National Ranking On The Horizon?

So, the Pitt football team is 3-0 for the first time in nine years, but the Panthers have drawn mixed reviews so far.

The Pittsburgh fans certainly are thrilled to be undefeated at this point, but since many are realists they're also cautiously optimistic going into Game 4 against North Carolina State Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Raleigh, N.C.

On a national level, Pitt appears to be unloved and definitely is unranked. The Panthers have not yet cracked the top-25 polls voted by college football coaches and writers across the country. Pitt is ranked 29th in the Associated Press (writers) poll and 27th in the USA Today (coaches) poll.

"We're just not that type of team right now,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We've got to go out and prove that we can beat some good football teams. ... I don't know much about the polls. I don't even vote. (But) it's early. We've only played three games, so we've got a lot of time for that stuff.

"If you go on the road and beat an ACC team, you're playing pretty good football, especially a bowl team (like N.C. State) that might have the best quarterback in that conference and the No. 2 defense in the country. Yes, that would be a big win for us.''

Pitt fifth-year senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas believed that point was not lost on the Panthers players.

"We know we haven't accomplished anything yet,'' Mustakas said. "N.C. State will be the best team we've played so far, and they're in the ACC. That's a step up for us, too. Their linemen will be big and strong and tough, but we're going to give them everything they can handle.''

Sure, the Wolfpack (2-1) clearly will be the best team Pitt has faced thus far, but the reverse also is true. N.C. State pounded Murray State and Gardner-Webb after a 7-3 loss to South Carolina in its opener. The Panthers are its fourth straight home opponent.

North Carolina State has allowed 9.3 points per game, two yards per rush and just 70 per game. It also has given up 98.3 passing yards per contest. So, the defense will be a challenge as well.

"The foundational things that you have to do to win, at any level, protecting the ball, playing the run good, running the ball and playing good red-zone offense and defense, we're doing those things pretty good after three games,'' Wannstedt said.

"And if we continue to do those things this week (against N.C. State) and the next few weeks, then we'll have a pretty good football team. (But) we'll have a lot clearer picture of where we're at after Saturday.''

And then, Coach, will Pitt be ranked?

"We're comfortable just doing what we're doing,'' Wannstedt said. "We're just trying to win one more game and keep moving. The polls, at this point, mean nothing. It hasn't been a conversation in this building, and it really won't be. We're only three games into it. There are a lot of games left.''

And if Pitt continues to win, its national profile certainly should improve as well.

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