Pitt's Graham says getting sixth win important for seniors, program

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To many, the Pitt-Syracuse game Saturday is a meaningless matchup between two mediocre teams heading nowhere.

But Pitt coach Todd Graham isn't one of them.

He said Monday at his news conference that this game is huge because both teams are 5-6 and need one more win to be bowl eligible.

And that's why he anticipates his Panthers will have their best week of practice this season and that a trip to a bowl game would be a nice reward for a group of seniors who bought into his program from the start and were positive role models for the underclassmen.

"I told the seniors today that this week is obviously about them with senior day coming up on Saturday," Graham said. "We want them to finish up with a win at Heinz Field. We want to get this program bowl eligible, which is very important.

"We want to be bowl eligible this season for the seniors and for the future of this program. The practices we have now are invaluable."

The path is very simple: The Panthers (5-6, 3-3 Big East) need to beat the Orange (5-6, 1-5) and hope that West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) beats South Florida (5-6, 1-5) Thursday and Cincinnati (8-3, 4-2) beats Connecticut (5-6, 3-3) Saturday. That would leave the Big East with five bowl-eligible teams -- Louisville (7-5, 5-2), Rutgers (8-4, 4-3), West Virginia, Cincinnati and Pitt -- and presumably five spots to fill with the BCS bowl slot, the Belk Bowl (formerly the Meineke Car Care Bowl), the Pinstripe Bowl, the Beef O'Brady's Bowl and the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The Champ Sports Bowl also is in the lineup but reports are it will take Notre Dame instead of a Big East team.

If Connecticut or South Florida were to win, the Panthers still could get a postseason spot left open from other conferences without enough bowl-eligible teams.

"[A bowl] can't be our focus, we have to get ready to play a very good team in Syracuse," center Ryan Turnley said. "At the same time, I've been thinking a lot about getting the win to get the seniors to a bowl game for their last game because they deserve it.

"They've meant so much to me personally and all of us we want to make sure we send them out the right way."

One thing Graham made clear is that he has no plans to make a change at quarterback even though Tino Sunseri's play has regressed somewhat.

Sunseri completed 12 of 23 passes for 137 yards and an interception in the 21-20 loss Friday to West Virginia. Worse than his lack of production, though, was that he was sacked 10 times, many because he was holding the ball too long.

Still, Graham said Sunseri will start because he gives the team the best chance to win.

"We didn't play very well down the stretch and at the quarterback position and that is part of the execution," Graham said. "But Tino is still the guy that gives us the best chance at winning. Tino is what we have to work with and we just need to get better.

"We have worked with Mark Myers and he shows a lot of promise. In the spring he got hurt and he was a little behind for this fall. He is a guy who can compete, but he has not been in the position to have a complete understanding of what we're doing to give us a chance to win," Graham said.

"We will evaluate him throughout the week to see how he is developing and see what happens."

NOTES -- Pitt could be without receivers Ronald Jones (concussion) and Devin Street (leg) and tailback Zach Brown (sternum). Graham said Jones is unlikely to play, so redshirt freshman Anthony Gonzalez would assume the role of wildcat quarterback. ... Asked his thoughts about Pitt's attendance this year, Graham minced no words. "I am very appreciative of our fans and students who come out and support us. I understand it is an important thing and I am never going to dodge from winning. That is how you get the peoples' support and that is how you fill the stadium up. If you want to fill the stadium up then you have to win games, and we intend on doing that."

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720


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