Pittsburgh Panthers Team Report

Pittsburgh is going for a third consecutive bowl victory, but there is a difference as the Panthers prepare for their Dec. 27 date with Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.

In recent seasons, the Panthers have just been glad to be in the postseason. This year, there was disappointment in having to settle for a date in Charlotte after they played for the Orange Bowl in their season finale.

Ticket sales have been slow, slow, slow for the match against the Cavaliers, who are making their second consecutive appearance in the Charlotte game. Much of that was because more was expected from a Pittsburgh team that returned 17 of 22 starters from last year's 8-4 team.

"We were disappointed we didn't do better," said coach Walt Harris, whose team finished 8-4 again after losing 28-14 to Miami.

One of the more interesting sidelights to the game will be the focus on WR Larry Fitzgerald. Speculation is high that the sophomore will challenge the NFL rule governing the drafting of underclassmen and apply for next spring's draft. The NFL states a player can't be considered for the draft until three full seasons have passed since his high school graduation.

Fitzgerald transferred to Valley Forge from the Academy of the Holy Angels in Minneapolis in 2001 during his senior year, and his father, Larry Sr., contends his son should be eligible next spring if he opts to enter the draft.

One thing is certain. Offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach J.D. Brookhart will be making his final appearance. He is leaving to become head coach at Akron. Harris said he will look outside the program for a new receivers coach.

Scouting the Panthers
The Panthers will be going for their third consecutive bowl victory against the Cavaliers, who beat West Virginia in this postseason game last year.

On offense, the Panthers will hope to get their running game back together against the Cavaliers. The Panthers are averaging only 115 yards per game on the ground, but Virginia is surrendering more than 160. RB Brandon Miree appears to be healthy. The Panthers went away from him early against Miami and may have paid the price for doing so.

On defense, they must contain Virginia QB Matt Schaub, who completed 70 percent of his passes in 2003. The Cavaliers don't have a 1,000-yard rusher, but RB Wali Lundy averaged 4.1 yards per carry and can hurt you.

Injury-wise for the Panthers, LB Brian Bennett (spleen) will sit out the game and reserve LB Vernon Botts (leg) was hurt in practice and also may sit out.

Black and blue
"We are the most beat up we've been the whole season. I think it is just a matter of we've been doggone getting after it." - Coach Walt Harris, noting the bumps and bruises the Panthers have suffered getting ready for the bowl game.

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