Pitt's Off To Charlotte

Surely, it's going to take massive amounts of mouthwash to eradicate the taste from the past two bitter defeats that ended the regular season for the Pitt football team, but Panthers coach Dave Wannstedt believes that can be accomplished by winning a bowl game.

Pittsburgh gets that opportunity in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. Saturday, Dec. 26 at 4:30 p.m. at Bank of America Stadium and televised nationally by ESPN. The Panthers' opponent is North Carolina from the ACC.

"Our program is excited to play another football game and have the opportunity to potentially earn a 10th victory,'' Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "The Meineke Car Care Bowl organizers are outstanding people and professionals.

"And I know our team will have a first-class experience when we visit Charlotte later this month. Playing a national ESPN television game against a quality ACC opponent is a great opportunity, and we are looking forward to the challenge.''

The 16th-ranked Panthers slink into the postseason with a 9-3 record for the second straight regular season, but with losses at West Virginia Dec. 27 in the Backyard Brawl and to Cincinnati in the Big East title game Saturday at Heinz Field. Their other loss was at North Carolina State, and the three defeats were by a combined 11 points.

"We put our hearts out there every game, and these younger guys have to be able to take over the leadership roles on this team,'' Pitt senior tight end Nate Byham said. "I know they can do it. They're very talented players, and there's no reason why we can't win the Big East title next year. We have great coaches and great players, so I know we can do it.

"We've been close the past two years, but we just couldn't finish. And that's not on the coaches. It's on us as players not executing. It hurts so much to say it, but we lost by one point. A game that we should have won. The young guys have been there, too, and I just hope they learn from it. (And) winning this bowl game will end this season on a positive and get the next one going, too.''

Pitt's entire body of work, as well as an opportunity for the team's fan base to make the one-day drive south from Pennsylvania, made the Panthers an intriguing option for the bowl committee.

"We are tremendously excited to have the University of Pittsburgh play in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl,'' Will Webb, executive director of the bowl game, said. "The Panthers have had a tremendous season, and they have proven worthy of their national ranking.

"The anticipation of fans has been tremendous already. We have only a limited number of lower level seats left. We feel that this Pittsburgh team will make the Meineke Car Care Bowl a very exciting and competitive game.''

This will be Pitt's 26th all-time bowl game, and its second visit to Charlotte for the postseason. The Panthers played in the 2003 Continental Tire Bowl and lost to Virginia, 23-16. Pitt is 62-66-2 against current members of the ACC.

The Panthers are 2-4 all-time against North Carolina with a 20-16 win at home in 1978 and 7-6 victory in 1982 at Three Rivers Stadium. The losses were 45-29 in 174, 17-7 in 1979, 29-10 in 1998 and 20-17 in 2000 at Three Rivers Stadium.

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