Panthers' focus: Bowl eligibility

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Facing No. 4 Notre Dame last week, Pitt let a golden opportunity for a season-defining win slip through its fingers. Now, all the Panthers can do is move forward and focus on their final three regular-season games -- all Big East Conference contests.

The loss to the Irish also means the Panthers (4-5, 1-3 Big East) have their backs against the wall in terms of reaching six wins and bowl eligibility. Pitt must win two of its final three games to ensure that the season will not end with its Dec. 1 game at South Florida.

"We're definitely working hard," linebacker Todd Thomas said. "After that loss, it definitely really hit people that we have to get that extra edge to get over the top. We're definitely working hard, coming out trying to beat UConn."

The two most likely opportunities for victories on Pitt's schedule would seem to be Friday at Connecticut (3-6, 0-4) and the regular-season finale at South Florida (3-6, 1-4). After the way Pitt played against the Irish, though, the Nov. 24 home game against Rutgers (7-1, 4-0) could be winnable, as well.

For now, though, the focus is all on the Huskies.

"Yeah, but we've got to get this one [at UConn] to get six. This is big," left guard Chris Jacobson said. "These seniors want to have an extra game with a bowl game, but we've got to get this one to get to six. Our whole focus this week is turning the page and playing UConn."


Next
  • Game: Game: Pitt (4-5, 1-3 Big East) at Connecticut (3-6, 0-4), East Hartford, Conn.
  • When: 8 p.m. Friday.
  • TV: ESPN2.

Especially for the seniors, who have gone through three coaching changes in their time at Pitt, the opportunity to play one more game is more than enough motivation the rest of the way.

"I think that guys want to play one more game together," center Ryan Turnley said. "We've been here for a while, we've been through a lot together. As long as it can last, we want to keep it going."

Pitt coach Paul Chryst said that he doesn't mention it often, but will occasionally remind players of the big-picture goals in what he called "State of the State" meetings, though he noted, "believe it or not, they're not long meetings."

If Pitt can get to six wins, its most likely postseason destination is either the Pinstripe Bowl in New York or making another trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala. Those two bowls have fourth and fifth selection, respectively, of the eligible Big East teams. There's still a slight chance that the Panthers could jump up into the top three and earn a bid to the Belk Bowl.

If Pitt wants to avoid a third consecutive trip to Birmingham, its best bet is to hope Syracuse doesn't reach bowl eligibility. If Syracuse gets six wins, the Pinstripe Bowl likely would pick the Orange, and its significant New York alumni base.

Since the Pinstripe Bowl matches up the fourth team from the Big East and the seventh team from the Big 12, there's even a chance the game could pit the Panthers against West Virginia, re-igniting the dormant rivalry for one night.

As much as fans will speculate over bowl destinations over the coming weeks, though, it's all a moot point if Pitt fails to reach six wins, and that starts Friday night against Connecticut.

"I want the season to go on as long as possible. It's fun playing, it's been a while," fifth-year senior linebacker Joe Trebitz said. "I want to be around this group of guys as long as I can. They're my family, and I want to be around them as much as possible. There's three games left and we want to make it four."

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


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