Ranking Iowa's 2014 football games: No. 6 Pittsburgh

Panthers and road-openers have been tough on Hawkeyes

The Panthers. And a panther. (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)
The Panthers. And a panther. (Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports)

This is a 12-to-1 countdown of Iowa’s most-appealing football games this season. No. 1 is the most-appealing. We started with No. 12 Ball State. Purdue was No. 11, Northern Iowa No. 10, Iowa State No. 9, Indiana No. 8, Illinois No. 7. All previous posts in this countdown can be found here.

No. 6 — Sept. 20: At Pittsburgh

Here’s an oddity: Pittsburgh plays ACC football, but won’t face Florida State, Clemson or Louisville.

Here’s another: Iowa plays Big Ten football, but won’t play Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan.

But Iowa and Pitt will play each other, at Heinz Field in one of America’s great cities, Pittsburgh. There’s no sarcasm there. I think Pittsburgh is a city with a lot of charm.

Although Pittsburgh is no longer a steel mill town, it’s sure still a football town. If you think you see a lot of black-and-gold on an Iowa home football weekend, spend a weekend in Pittsburgh during the NFL season.

Iowa played at Pitt six years ago. As I arrived downtown on the day before the game, I was stunned by how many Hawkeyes fans were already on the streets of Pittsburgh. Then I realized, no, those were people wearing Steelers garb.

At the airport on that Sunday morning, many of the airline employees were wearing Steelers jerseys.

The Pitt Panthers’ football heritage is fairly rich, but not so much lately. The last three seasons were 6-7, 6-7, 7-6. But they’ll probably get better. Paul Chryst, who was Bret Bielema’s right-hand man (and offensive coordinator) at Wisconsin, is in his third year as Pitt’s head coach. He needs to find a reliable quarterback, but has an excellent 1-2 punch at running back in James Conner and Isaac Bennett, who both almost had 800 yards last year.

This is the third meeting between the two teams in the Kirk Ferentz era. In 2008, Pitt won 21-20 at Heinz. That game had running backs, folks. Iowa had Shonn Greene, the Panthers had LeSean McCoy.

Three years later in Iowa City, junior James Vandenberg threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes as the Hawkeyes rallied from a 27-10 deficit early in the fourth-quarter for a 31-27. Vandenberg passed for 399 yards that day. It came the game after Iowa had dropped a three-overtime, 44-41 decision at Iowa State.

Without that win, Iowa might have been 6-7 instead of 7-6 (depending on its bowl game and opponent), and that would have been the start of two straight losing seasons.

So every game matters, even those in the nonconference.

By the way, Iowa is 4-6 in its last 10 true road-openers, and this is Iowa’s road-opener.

Pitt, meanwhile, will be playing this game the week after it played at Florida International. Iowa played Florida International in Iowa City six years ago. Isn’t it about time for a return game in Miami?

But, noooo. As someone who covers the Hawkeyes, do I ever get road games in Miami or Las Vegas or Honolulu or Dublin? Uh uh. Pittsburgh, yes.

Which is OK because, like I said, Pittsburgh is charming. And it’s not Syracuse.

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