Commentary

Backyard Brawl got a little more heated after last year's contest

Originally Published: November 25, 2008
By Brian Bennett | ESPN.com

Like any good rivalry, the "Backyard Brawl" is based on proximity and history.

[+] EnlargePitt
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesPitt was able to spoil West Virginia's shot at the national title last season.
West Virginia and Pittsburgh have played each other since 1895, and the two campuses sit only about 70 miles apart. Their coaches often cross the same paths while recruiting the fertile western Pennsylvania high school scene.

"Kissing cousins" is how Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart describes the two programs.

"When you cross that border, it's time to get after it," Stewart said. "It's all the great things in football. I can't imagine a more exciting game being played any day."

Although it's true that Pittsburgh has long considered Penn State its top rival, those two schools stopped playing in 2000. Meanwhile, the Panthers and Mountaineers joined the Big East in the early 1990s, adding new importance to their series. In a league without a lot of tradition, West Virginia-Pittsburgh is easily the Big East's most-heated rivalry.

The Mountaineers won the first meeting 8-0 when coach Fielding Yost rounded up a group of professional ringers for his side. The series has featured plenty of stars over the years, including Pop Warner, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Amos Zereoue and Pat White.

Pitt holds the all-time series lead at 60-37-3, thanks in large part to a dominating 23-2 stretch from 1924 to 1951. West Virginia had owned a big edge in recent years -- until last season.

In the 100th edition of the series, Pittsburgh scored a 13-9 upset in Morgantown to knock the Mountaineers out of the BCS title game. What had been mostly a regional rivalry gained national significance that day, which ensured that the "Backyard Brawl" would remain a heated battle.

"That spiced up the rivalry a little bit more," Pitt senior linebacker Scott McKillop said. "It added some more lighter fluid to the fire. Any time you play a team for 100 years, it's pretty special."

Brian Bennett is ESPN.com's Big East football blogger.