Just how big is the Pitt-Notre Dame game Saturday still is a matter of debate, particularly since it is a non-conference contest.
Certainly there is Big East Conference honor for Pitt to defend, and winning on national television is never a bad thing, but the reality is that the Big East game Friday night between West Virginia (7-2, 3-1) and Cincinnati (9-0, 5-0) is far more meaningful to Pitt than Saturday's game against the Fighting Irish.
If Cincinnati beats West Virginia, the game between the Bearcats and Panthers (8-1, 5-0) Dec. 5 at Heinz Field will be for the Big East championship and a BCS berth regardless of what happens with either team between Friday and then.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said yesterday that the Notre Dame game will always be a big game for Pitt regardless of the circumstances, but it is not quite as big as the Panthers' two historical rivalries -- even though they only play one these days.
"No, to be honest with you [the Notre Dame game] was nothing like playing West Virginia or playing Penn State," Wannstedt said when asked if the Notre Dame game was approached with the same attitude as the other two games. "I think it was because of familiarity with the players. I played in the Big 33 game and played with a lot of guys who played at both West Virginia and Penn State. I'd see those guys in the summer and see them year round."
Regardless of Notre Dame's rich history, Wannstedt said, he was familiar with very few players for the Irish in his day.
Wannstedt looked at the two-deep and roster of Notre Dame for the first time Saturday after the Syracuse game and said he was amazed by the number of talented players the Irish have.
He said there was no question that Notre Dame is the most talented team the Panthers will play and clearly one of the most talented teams in the country -- particularly on offense.
"There are, I don't even know how many actually, first-round draft picks on [Notre Dame's] offensive line," Wannstedt said. "Then the quarterback is a first-round draft pick, I think receivers are first-round picks, the running backs are awfully talented and who knows because they are still young.
"So as a group this will be a tremendous challenge."
The Steelers have a big home game Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, but for once, they won't be the focus for the city, at least not Friday. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has declared that day "Turn it Blue Day" in anticipation of the Pitt-Notre Dame game. Ravenstahl said in a statement yesterday, "This weekend, let's 'Turn it Blue' and show our support for our own hometown team as they take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. We'll have the eyes of the nation watching us, and I'm confident that with the talent we have this season and with the support of Pitt fans our team will be successful. Go Pitt!" People are encouraged to wear blue that day. ... Yesterday's practice was in full pads. "We have a lot of work to do," Wannstedt said. ... It appears that the Panthers will be at full strength Saturday as there are no reported new injuries.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720