Making A Statement

The Pitt football team has gotten its share of accolades lately, and rightfully so with what the Panthers accomplished on the field the past two seasons, but nothing can boost a program's stature like a win against Notre Dame.

Pittsburgh (8-1) gets its chance against the Fighting Irish (6-3) Saturday at 8 p.m. at Heinz Field. The game will be broadcast nationally by ABC-TV.

"Yes, this is a big game, a statement game,'' Pitt fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull said. "It really doesn't have anything to do with us in the Big East, but we definitely can get the spotlight on us if we play to the best of our ability and come out with the win. (And) I'm just happy to get a chance to play against them and be healthy.

"Last year, unfortunately, I wasn't able to play. So, I'm just excited to get another opportunity to play against Notre Dame. It's always going to be a big rivalry game, a packed house, sold out (and on) national TV. Everyone's going to be there. So, it's going to be a very exciting atmosphere.''

Notre Dame is the most nationally-recognized college football program, and that's always been the case even though the Golden Dome has been somewhat tainted the past couple years for fifth-year coach Charlie Weis. Still, the Irish usually are on TV every week and get the best possible bowl scenarios, and this year is no different.

Even with a loss to Pitt, Notre Dame could play in the Gator Bowl with wins in its remaining games and with a Panthers loss to Cincinnati. So, Pitt could be 10-2 in the regular season and end up in the Car Care Bowl in Charlotte. It's not a certainty, but it's certainly possible.

"No matter if both teams were undefeated or neither has won a game, either way it's going to be a 15-round fight, four tough quarters where everybody's going to be battling their tail off to get a win,'' Stull added.

"And in college football, you really can's ask for more than that. It's great to have all the rankings and be on a national TV game on ABC, because we can show everyone the type of team that we really are against Notre Dame.''

Pitt senior cornerback Aaron Berry readily agreed with Stull. This is a chance for the Panthers to make a statement.

"I definitely think it's real big, a statement game for us,'' Berry said. "(A chance) for everybody in the country to know that we're for real and our conference is among the best in the country, I believe.

"And even though it doesn't count toward the Big East championship and our goal, we're taking it that we want to get another win against them like we did last year. And with all the hype that Notre Dame has ... all their first-rounders, their big line and their defense, it's a chance for us to prove ourselves to the rest of the country since it's on national TV and ABC and all that.''

It's also an opportunity for the Panthers to get a big win at home. It hasn't happened too often in recent years, and it certainly hasn't happened against Notre Dame. Pitt's only home win against the Irish in the past 22 years was a big one, though. The Panthers beat them 37-27 in the Pitt Stadium finale.

Pitt also won last season, 36-33 in four overtimes, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Ind. And a victory this week could boost the Panthers into the homestretch, the final two Big East games Nov. 27 at West Virginia and against No. 5 Cincinnati Dec. 5 at Heinz Field.

"We like to look at each game like another game in the process, no matter who we're playing,'' senior left offensive guard Joe Thomas said. "That keeps things in perspective, but this game certainly has national implications being Notre Dame and who they are.

"(And) I think they're going to come in here looking for revenge, looking for blood, and we haven't played them here since Coach Wannstedt's first year. We wanted to get them back for that last year, getting a win on their home field, so they probably want to do the same thing to us this year.''

So, for the Pitt football program to get to the next level, it has to make a statement by winning marquee matchups like this one against Notre Dame.

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