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: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/14/the-pitt-penn-state-rivalry-vastly-overrated/ 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: https://johnbaranowski.wordpress.com/