Pitt wasn't the first Bowl Championship Series conference team to lose to a Division I-AA program, and the Panthers won't be the last. Early season upsets against BCS teams are happening with more regularity.
A look at recent history suggests the 31-17 loss to Youngstown State Saturday night at Heinz Field doesn't have to define the 2012 season. Two of the more high-profile upsets in recent years prove that.
Michigan lost to Appalachian State in the 2007 opener, but the Wolverines won eight consecutive games at one point that season, beat Florida in the Gator Bowl and finished with a 9-4 record.
Virginia Tech lost to James Madison in the second game of the '10 season, but the Hokies followed that stunner with 11 consecutive victories, an Atlantic Coast Conference championship game victory against Florida State and finished 11-3.
"We knew there would be adversity. How do you handle it?" Pitt first-year head coach Paul Chryst said after the game.
Pitt doesn't have much time to dwell on the upset with the Big East Conference opener taking place Thursday night at Cincinnati. Chryst suggested a short week was the best possible scenario for the Panthers, who presumably won't have much time to dwell on losing.
"That's maybe the best thing for this team right now," he said.
But it could get worse before it gets better. Cincinnati won 10 games a year ago, tied for the conference championship and has beaten Pitt in three of the past four meetings. After Cincinnati, the Panthers play host to Virginia Tech, which is among the favorites to win the ACC.
"Starting with myself, we have to take ownership of this," Chryst said. "We have to become a better team, and I think we can. It's certainly not the way anyone would want to start the season, but it's in our hands now to see how we're going to go forward. I believe this group can go forward and will go forward."
The Panthers have plenty of built-in excuses to wilt rather than rise up. They are playing for their fourth head coach in three years. They are learning new offensive and defensive systems and searching for trust in the coaching staff after being emotionally let down by previous coach Todd Graham when he fled the program after one unsuccessful season.
Pitt's seniors have been through the most and will play a big part in whether this team rebounds. The fifth-year players were freshmen when Pitt lost the '08 opener to Bowling Green. The Panthers still managed to win nine games that season and tied for second place in the Big East.
"We're trying not to dwell on this," fifth-year senior Andrew Taglianetti said. "We have a game in five days. We're trying to turn the page quickly.
"It always [stinks] to lose. I tip my hat to Youngstown State. But that's not who Pitt is. We can play so much better than that. We have five days until our next game. I hope we bounce back and rebound from it."
Senior running back Ray Graham said it's up to the senior class to provide leadership at this difficult time.
"They're going to follow what we do," Graham said of his younger teammates. "This is our team. We take pride. We don't like to lose games. We'll watch the film, see the mistakes and get better from them."pittfball
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published September 3, 2012 4:00 AM