Pitt is getting a better idea, or at least closer to finalizing what its 2012 football schedule will look like thanks to a couple of significant developments on Thursday.
Originally, as part of the 2012 non-conference schedule, Pitt had an arrangement with Central Florida. Pitt was forced to back out of the arrangement, in order to make room for TCU coming into the Big East. TCU, of course, was seemingly let out of any obligation after announcing its intention to join the league for 2012. They are off the Big XII instead, followed by West Virginia. Pitt would be the school most affected by this. The Panthers were forced to miss out on essentially three big-time home opponents. In exchange, Pitt will host FCS opponent Gardner-Webb. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson gave an explanation of how the previous arrangement was supposed to work, in a meeting with some local media last month.
"The decision that the Big East made—as I've said before—without consulting us and discussing any ramifications and letting TCU go without any waiting period, it really threw everything into a state of flux," Pederson said. "Here we were, we made plans, TCU was coming here this year. I didn't like doing it because we went and bought ourselves out of a game with Central Florida. The Central Florida people were very nice and understanding, and I explained the situation (making room for TCU on the schedule). (UCF) Coach (George) O'Leary and the people there were really good about saying, ‘we're okay with it.' It probably wasn't great in their mind. We bought our way out of that and make room for TCU, and all of a sudden, (TCU) is gone. Now, we're working diligently to fix a hole in the schedule, and I hope we're able to do that shortly."
Gardner-Webb is led by second-year head coach Ron Dickerson, Jr. His father, obviously of the same name, was a former head coach at Temple. Both are distant relatives of former Pitt tight end Dorin Dickerson. Defensive coordinator Tony Pierce served as an assistant to Johnny Majors in 1995 and 1996. Dickerson Jr. led the Fighting Bulldogs to a 4-7 record in his first season at the helm.
A month later, Pederson is able to rest a little easier, as it appears he's got the home side of the schedule out. Pitt, and the rest of the Big East members await the exact dates of their conference games. The home and away teams have been determined.
Pitt will open the 2012 season with Youngstown State. The Panthers most recently opened the 2009 season against the Penguins—a 38-3 win on September 5. Pitt also played the Penguins in 2005, a 41-0 win that season.
The Panthers get a glimpse of a familiar foe, yet one that will be an ACC Coastal rival in the Virginia Tech Hokies. The two schools had several memorable games while both members of the Big East from 1993-2003. The Panthers only won four of those 11 games, but did win the last three in a row including a 38-7 romp in 2001, when the Hokies were No. 12. Pitt went to Blacksburg the following year for a 28-21 win, highlighted by a 52-yard run from Tim Murphy that led to a game-tying touchdown. Lousaka Polite's fourth-quarter touchdown in the 2003 meeting propelled the Panthers 31-28, the last time the two teams met.
Pitt also gets a return trip to Buffalo. Despite the schools only being a few hours apart, this marks the fourth meeting in the last five seasons and just the fourth meeting in school history. Pitt won the last matchup in Buffalo—the second game in 2009—in an offensive shootout, 54-27.
The Panthers also continue one of their oldest rivalries, with a return trip to Notre Dame. The two teams have met 67 times, with Pitt trailing the all-time series 20-46-1. The last four meetings have been decided by six points or less—each team winning two games apiece. The teams have met every year since 2008 in this latest run.
Here is what the 2012 schedule looks like for now:
Sept. 1 Youngstown State Sept. 15 Virginia Tech Sept. 22 Gardner-Webb Oct. 6 at Buffalo Nov. 3 at Notre Dame
Then, there's the Big East side of it. The Conference announced the re-addition of Temple. The Owls were charter members of the football conference when play began in 1991. They were removed after the 2004 season, and eventually re-surfaced as a member of the MAC. The Owls have put together a pair of impressive seasons, going a combined 26-12 the last three seasons, with two of those being nine-win seasons. The two teams last met in 2004, a 27-22 Pitt win. Prior to Temple leaving the Big East, the Panthers had won the last six meetings. Though nothing official has been announced, it's likely that Temple—being an in-state opponent on the schedule, would be the most obvious choice for the slot vacated by West Virginia—the regular season finale.
"We congratulate our in-state friends at Temple on their move to the Big East and are pleased to welcome them back to Heinz Field this fall," Pederson said. "With Temple joining the league for football in 2012, our full schedule is now complete. The non-conference portion was recently finalized with an agreement to play Gardner-Webb."
Here are the home and away conference opponents for 2012: