Pitt's final three foes appear to be vulnerable


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Pitt survived its trap game Saturday against Syracuse, 37-10, and will prepare for the heavy lifting which comes the final month of the season.

But the Panthers, who jumped into the top 10 of The Associated Press poll for the first time in November since 1982 (No. 8; No. 9 in the coach's poll), appear to have a less difficult road down the stretch.

That's because Pitt's final three opponents have looked extremely vulnerable in recent weeks, while the Panthers appear to be hitting their stride.

"We're playing well but we know we have a lot of very tough games coming up," tight end Dorin Dickerson said. "I'm glad we're at this point, but now we really have to get focused and play our best three games of the season. It will be fun to be in such big games and all, but it won't mean a thing, none of this, if we don't win the Big East.

"We've worked so hard to get to this point, we can't let up now."

Dickerson is right, the Panthers, who are 12th in the BCS standings, have worked extremely hard and have done a great job to reach a point where they can smell the Big East championship.

But looking at the Panthers final three games -- in terms of what they actually are and not what they were perceived to be -- it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that anything short of a 10-win regular season would be viewed as a disappointment.

Consider:

• Saturday, the Panthers will play host to Notre Dame (6-3) who some thought a few weeks ago would be an at-large team in the BCS. That was before the Irish lost at home to Navy, 23-21, Saturday. Notre Dame has now fallen from the rankings, and the game, which is on in prime time, has lost some of its luster.

• Nov. 27, the Panthers play at West Virginia (7-2, 3-1). The Mountaineers are still ranked in the coaches poll (No. 23) but in the past two games, a 30-19 loss at South Florida and 17-9 win at home against bottom-feeder Louisville, have been extremely sluggish on offense. More important, if the Mountaineers lose Friday night at Cincinnati, the Pitt-West Virginia game will be meaningless in terms of the Big East race.

• No. 5 Cincinnati comes to Heinz Field Dec. 5. This past weekend the Bearcats survived with a 48-46 win against Connecticut in front of a nationally televised audience. In that one, they couldn't stop the Huskies down the stretch, and now it appears as if coach Brian Kelly is going to drag them through a quarterback controversy.

All three teams are still dangerous and all three are more than capable of beating the Panthers. But unlike a few weeks ago, all three also appear vulnerable.

If the Panthers are going to win those games they will have to get off to better starts than they did Saturday against Syracuse. Pitt struggled in the first half against the Orange and led only 6-3 until right before the half when linebacker Greg Williams intercepted a pass and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown.

Pitt did not score an offensive touchdown until after the half, and the first-team offense managed only two scores. That is clearly not good enough now that the competition is getting tougher.

"We left a lot of points out there," Dickerson said. "But we got better as the game wore on.

"We'll get a good week of practice, get our timing down a little better and be ready to go. We'll work hard, get some things corrected and go forward.

"I really believe if we play our game, if we play as well as we can, nobody can beat us. I really believe that."


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


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