Despite three coaching changes and two interim head coaches, the Panthers have played in the postseason every year since 2008. That streak will be in peril in Pitt's season finale Saturday night at South Florida. The Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East) must win or their season will end.
A sixth victory likely would ensure a postseason berth, although the destination is to be determined.
"I love any time we get a chance to play more football," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "We've got to go earn it, and I like that part of it. When you go to a bowl you've done enough to earn the right to play another game and a chance, to selfishly, to be around some of these guys for one more game."
Playing in a bowl game is a nebulous success marker, especially for a coach in his first year at a program. Chryst spoke Monday of how teams only go to bowls if they reach a certain level of achievement.
But a bowl game also has some tangible benefits, and the one most coaches point to first is the 15 extra practice sessions bowl-eligible teams are afforded in December.
Those practices can even serve as a type of early spring camp, giving coaches a chance to work some younger players into the rotation.
Sixth-year offensive lineman Chris Jacobson said that, when the team made it to the Sun Bowl in 2008, he recalls the bowl practices being extra physical for younger players.
"We really got after it, the younger guys," Jacobson said. "The older guys had a break, so it was more like a spring ball. It was kind of rough actually. I feel bad for the younger guys."
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan said Chryst told the seniors that if they made a bowl game the coach would "take care of the older guys" in bowl preparation.
"I don't know what that entails, but hopefully when we beat South Florida, we'll get to experience it," Shanahan said.
While the younger players may be the ones putting in the work this December, a bowl appearance would have a lot of meaning for the Pitt seniors.
Even if it's another trip to Birmingham, Ala., for a third consecutive BBVA Compass Bowl, Shanahan said it's a special experience to go to a bowl game, and the way he would like to cap his college career.
"It would be huge," he said. "I think everything that the season has brought, inconsistency and stuff, I think it would be good to know that we were still able to reach a bowl game at the end."
First things first, though. The Panthers need to beat South Florida before they can start packing their bags for a postseason destination.
"Let's get this one and let's go to another bowl game," Jacobson said. "This one is for a bowl game, so here we go."pittsports
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.