Pitt focuses on facing South Florida

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Pitt (6-1, 3-0) is in first place in the Big East and ranked for the first time this season, but do not expect Dave Wannstedt or Panthers players to start talking about rankings or speculate about the road to a Big East Conference championship.

That is because Wannstedt knows nothing really matters at this point -- seven weeks into the season -- and all the Panthers' momentum will evaporate if they lose their homecoming game Saturday at Heinz Field against South Florida (5-1, 1-1).

"It's great to be recognized when you win some games," Wannstedt said of being ranked at his weekly news conference yesterday. "But, trust me, that will not be a discussion in this locker room and with our players. Our guys couldn't care less.

"I think it's great for our conference, and people now are looking and they know the quality of football that we play.

"That's the good part, but you see that Sunday, and that's the end of it."

Wannstedt's message clearly has reached the players as all four players interviewed yesterday -- quarterback Bill Stull, safety Dom DeCicco, fullback Henry Hynoski and linebacker Adam Gunn -- shared similar sentiments about being focused on the Bulls.

Another reason for that is that Pitt began the 2006 season 6-1 and appeared ready for a run at the Big East championship. Then, the Panthers lost a home game to Rutgers and never won again, finishing 6-6.

Wannstedt quickly dismissed the idea the Panthers could repeat such a collapse nor did he buy the idea that there was any parallel between this year and 2006.

"If you hadn't told me, I wouldn't have remembered to be quite honest with you," Wannstedt said when asked about the 2006 start as compared to this year. "We hadn't beaten Louisville since 1983 on the road. We hadn't beaten Rutgers in five years. And we did it.

"So, this is a different football team. It's a different year. Those things really have no bearing on what we're doing."

Gunn said there are two differences between this team and the '06 team, explaining that the earlier team was not as talented as this team nor did it have the leadership this team does.

"Rankings are nice, but what have we really accomplished? Nothing," Gunn said. "We haven't done anything yet and we're not happy with where we are at. [In 2006,] we got complacent, we got comfortable. This year, we won't be happy until the end of the season.

"This team has some of the greatest leadership and camaraderie, and we are all in this together and that is what makes this team special."

Pitt will have its hands full with South Florida, which is why the Panthers are so focused this early in the week. The Bulls are fast, physical, athletic and, as Wannstedt said yesterday, "extremely explosive at a lot of positions."

The Panthers will have to play much better this week than last and eliminate the mistakes they made which almost enabled Rutgers to come from behind and beat them.

Wannstedt said the Panthers are still a work in progress but have shown they are a good team by winning games when they have not played their best.

"I don't think you'd find a coach in the country that would say 'we've arrived,' but we've got a good football team," Wannstedt said.

"A good enough football team that you find a way to overcome those mistakes. The difference between good football teams and great football teams are cleaning those little things up. That's the difference."

Paul Zeise can be reached at pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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