PITTSBURGH — There are a variety of ways for as many as five teams to win or share the Big East Conference football championship, but the No. 20 Pitt Panthers understand that there is one sure way to do so.
Beat No. 19 Cincinnati on Saturday night. Beat rival West Virginia less than a week later on Nov. 28. Beat Connecticut on Dec. 6.Sounds easy, but, of course, it won’t be for a team that assured itself of its first winning season and bowl appearance since 2004 only 10 days ago. The Cincinnati and UConn games are on the road, and West Virginia has won two of its last three games in Pittsburgh.If the Panthers (7-2, 3-1 in Big East) win out, they will finish 6-1 in the conference and alone in first place. Losing to Cincinnati (8-2, 4-1), however, might finish them off since the Bearcats have only Syracuse (2-8, 1-5) left to play in the conference after Saturday night.West Virginia (6-3, 3-1) can win the conference and the automatic BCS bowl bid that goes with it, but only if the Bearcats lose at least once, since Cincinnati has beaten the Mountaineers. Rutgers (5-5, 4-2) and UConn (7-3, 3-2) also remain in contention.If the Panthers have one advantage, it’s a 4-0 road record that includes victories against Notre Dame and South Florida. Also, they’ve won three in a row against Cincinnati.”We’re just a lot more focused on the road,” safety Eric Thatcher said Monday. “But we need to step up and play better there. In the past, we haven’t done that.”Pitt was denied winning seasons by fading in each of the last two seasons, losing seven of nine before upsetting then-No. 2 West Virginia to end up 5-7 last year after dropping its final five in 2006 to go 6-6.”We will not be overconfident going into this game,” coach Dave Wannstedt said. “We’re playing on the road. They are 8-2 and the conference leader. They won 10 games a year ago. Our team knows the challenge we will have.”The Cincinnati series isn’t comparable in interest and tradition to the one Pitt has with West Virginia and once had with Penn State, yet when the Bearcats came into the league a trophy was designed to honor the winner of the so-called River City Rivalry.To get his players motivated for Saturday night’s road game — even if a BCS game should be incentive enough — Wannstedt plans to display that trophy in the locker room all week.Pitt is finally experiencing some of the success envisioned when Wannstedt, a former NFL head coach, was hired following a run of five bowl trips in as many seasons under former coach Walt Harris from 2000-04.Still, there is much left to accomplish, and Wannstedt knows there can’t be a letup during any of the three remaining difficult games.”Before the Notre Dame game (on Nov. 1), I told the kids when I came here I had two thoughts in mind about what I’d like to accomplish,” he said. “No. 1 was to win a championship and No. 2 was to field a team of players with ability and character, so that on any given Saturday when we got off the bus and walk on the field, from a talent and character standpoint, if we play well, we have a chance to win the game.”What comes first, getting the talented players with character or winning? Everybody would like to think you win, then go out and get the players, but we’ve taken the other approach. … Hopefully, now, we will reap some of those benefits.”
wvu will redeem it.