The Panthers are hopeful that's the case this time around as well.
No. 18 Pittsburgh (9-3) faces No. 24 Oregon State (8-4) in the 75th annual Sun Bowl Wednesday at 2 p.m. in El Paso, Texas.
"Beating West Virginia at the end of last season did a lot for us, and hopefully the same thing will happen with a win against Oregon State,'' Pitt sophomore safety Dom DeCicco said. "We'd finish 10-3 and be ranked pretty high.
"And with everybody we have coming back next season, I guess we'd have a good preseason ranking. But we can't afford to look that far ahead. We just have to concentrate on Oregon State and the Sun Bowl.''
Pitt sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy really isn't a football historian, but he obviously knows that the Panthers won their previous Sun Bowl appearances. The 1975 team beat Kansas, and the 1989 squad stopped a higher-ranked Texas A&M team. In fact, this is the first time the Sun Bowl has featured two ranked teams since 1989.
Pitt didn't return to a bowl game until 1997, the first season that Walt Harris took over the program. So, McCoy is hopeful that the Panthers can follow the path started by the 1975 team. Pitt's 33-18 thrashing against Kansas began nine straight post-season appearances for the program.
"Definitely, a win in a bowl game like this, that can give us a spark heading into next season,'' McCoy said. "Just like West Virginia last year, winning this bowl game can really give us a good head start on next season. So, that's what we're going out there to do.
"(But) I just want to take everything in, the entire experience at the Sun Bowl. We can go down there and have some fun, a reward for all the hard work we put in this whole season, going to the first bowl game since 2004. This team worked very hard this season, and we earned this opportunity.
"And now, we have a chance to showcase our talent in this bowl game,'' McCoy added. "So, it's pretty cool that we're able to do that, and especially for guys like me. It's my first experience at a bowl game, so I want to take it all in.''
In that 1975 game, three Pitt players rushed for more than 100 yards, a nearly unheard of feat. Tailback Tony Dorsett carried 27 times for 142 yards and two touchdowns. Fullback Elliott Walker ran 11 times for 123 yards and two scores with a 60-yarder, as the Panthers had nearly 300 rushing yards at the half.
Quarterback Robert Haygood was at the controls for Pitt's veer offense and added 101 yards on 14 carries. He also threw for one touchdown in the rout. McCoy's eyes widened when told about the Panthers' rushing performance in that game.
"That's really something,'' McCoy said. "I don't know if we could do that. Maybe me and LaRod, but I don't know about Billy Stull.''
What the Panthers can accomplish is set the tone for the program's future. Three players from their previous Sun Bowl appearances are on the 75th anniversary team. Dorsett and offensive guard Tom Brzoza made it from the 1975 team, while quarterback Alex Van Pelt was on the 1989 squad.
Van Pelt passed for 354 yards in Pitt's 32-37 win against Texas A&M in the 1989 John Hancock Sun Bowl. Curvin Richards also had 156 rushing yards in that game, as the Panthers rolled to 530 total yards. Maybe McCoy can perform well enough to get his name and a few teammates on a future list.
"Sure, that would be pretty cool,'' McCoy said. "I wouldn't mind that. It would be great for the University, this team, all the guys I've been playing with. It would be something to remember, but not just for me. Guys like Scott McKillop, C.J. Davis, those guys. It would be great to be part of that.''
And that could catapult the Pitt football program into a bright future.
McCoy, Pitt Want To Make History
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