 Sugar Bowl Most Valuable Player

1952 First Round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers and sixth pick overall in the draft

The Highlands School District is remiss in not recognizing these individuals for their outstanding athletic achievement. I’m unaware of any visible recognition within the football stadium or on school district grounds recognizing their achievements.

If one counters that was then as Har-Brack and it is now Highlands, let me point out that the Pittsburgh Pirates recognize outstanding players from the Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords as well as former Pirates that never set foot in PNC Park. These three gentlemen were born, raised and attended school within the school district.

How many outstanding Division One collegiate and professional athletes has a larger and incorporated Highlands School District produced? I’m unaware of any, yet here are three from Natrona and Brackenridge that go unrecognized that could serve as inspiration to our current and future student- athletes that the highest levels of achievement are indeed attainable.

This is not just an opportunity to honor these former residents of the community but also an opportunity to inform, educate and inspire the young people of the district that they too can reach the highest level of their chosen profession, and isn’t that what school districts are supposed to do?

That also applies for the 1953 Har-Brack football team, a team that was Co-WPIAL Class AAA champion in 1953. How many WPIAL championship football teams has Highlands produced?  None.  Perhaps if the players knew it has been done by their predecessors it might serve to inspire them that it can be done again.

Perhaps a sign could be displayed on the football stadium press box or beneath the electronic scoreboard, paid for by sponsors and/or donors so that the school district bears no cost, that recognizes these three individuals and the 1953 Har-Brack football team for their outstanding athletic achievements.

It’s never too late to do the right thing.


John Baranowski

Highlands Class of ‘80

John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites. This and other articles written by him can be found on his blog: