Pitt coach Chryst is re-energized with trip team earned

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Pitt fans might be somewhat disappointed that the Panthers are heading to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., for a third consecutive season, but don't count coach Paul Chryst among that group.

Like the rest of the public, Chryst didn't know where his team was heading until Sunday. He was pleased when he heard the news.

"I am excited," he said. "I think that guys did enough, we earned the right to play again. I'm excited about that and appreciative of that."

The Panthers will take on Mississippi at noon Jan. 5 at Legion Field. Chryst said he has only begun to do preliminary work on the Rebels, but is impressed with their resume. Mississippi (6-6, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) lost to No. 10 Texas A&M, 30-27, Oct. 6, and fell to No. 9 LSU, 31-25, Nov. 17 on a touchdown with 15 seconds left. The Rebels beat in-state rival Mississippi State, 41-24, to wrap up the season.

The Rebels play in what is generally regarded as the strongest conference in Division I-A. Chryst, though, is focused more on the specific opponent rather than their conference's prestige.

"They fought and they earned the right to play," Chryst said. "I think there's some similarities. I think the focus for me is on Ole Miss and who they are more than what conference they're from."

One advantage Chryst and his staff will have preparing for this game is the bowl's late kickoff. The BBVA Compass Bowl is the third-to-last bowl game of the season, with only the GoDaddy.com Bowl (Jan. 6) and the Bowl Championship Series national title game (Jan. 7) being played the following days.

Chryst said the team will start practice this weekend before the players begin final exams next week. After school is out, the team will get in another week of practice, break for Christmas, and return for a final week of practice and game-planning before they head to Birmingham.

"The more I go through this schedule, the more energized I get with it," Chryst said.

A good portion of the practices will focus on younger players, and Chryst said he planned to give the seniors some time off, especially in the early stages of bowl practices.

"It's kind of a culmination of one season, but also hopefully, you can build some momentum and jump-start you into next year," he said.

For the first time since after the 2009 season, the Panthers will have the added benefit of spending its bowl preparation working on the same offensive and defensive systems they will use the following season.

While some players expressed hope that this season would not bring a third consecutive trip to Birmingham, Chryst said he expects the players to be ready to play come Jan. 5.

"I think it's all about your approach. We can control how we approach it," he said. "Shame on us if that is the case, that guys aren't excited. We earned the right to play in a game, and this is where we were slotted. We're where we should be, in many ways. I think it's totally the approach that you choose to take."

NOTE -- Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald was named the Big East Conference defensive player of the week. Donald had five tackles, including four for losses, and a sack in Pitt's 27-3 victory Saturday against South Florida. He leads the Panthers with 18.5 tackles for losses and 5.5 sacks on the season. "The thing I love about it is his play is a direct reflection of the way he approaches every day," Chryst said. "He's certainly talented, but he gets the most out of it."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter: @SWernerPG.


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