Pitt's Graham: Hard work will pay off

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Pitt coach Todd Graham said repeatedly this week that he is extremely proud of the Panthers' effort in their most recent games and he also is extremely happy with the effort he has seen at practice.

Graham said the fact that the team still is playing hard, still is working hard and improving every week is a great sign that the Panthers are poised for a big finish to the season.

The Panthers need to win their final three games to get to seven wins and ensure they will get to a bowl game.

Pitt (4-5, 2-2 Big East) could get a bowl bid with two wins in the last three games and a 6-6 record, but it is not a guarantee, especially since there are three bowl eligible teams in the Big East already, two more with five wins and three with four.

And it is possible that Notre Dame (6-3) won't earn an at-large BCS bid and could end up snagging the Big East's Champ Sports Bowl bid.

Graham said earlier this week that playing in a bowl game is a priority for the team, but in order to do that the Panthers are going to have to play mistake-free for three games.

He said the effort is there, now the Panthers just need to execute a little better in the second half of close games.

"I don't believe we played poorly or terrible the last game," Graham said. "We played a very good football team and we turned the football over twice and ultimately beat ourselves. There were a lot of bright spots in that game and we had some guys playing at an incredible level.

"But it does you no good to sit and look behind. Instead you must learn from your mistakes and we point those out each week and then we go get better and persevere."

Graham said that hard work will eventually pay off, but the life lessons this season is a reward in itself.

"Anything worth having is not easy. It's difficult," Graham said. "Things have not gone the way we planned but we are not far off and we know we're close. You have to keep plugging and you can't break.

"A lot of people quit before that, but I can tell you there is zero quit in us. There is not anyone hanging their heads around here. We take full accountability for what we are doing and we're continuing to move forward each day."

Graham said the Panthers have had several games this year -- wins against South Florida and Connecticut, for example -- in which they played an entire game the way he believes they are capable of playing.

And he would like to see that happen Saturday against Louisville (5-4, 3-1).

Unlike Pitt, Louisville has won close games this season, mostly because the Cardinals don't beat themselves and don't make many mistakes, even though they are a young team.

"We have a very well-coached football team in Louisville that we have to go up against," Graham said. "They are a team you can tell is playing together well as a unit. They are the best defense in the league. I think they are No. 1 in the conference in total defense.

"The bottom line is you have to go out and play Pitt football. We have to figure out how to get a win on the road. It is going to be a tall order because of where they're playing at right now. The bottom line is if we correct the things we're doing wrong then we're going to have an opportunity to win a football game."

NOTE -- Senior defensive lineman Myles Caragein has been named to the Capital One Academic All-District 2 Team, released by the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Caragein (Keystone Oaks) was selected by a vote of members of CoSIDA. To be eligible, a student-athlete must be a starter or key reserve and maintain a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.20 on a scale of 4.00. He must have reached sophomore athletic and academic standing at the institution and completed at least one full academic year at the school. Caragein has already earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics with a cumulative 3.62 GPA and is presently enrolled in Pitt's Graduate School of Education. He is a three-time Big East All-Academic Football Team selection and a perennial member of the Pitt Athletic Director's Honor Roll. As an All-District honoree, he will now be placed on the national ballot for Academic All-American consideration.

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com , 412-263-1720 and Twitter @paulzeise.


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