Turn Up The Lights

The Pitt football team went on the road for the first time last week when it played Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, but that atmosphere -- a half-filled domed stadium -- will be nothing like what the Panthers (3-1) will see tonight at 7:30 against No. 10 South Florida (5-0) at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

The contest also will be nationally televised, so a wild crowd is expected, but all that doesn't matter to Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt.

"To me, national TV, playing on the road, crowds -- all those things -- last maybe a play or two,'' Wannstedt said. "It still comes down to the guy next to you, still comes down to blocking and tackling. (But) it's different than what we've seen so far, and it will be a challenge. But we know that.

"I think South Florida was No. 1 in the nation in home attendance increase from one year to the next. With it being a Thursday night game in a full house, it will be an exciting atmosphere, and our kids are looking forward to it. ... As long as we keep moving forward and keep a good attitude, then I'll be happy.''

Some comparisons are being made between this one and the West Virginia game last year when the Mountaineers were ranked second nationally. Sure, USF is highly-ranked, but there is a different motivation for the Panthers in this one. The Bulls and Pitt are unbeaten to open Big East play, and they are jockeying for position in the Conference at this time.

"The focus of our team is to go down there and try to be the best team for three hours (four quarters would be better),'' Wannstedt said. "Just like I told our guys against West Virginia last year. Don't look at the scoreboard. Just try to be the best team. We're not going to get caught up in the rankings because it's just too early in the year to do that.''

Pitt fifth-year senior Scott McKillop took a different approach.

"The West Virginia game, we prepared about as good as we could have prepared for a game,'' McKillop said. "South Florida, they're firing on all cylinders right now. They have a bunch of great receivers, and they're very athletic. They have a bunch of good running backs, all on the same level.

"But their quarterback is special. He makes lots of plays with his arms and lots of plays with his legs. They want the ball in his hands. He makes a lot of people look silly, and he's a great player. So, it's going to be a great experience for us, on national TV against a ranked team with great players. What more could you ask for in a college football game? We're looking forward to the challenge.''

Wannstedt maintained that the Panthers can't get caught up in the hoopla.

"My experience has been that the hype is there,'' Wannstedt said. "It's fun, it's exciting to be part of that. But, when it's fourth-and-one, there's nobody in the stands that's ever made a catch or made a block. You've got to get it done with the guys on the field.''

Pitt has 15 players from Florida on its roster, including three on the defensive line along with tackle Rashaad Duncan and ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, along with strong-side linebacker Greg Williams.

"They're definitely ready to go and are pumped to play against people that they played against in high school,'' Pitt senior tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling said.

"And they're going to have all their families there and all their friends there, so it's definitely as extra incentive on their part to being at this game. And they're ready to go. I can tell. They're really looking forward to it.''

Notes: Wannstedt believed that right offensive tackle Joe Thomas would be able to play against USF, but frosh Lucas Nix also should get some time. ... Wannstedt acknowledged that while redshirt junior WR Oderick Turner has been inconsistent, don't expect frosh Jonathan Baldwin to get that playing time. The coach said that redshirt junior Cedric McGee will get more reps. ... Pass-rusher George Selvie is not likely to play for USF. He missed the last game, too.

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