Pitt Controls Own Fate Now

As marquee wins go, anytime a team can beat Notre Dame it counts in that category, and Pitt's 27-22 win against the Irish Saturday night was as good as it gets in that regard.

Sure, Notre Dame is not having a big year, but the Panthers needed this win to help cement their place in the top 10 this fall. Pittsburgh is 9-1 for the first time since 1982, and the sky's the limit for this group.

"The attitude of our football team to handle the ups and downs during the course of the game was great,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We knew what a talented fooball team Notre Dame is and that they were going to strike and get points.''

Clearly, the Golden Dome has lost some luster in recent years, but the Panthers weren't intimidated by the Notre Dame mystique anyway.

"We couldn't let the Notre Dame name get to us,'' fifth-year senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. "They are just a regular team. They're great athletes and a good team, but our seniors did a good job of letting everyone know that we can play with anyone.''

And even though there were 65,374 screaming fans in attendance and many more watching on the national ABC-TV broadcast, the spotlight wasn't too bright for the Panthers.

"Notre Dame has a great set of core receivers, and Clausen is one of the best quarterbacks in college football today,'' redshirt freshman safety Jarred Holley said. "It was really exciting to play against those guys, but as a defense we were ready to play.''

Pitt made plays on both sides of the ball, but a critical aspect of the win was that the Panthers protected the ball and had just one penalty later in the game.

"We were clean on penalties in the first half, and we had a five-yard penalty in the second half,'' Wannstedt said. "We were disciplined enough, even in an atmosphere like this.''

Mustakas agreed, and he praised all the Panthers.

"I feel like a lot of guys and a lot of younger guys really stepped up," Mustakas said. "National TV, ABC, a lot of guys didn't shy down. The defense stepped up and was ready to go.''

Wannstedt has preached all year that if the Panthers practice well, put in the time during the week, that Saturday "will take care of itself.'' Pitt fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull believed that was the case.

"Every week, all week ... we make practice, Coach Cignetti especially with the quarterbacks, makes practice as difficult as possible during the week,'' Stull said. "That way, it's only muscle memory during the game. ... Last year, I wanted to play so bad, but the concussion (against Rutgers) kept me out.

"So, I circled this game and wanted to make sure I would be ready to play in this game. (And) we wanted to finish this game as strong as possible. They started coming back and got close at the end, but it was great to call our favorite play and get into that victory formation to run out the clock.''

Pitt has everything in front of it now with Big East games at West Virginia Nov. 27 and against No. 5 Cincinnati Dec. 5 at Heinz Field. The Panthers' game with Cincy will determine the Big East champion and accompanying BCS Bowl bid.

There are three possibilities in play with regard to the Conference title. Both Cincinnati and Pitt can still win the title outright or there could be a shared championship between the teams. Here are the possible scenarios:

Pitt wins the Big East championship outright if it wins its last two regular-season games, but the Bearcats can win the Conference title for the second straight year if they beat the Panthers in the regular-season finale.

Pitt and Cincinnati could share the Big East title if WVU beats Pitt, and then the Panthers beat the Bearcats in the final game. Pitt would get the BCS bid due to head-to-head results. The last time the Panthers got the BCS bowl bid was as a three-way co-champion in 2004.

"The past four years that I've been here, I've seen this team start out and play well, but then everything goes down the tubes and we can't come back,'' Stull said. "This year, it's different. ... Against Notre Dame, we came out strong.

"They were able to come back. Then, instead of losing it, that was when we really stepped on their throat, dug deep and put the nail in their coffin. And that's something you're going to remember the most about this team.''

It would be more memorable with a Big East title and BCS bowl win.

"The great thing is that this season is in our hands, and it's not over yet,'' Stull said. "It's up to us whether we win or lose. It's not up to any voters or computers, and we don't have to watch to see if other teams win or lose.

"We control our own fate, and as long as we keep doing what we've been doing we expect our success to continue.''

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