How Much Does Pitt Want It?

The Pitt football team has everything in front of it this season -- the Big East championship, a BCS bowl game and the Panthers' best record since a 9-3 mark in 2002 -- but it won't be an easy path.

Pittsburgh (7-2, 3-1) has a bye this week and visits Cincinnati Nov. 22 at 7:15 p.m. The Panthers also have West Virginia for the Backyard Brawl Nov. 28 at noon at Heinz Field and close out the season at Connecticut Dec. 6 at a time to be determined. All three teams are in the running for the Conference crown.

"The guys in this locker room, we're a lot more confident now,'' Pitt sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy said. "We know what we've got to do. We need to win out, and we can win the Big East championship. So, that's our attitude right now. We know what we have in store for us in these last three games.

"We have our own destiny in our own hands, and we couldn't say that last year. Maybe we can be the team to do what we did to West Virginia last year. We can knock everybody else out. So, that's our mindset. But we need to stay focused on this next game against Cincinnati.

"It's a good opportunity for us in these final three games, but it's tough,'' McCoy added. "We're going to be playing three really good teams, so the way we look at is how bad to we want it? The leaders on this team, they want it bad. I'm sure of that, and that has come down to the other guys.''

McCoy referred to fifth-year seniors like Scott McKillop, who had a chance to go to a bowl game when he was a true freshman, but really wasn't part of that team or senior C.J. Davis who never has been to a post-season game. The underclassmen want guys like that to go out on a winning note.

"It's great that our season is still going strong at this late stage, and it's on us if we win or lose,'' quarterback Bill Stull said. "We don't need help from anybody or have to worry about any game but our own. If we win, we'll the remaining three games, we'll win the Big East. And it all starts next week with Cincinnati.

"Coach stresses in every meeting that we have to stay focused on this next game. We know what's at stake, but we can't get too far ahead of ourselves. We've been doing that pretty well so far this season, but we need to stay focused on playing one game at a time. That's the only way to get through it.''

One thing that's at stake this week is the prestigious River City Rivalry Trophy, a gaudy, overly-heavy award that goes to the winner between Cincinnati and Pitt that has resided at the Panthers' home all three seasons in its existence.

Some describe it as hideous and truthfully, it's not really esthetically sharp, but it's a trophy that Pitt wants to win nonetheless.

"They went to a bowl game last year, and we didn't,'' McKillop said. "It's the River City Rivalry for a reason. We've been lucky enough to keep that trophy the past three years, but we know it's going to be another dogfight over there next Saturday night. We're going to have to bring our A game.

"It's a rivalry game for us, and it's going to be a tough game on national television. That coach is a proven winner. ... They've beaten a lot of good teams already, and we're real excited about this game. No matter what that trophy looks like, we've got to keep it in-house. I'd say we're looking forward to picking it up and carrying it off, but it's a little heavy for that.''

Stull agreed that it's probably the most unusual trophy he's ever seen, but the Panthers like it because of what it represents.

"I like that trophy,'' Stull added, "and we know what's at stake. ... Let's just say that we love it so much we want to keep it here another year.''

So, winning next week at Cincinnati will accomplish two things, keeping Pitt on track to its ultimate goal to win the Big East title and keeping the River City Rivalry Trophy from changing homes a fourth straight year.

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