A Viewers Guide to the River City Rivalry

Paul SieversAnalyst INovember 20, 2008

Much is being made about this weekends slate of games in college football. With conference titles up for grabs in the ACC, Big 12 and Mountain West it is understandable how the River City Rivalry might get overlooked. But on Saturday night if Oklahoma/Texas Tech turns into a blowout (could happen) and if Maryland/Florida State is unwatchable (highly probable) then the River City Rivalry might be your best viewing option. Unless, of course you’re one of those people who goes out and does things on Saturday Nights. If not, here is a guide to the game.


I have never heard of the River City Rivalry, who plays in it?

Oh, you mean the game’s reputation does not precede itself? It is Pitt versus Cincinnati, two schools separated by 250 miles of Ohio River.


Why should I watch? What is at stake in this game?

The winner of this game wins the River City Rivalry Trophy which is a six foot tall replica of a riverboat telegraph which apparently was used to signal the engine room of the old riverboats that would travel the Ohio. I was lucky enough to be on hand in 2005 when they began awarding this trophy to the winner. Basically it consisted of the wildly apathetic Pitt players gathering around what looks like a 6 foot tall sex toy and flipping the switch over to the Pitt side of the dial. 

When asked about the rivalry this week Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop gave the political answer “We’ve been lucky enough to have the trophy the past three years. … No matter what the trophy looks like, we want to keep it in-house. I just wish we could pick it up and carry it around, but it’s a little bit heavy.” I don’t know about you but it sounds like a lot of pride is on the line in this one.

Oh yea, the winner of this game will also take the lead in the Big East standings and have the inside track to the confrence's BCS bowl birth. You know, if you care about that type of stuff.


Sounds interesting, give me a brief history of the rivalry.

Well, good thing you aren’t asking for an extensive history because this rivalry is a fairly recent development. The teams have only met seven times dating back to 1922. Pitt has won each of the seven meetings in this rivalry. In fact prior to 2005 before Cincinnati joined the Big East, the two schools had only played each other four times over 83 years.


Well that doesn’t sound like there is much deep-seated hatred. Is there some recent bad blood between these two teams?

Well, not really. In fact I think the answer is no. There have not really been any altercations between the two squads in the past few years and the games have not been overly memorable.

The fans aren’t exactly down each others throats either. Ask any Pitt fan who their rivals are and the three most popular answers will almost certainly be West Virginia, Penn State and Notre Dame. In fact most of my friends from Pitt didn’t even know this was a rivalry game until I told them about this article.

I have never met any Cincinnati fans but I would imagine the sentiments are the same. Sure Bengals fans hate the Steelers but the UC Bearcats already have natural rivals in Louisville and Miami (OH), both of whom play the Bearcats for a trophy as well. I would imagine Cincinnati fans probably feel more ill will towards Ohio State and West Virginia as well but like I said I’ve never met any Bearcat fans so if you’re out there, please educate us.


So there’s no history nor any bad blood, it sounds kind of manufactured to me.

Ding Ding Ding!!!


OK, it’s still a conference game with BCS implications; break down the Xs and Os.

Brian Kelly has done an amazing job with Cinci this year. The team has used five quarterbacks and still leads the Big East in passing yards per game. The Bearcats feature Dominick Goodman and Marty Gillard who rank second and third in the conference in receiving yards per game. These two will be a match up nightmare for Pitt’s secondary which has struggled this season.

This puts a ton of pressure on Pitt’s defensive line and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett. It will be essential for Pitt to continue to get good pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Pitt leads the conference in sacks per game despite rarely showing more than a basic four man rush. If for any reason the Pitt front four fail to get adequate pressure then Coach Bennett will have to get creative with some blitz packages.

On the other side of the ball, much has been made about Pitt running back LeSean McCoy but the Pitt offensive attack is fairly balanced. Cincinnati will have the luxury of committing their front seven to the stopping McCoy as they feature lockdown corners Mike Mickens and DeAngelo Smith (wow, those names sound like they are straight out of the Madden name generator).

If Cincinnati can stop McCoy then Pitt will look to test the experienced Bearcat secondary with 6’6” freak of nature freshman Jonathan Baldwin who nobody has had an answer for so far this season.

Another match up to look out for is Pitt’s kickoff coverage versus Cincinnati’s return game. Marty Gillard is the top return man in the conference but freshman Andrew Taglianetti spearheads a Panther coverage unit that has been stellar of late.

Aside from Gillard, special teams would seem to favor Pitt as the Panthers boast Lou Groza award finalist Connor Lee and a kick block unit that has blocked seven kicks so far this season.

Cincinnati is the home team, seems to match up well with Pitt and also appears to be a team of destiny. But both teams are hot and you know what they say about all rivalry games, real or fictitious. You can throw all the numbers out the window.


Well, why didn’t you mention that part in the beginning! Now you can sign me up, where do I watch?

If you are in the Cincinnati area, the game will be played at Nippert Stadium on the UC campus. It is the oldest stadium in Division 1-A (FBS) football and, by all accounts, a great place to watch a game. For everyone else, the game will be nationally televised on ESPN2; kickoff is at 7:15 p.m.