Pitt Likely Needs 3 More Wins For Bowl Game

The Pitt football team has three games remaining this season and certainly should secure a bowl bid for the first time since Dave Wannstedt returned to be the head coach at his alma mater, but two wins aren't likely to get the Panthers a date for a 13th game.

Pittsburgh (4-5 overall, 2-2 in the Big East) faces Rutgers (6-4, 2-3) Saturday at noon at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J.

"We've won two of our last three games, and ... our team feels better about itself than we have all year,'' Wannstedt said. "We have a big game with Rutgers, and there are some positive things -- as few as they might be -- that have happened in the last few weeks.

"The kids have grabbed hold of them and are focusing them, and they want to finish the season on a positive note, whatever that is.''

But Wannstedt claims that the coaching staff has not discussed the possibilities of going to a bowl game with the players. Instead, he noted that the focus is on Rutgers and only the Scarlet Knights. Fifth-year senior center Chris Vangas, however, admitted that the thought is in the back of his mind as well as his teammates'.

"Any bowl would be great,'' Vangas said. "I don't want my season to end Dec. 1. I want to go to a bowl game and extend my final season a little longer. Plus, when you don't go to a bowl game, your offseason sucks. So, going to a bowl game makes everything better. So, that's what we want to do.

"We hope we've progressed a lot this season. I think we have, but if we lose these last three games that won't matter. We've got to step up and finish strong. The seniors have to step up, and I'm confident that we'll be able to do that. And it's a way for me to make my mark on this team.''

After a four-game losing streak this season, the Panthers appear to have rebounded. But this is the toughest portion in their schedule with Rutgers up this week. South Florida, which was ranked as high as No. 2 nationally earlier this season, and West Virginia close out the year. Pitt faces USF Nov. 24 at noon at Heinz Field, while WVU plays host to the Panthers Dec. 1 in Morgantown, W.Va. at a time to be determined on ESPN or ESPN 2.

"It's definitely crunch time,'' Vangas said. "Everybody remembers what you do in November, so we have to come out and play hard this week. We need to be ready to play. We can't have a letdown. We need to start fast and play four good quarters. That's the way we need to play to be successful.

"We played pretty well the past few weeks, and that gives us confidence. We got blown out a lot last year. ... So, to at least play pretty well the past few weeks, even though we didn't win every game, can really help our confidence. And things should work out in the end if we keep playing hard.''

After a bye week, though, some believe the Panthers are in for a big letdown against Rutgers. But don't count redshirt junior middle linebacker Scott McKillop among them. He had only positive thoughts this week.

"Last year we started real strong,'' McKillop said, "but we didn't finish the way that we wanted to. We have some big games left to play this season, but we have to concentrate on Rutgers right now. We have to take one game at a time, but we have to keep playing as well as we've been playing.

"I think we've come together really well this season, especially on defense, and we're not relying on one or two guys to make the big plays. Any number of guys are stepping up to make the plays that we need, and I expect that to continue in this final three games. And I don't expect any letdown.

"I know that can happen after a bye week,'' McKillop added, "but I don't think it will happen. They have a great offense, Rutgers does, and I believe we'll be ready for them. We know what it takes to beat them, and we have to play hard for four quarters to get the job done. We didn't do that last year.''

After a 6-1 start last fall, Pitt reeled off five straight losses to finish with a second straight six-loss season under Wannstedt. The Panthers were 5-6 in his debut in 2005, but Vangas didn't that believe Pitt was the same type of team as the one that faded down the stretch last season.

"I think we're more of a team this year, and we're all pulling for each other,'' Vangas said. "Our conditioning has gone real well, and we're well-prepared. So, we have a lot of confidence, I think, going into these last three games.

"And as far as I'm concerned, I want to set my mark on this team and get it back to a bowl game. That would really help get it rolling for the future if we can finish strong this season. So, that's my motivation, and it all starts with Rutgers this weekend. ... We know they're our first step toward a strong finish, because they're our next game. And we've got to be ready.''

Notes: The Pitt-South Florida game Nov. 24 at Heinz Field is slated for a noon kickoff because it will be televised by ESPN Regional as the "Big East Game of the Week.'' ... The Panthers will have played five straight ESPN Regional games after that, and the Navy game was an ESPN national TV game. ... The WVU game will also be a national broadcast, but the network is not known. It will be either ESPN or ESPN 2 and likely be a night game.

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