Panthers Fall Short, 2005 Hope ?

The Panthers failed to send away departing coach Walt Harris with a Fiesta Bowl victory as Utah managed a 35-7 rout in Tempe, Ariz., on Jan. 1.

Pittsburgh quarterback Tyler Palko completed 22 of 40 passes for 251 yards and a third-quarter touchdown to receiver Greg Lee, but the Panthers managed just 17 rushing yards.

"They are a very good, very explosive team, and it was a tough game for us," Harris said. "We did not match up physically as well as we needed to in order to stay in it, especially offensively."

Harris, who after the regular season accepted an offer to coach Stanford after eight seasons at Pittsburgh, decided to stay on to coach the bowl game. Former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt has been hired to replace Harris.

Before Harris got out of town, however, his team was exposed as a BCS pretender. The Big East, which maintained its automatic BCS bid even after Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College announced they were leaving for the ACC, offered a relatively weak field this season.

The Panthers (8-4) actually shared the conference's regular season title with Boston College, West Virginia and Syracuse, but earned the berth thanks to a tie-breaker.

Utah quarterback Alex Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist, completed 29 of 37 passes for 328 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.

  • GAME OF THE YEAR: Pittsburgh 16, West Virginia 13 (Nov. 25) -- The Panthers' defense limited the No. 21 Mountaineers to three second-half points in a victory at Heinz Field. The "Backyard Brawl" win set up Pittsburgh's run to the BCS.

  • PLAYER OF THE YEAR: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior passed for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns in a season-ending win over South Florida on Dec. 4. Palko completed 208 of 369 attempts for 2,816 yards and 23 touchdowns during the regular season, and 22 of 40 for 251 yards and one score against Utah.

  • RAPID REVIEW: The Panthers struggled out of the gate, losing to Nebraska, Connecticut and barely edging I-AA Furman in double overtime, but they won six of their final seven regular-season games to claim the Big East's automatic BCS bid and a Fiesta Bowl berth.

  • FAST FORWARD: Pittsburgh will now begin a new era under former Miami Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt. Though standout OT Rob Pettiti will graduate, the Panthers return Palko, WR Greg Lee and RB Marcus Furman to form the foundation of the offense.

  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was just a matter of execution. I'm not going to put the blame on anybody, but, you know, you just -- things didn't work out." -- QB Tyler Palko to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, regarding the 35-7 Fiesta Bowl loss to Utah.

  • PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2005: WR Greg Lee -- The sophomore reeled in 61 receptions for 1,204 yards and nine touchdowns during the regular season. He was named second team All-Big East.

  • LB H.B. Blades -- The sophomore was named first team All-Big East. Blades led the Panthers in tackles with 102. He also managed three interceptions and two sacks.

  • INJURY IMPACT: Once the offensive line maintained a consistent presence midway through the season, Pittsburgh won six of its final seven regular season games.

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