Despite its fifth loss of the season, Pitt has three chances to win two games and become bowl eligible for a fifth consecutive year.
If you ask any player or coach this week the motivation, there really is none needed.
"I definitely want to play one more time after the (regular) season," running back Ray Graham said. "It would definitely be good to play one last time."
Throw out the odds, throw out predictions. There's basically two bowl games Pitt has a shot at. First of all, though, Pitt must win this game against UConn. Granted, if they lost, they'd still be bowl eligible. However, they do not need any additional pressure--in this case, the fact they'd have to win the final two games against Rutgers and at South Florida to close the season.
"These seniors want to go out (with a win) senior lineman Chris Jacobson said. "Coach Chryst wants to play one more game with us. It's definitely a goal. His whole focus is to just get this win (against UConn)."
Adding to the pressure of just getting two wins in its final three games, are some vs limited bowl opportunities. The way the Big East standings are shaping up, the conference's BCS berth will likely be decided in three weeks when Louisville and Rutgers meet. Both teams are currently unbeaten in conference play. Of course, Louisville will be cheering for Pitt the week before as the Scarlet Knights travel to Pittsburgh on November 24.
Regardless, though. Louisville and Rutgers are destined for those top two bowl spots. The winner gets the BCS, the loser is likely heading to the Russel Athletic Bowl (Dec. 28 in Orlando). Notre Dame would be on par to take a Russell Athletic Bowl bid or one of the other bowl choices. However, based on their 9-0 record at this point, the Irish are poised for a BCS bowl.
After Louisville and Rutgers, Cincinnati is next in line. More than likely, Cincinnati would head to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte. At this juncture, here is where the Panthers need some help. For the moment, Syracuse holds a 3-2 Big East record, while Pitt is 1-3. Even if Pitt goes two of its remaining Big East games, and Syracuse goes at least 1-1, that still gives the Orange a 4-3 conference record with a one-game lead over Pitt. Not to mention the tiebreaker.
If Pitt is going to entertain any thought of making New York's Pinstripe Bowl, they would need to win all three of its remaining games, and hope for Syracuse to lose both of its remaining Big East games. That's the only way that Pitt can get to fourth place in the Big East. Of course that's only fourth place. The Pinstripe Bowl doesn't necessarily have to choose the fourth place team. They get the fourth pick, and based on Syracuse's heavy alumni population in the New York City area, and its affiliation as New York's largest university, it would be surprising to see them not take the Orange if the cards play out that way.
Aside from conference positioning, Syracuse has one other road game--at Missouri. The Orange need two wins in their three final games just to get bowl eligible. They could still have a better conference record than Pitt with one more win, yet still not get bowl eligible. For that to happen, that means they'd have to go 1-2 over their final two games, and as long as Pitt wins at least two games to be bowl eligible, the Panthers could be heading to New York.
The other thing that could make the Panthers appealing, would be what happens with the Big 12's selection. The Pinstripe Bowl takes the seventh pick out of the Big 12, and for the moment, that team is West Virginia. If that were the case, bowl organizers would be foolish not to set up Pitt and West Virginia in that game. While its hard to justify attending a bowl game in cold weather, what fan of both schools wouldn't want to see that game? Not to mention, it would be an easy game for a lot of fans from both schools to attend.
Even for that to happen, West Virginia needs to go at least 2-2 in their final four games, which they should be able to do. West Virginia would finish at least seventh in the Big 12, but based on the other teams surrounding them in the conference, the Mountaineers could also move up a spot in the standings.
There is also a very good chance that Pitt heads to Birmingham for a third year in a row for the BBVA Bowl. The BBVA Bowl takes the eighth or ninth place SEC team, with the fifth pick out of the Big East. If Syracuse wins two of their final three games, and as long as Pitt remains bowl eligible by winning two of its three final games, Pitt would finish behind Syracuse in the standings. Therefore, the Panthers would head to Birmingham.
Temple has two conference games left. If they win both--at Cincinnati and against Syracuse--the Owls would finish ahead of the Panthers if Pitt is only able to win two of their final three. Pitt is in control only if they win all three. If both teams win their remaining conference games--Temple with two, Pitt with three--both teams finish with identical 4-3 conference records. Pitt holds the tiebreaker, thanks to its 47-17 win over the Owls two weeks ago.
There's still a lot that needs to happen, but at this point, its clear what Pitt needs to do. A bowl game is reasonable to expect. It all starts with a win Friday over UConn, something this team ows it has to do before thinking of anything else.
"Our next goal is to beat UConn," linebacker Joe Trebitz said. "We do want to be bowl eligible and be in the best bowl game we can."