FOOTBALL: Panthers Moving Forward

Pittsburgh's first season under coach Dave Wannstedt was forgettable for Panthers fans. Pittsburgh finished 5-6 overall, 4-3 in the Big East, and failed to earn a bowl bid for the first time since 1999. Even Wannstedt admitted, "We got to get a lot better."

The good news is that Wannstedt's young Pittsburgh team did improve as the season went on. Unfortunately the Panthers didn't do it fast enough to salvage a winning season.

Pitt started the year in the top 25 in both major polls but quickly fell out of the rankings with an ugly 0-3 start that saw the Panthers get blown out at home against Notre Dame and then lose on the road to struggling Ohio and unranked Nebraska.

Junior quarterback Tyler Palko and the rest of the offense had trouble adapting to Wannstedt's power-rushing attack, and the Panthers followed up a victory over Division I-AA Youngstown State with a loss at Rutgers to fall to 1-4.

The Panthers rebounded to go 4-1 over their next five games, and a win over West Virginia in their season finale would have made the Panthers bowl eligible. But Pitt gave up 451 yards rushing and got throttled, 45-13. It was a disappointing end for a team that was only a year removed from an appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game.

But with a strong recruiting class on the horizon and Palko, junior receiver Greg Lee and talented freshman running backs Rashad Jennings and LaRod Stephens Howling all scheduled to come back, there's reason to be optimistic that Wannstedt and Pittsburgh can turn it around in time for the 2006 season.

"We're disappointed in this season, but we're excited about the future," Pitt athletic director Jeff Long said.

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