Pitt football-Rutgers press conference

The University of Pittsburgh football team (6-1)is set to do battle with the 19th ranked Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Saturday at Heinz Field. PantherDigest.com senior writer Dale Grdnic reports on Head COach Dave Wannstedt's press confernece.

PITTSBURGH -- The University of Pittsburgh and Rutgers haven't played a meaningful game in, well, they've never played a game that meant anything. That dubious history changes when Pitt (6-1) and the 19th-ranked Scarlet Knights (6-0) Saturday at 5:45 p.m. at Heinz Field. The Panthers are rated 26th in the latest polls and would move into the Top 25 with a win.

Pitt is 2-0 in the Big East, while Rutgers is 1-0. The game will be televised nationally by ESPN 2.

"There's probably not a football team that's been in the news, talk radio, or national TV since the beginning of the season more than Rutgers,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "(I see) they're ranked higher than Oklahoma. I think that kind of makes you take a double look.''

The Scarlet Knights probably haven't been in a bigger game since they played in the first college football game. They beat Princeton 6-4 Nov. 6, 1869. Pitt is off to its best start since going 7-0 in 1982.

"Rutgers has had a great history, playing in the first college game and all, but they've really come on the last couple of years,'' center Joe Villani said. "We know what kind of team we are and we've got some good things going on, but this is our biggest game this season.

"That's for sure. It's going to be a big test. We need to show how good we are in this game. We know how good we are, but this will prove it to everyone else, if we can beat a ranked team like Rutgers.''

This game might not be as monumental as Rutgers' first one, but it certainly is critical. Seeding in the Big East is at stake. The two teams still have to play top-10 teams West Virginia and Louisville later this season.

"Now we're into the Big East, so they're all important,'' Wannstedt said. "It's not a matter of doing more this week, it's a matter of doing it better. I think that's how you approach a game like this. Our players understand that, and that's the great thing. We know it would be a big win for us.

"These are easier games for us to get ready for -- from a head coaching standpoint -- than last week. ... We've had guys in here already (to watch film). It's an exciting week. We're going to have a great crowd, national TV. That's why they came to Pitt, to play in these types of games.''

Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko noted that nothing needs to be said when games of this magnitude are on the schedule.

"Everybody knows who's coming to town and what they bring when they come,'' Palko said. "Obviously, they're undefeated and riding on a high horse, and they're a heckuva football team. So, we've got to be ready to go, have a great week of practice and be prepared for a dogfight.

"Hopefully, everybody that plays in this game knows what's at stake. All we need to do is to go out and execute and worry about Pitt. We can't be concerned about Rutgers. But Coach Schiano has done a great job there and has a lot of excitement around that program.''

Rutgers was picked as the No. 3 team in the Big East in the preseason, one spot ahead of Pitt and behind West Virginia and Louisville, but few likely believed the Scarlet Knights would be this good. But they have 21 players from Florida on their roster, a move that has increased overall team speed on offense and defense.

Rutgers is ranked by the Associated Press for just the ninth time in the 70-year history of the poll, and it is rated by the coaches' poll for just the eighth time since 1950.

"This is an opportunity for us to play a ranked opponent on national television, and it's an opportunity for us to see where we're at,'' Palko said.

"And that's why we came to Pitt, to play in big games against a ranked opponent, and we'll see on Saturday how we stack up. By no means will this game make or break our season, but it's going to be a test. So, we'll study all week and see where we're at when we take it.''

That's what makes this game the most important to date for Pitt.

Notes: Pitt senior MLB H.B. Blades was named a Midseason All-American by CollegeFootballNews.com. He received the same honor from CBS Sportsline last week. ... The Panthers lead the nation in turnovers made (20) and are second in turnover margin (1.43 per game).

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