Though Pitt's season has fallen below expectations, this team won't give up on its ultimate goal, and that is a Big East championship. Mathematically, that possibility still exists. It all has to start with a win Saturday, before anything else is determined. Rutgers needs to beat West Virginia in Morgantown, and South Florida needs to beat UConn on Saturday night. Until all those possibilities are exhausted, this Pitt team will continue its aim for a Big East title.
"We are not playing for pride," head coach Dave Wannstedt insisted on Tuesday. "We're playing to get win number seven and win a part of this (Big East) championship. Lets not get on that road."
The last time Pitt was in a situation to clinch a share of a Big East title in 2004, they were the only Big East game that day. They didn't have to depend on anyone else but themselves that day. Entering the game, Pitt had a 3-2 record in conference play, and needed a win over South Florida in Tampa to clinch the Big East title and the BCS berth.
Even though Syracuse beat the Panthers a month earlier that season, the Orange blew out Boston College 43-17 the week before. Even though Boston College had an 8-3 overall record, their final season in the Big East, Pitt held the tie-breaker over Boston College because of an overtime win at Heinz Field that season. They also had a better record than Syracuse, which gave them the tie-breaker over the Orange, despite losing to them a month earlier.
All Pitt had to do that day--which was also December 4--was win in Tampa. They cruised to a 43-14 win. The scenario is a little different this time around. The Panthers still have to win, but this time have two games on the same day surrounding their limited BCS hopes. Though hoping for help from other teams, the sentiment in the locker room this week is that they are still in the hunt for their ultimate goal; the Big East title.
"With winning this game, we can still win the Big East title," junior fullback Henry Hynoski said. "Obviously it would be shared, depending on what happens with West Virginia and UConn. We could win it outright. We just have to go out and play hard. The Big East title is still our motivation."
West Virginia and UConn could still win, and regardless of what Pitt does on Saturday, the Panthers still end up in third place. Even though it will be third place, the team is also aware that a 7-5 team is much more attractive to bowl representatives than a 6-6 team. In the end, Pitt might not have much of a choice in what bowl game that may be. They still have the Big East title in their sights. Winning first on Saturday is something that is in their hands.
"We need to finish out with a win," quarterback Tino Sunseri said. "We still have a lot to play for. We have a great university and a great town, very historic with a lot of tradition, and as long as we're still wearing our Pitt helmets and have a game to play, we're going to play to win."