Cook: A 6-6 Pitt team in a bowl? That's offensive

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What offends you most about the ridiculous college football bowl system, which long ago passed the point of being antiquated?

That Michigan still has a shot at a rematch against Ohio State in the national championship game?

That Penn State is going to a semi-prestigious New Year's Day bowl despite beating only one team with a winning record, two if you count Youngstown State?

Or that Pitt still could go to a bowl if it loses to No. 8 Louisville at Heinz Field Saturday and finishes with a 6-6 record and a five-game losing streak?

The vote here goes to the Pitt situation.

No, Michigan doesn't deserve another chance against Ohio State under almost any circumstances. Its defense allowed the Buckeyes 503 yards in the 42-39 loss Saturday. Its offense wasn't good enough to fully capitalize on three Ohio State second-half turnovers. Michigan blew its chance.

And no, Penn State doesn't deserve a Jan. 1 bowl. It lost to all four of the really good teams on its schedule. A date in the Outback Bowl in the warm sunshine of Tampa, Fla., hardly seems like an appropriate reward for a team whose best win was at Purdue.

But the Pitt story could turn out to be absolutely outrageous.

It will have a much different, happier ending if Pitt somehow finds a way to beat Louisville, which is a 12-point favorite and is, according to Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt, "probably as complete a football team as there might be anywhere right now." It's hard to imagine the Panthers winning after watching their sad-sack defense allow 45 points and 641 yards to West Virginia last week and 46 points and 481 yards to Connecticut the week before. But upsets happen, you know? Seniors Tyler Palko and H.B. Blades will be playing their final home game. So, probably, will be junior Darrelle Revis, who figures to leave early to become a millionaire as an NFL No. 1 draft pick. They should be duly inspired. They are winning players even if they haven't played in enough wins to satisfy them.

There's no doubt a win against Louisville would be a quality win. At 7-5, Pitt at least could argue that it deserves a spot in a fourth-rate bowl. Heaven knows there are enough of 'em out there.

But there's no way a 6-6 Pitt team should get a bowl bid.

Mediocrity should never be rewarded.

That's true for Alabama, Iowa and Minnesota, which finished with 6-6 records. It's true for potential 6-6 teams Miami, Florida State and South Carolina.

Certainly, it's true for Pitt.

One of the Panthers' six wins came against The Citadel, a Division I-AA team. Their best wins were against Virginia and Cincinnati, which hardly knock your socks off. They also have bad losses to Michigan State and South Florida and an inexcusable loss to Connecticut.

Not exactly a bowl-quality resume at this point, right?

That isn't to suggest a 6-6 Pitt team shouldn't accept a bowl bid -- probably to the International Bowl in Toronto to play, perhaps, Western Michigan on the hideously unattractive date of Jan. 6 -- if one is offered.

That would be crazy.

A bowl game -- no matter which one -- would give Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt and his staff an extra month of practice with the players. That should make for a nice head start on next season. It also would enable Wannstedt to hit the recruiting trails and sell Pitt as a bowl team. If you think that's not much of a selling point with 64 of the 119 Division I schools -- or roughly 54 percent -- getting a spot in one of the 32 bowls, you're right. But it sure beats the heck out of being among the other 46 percent.

That's why Pitt can't say no to a bowl offer.

But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be awfully embarrassed when it accepts.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1525.


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