Pittsburgh is 9-3 for the second straight season, while the Tar Heels are 8-4. The Panthers lost to Virginia, 23-16, in the 2003 Car Care Bowl that was the highest-viewed college bowl game in the history of ESPN2 with the largest ticket sales by volume to the Cavaliers. There was a pre-game pep rally that had some 32,000 in attendance and brought about $30 million to the area.
North Carolina's administrators are hopeful for a similar attendance from Tar Heels fans, as their Chapel Hill campus is about 150 miles from Charlotte. That's why UNC has asked its fans to make the less than two-hour trip to "Turn Charlotte Blue.''
The irony is dripping here with, as Pitt hopes for the same effect. The stadium also is home to the Carolina Panthers, and that makes it a lot heavier.
"We still have one game left, one more game to get our 10 wins,'' Pitt senior tight end Nate Byham said. "That's what we wanted. We're going to a bowl game, and we're going to come out firing. We feel like we should have 11 wins now, but we lost our last two games. We don't feel like that's Pitt.
"It's not how we play football. It makes me sick to my stomach to know that we lost two straight. You can say to hold our heads high. ... But that's not where we want to be. That's not what we wanted. We wanted to win a championship. No one remembers second-place teams. They only remember champions.''
That might be true, but this season has been quite memorable no matter how badly everyone feels who is associated with Pitt. That's the administrators, players, coaches and fans. One might believe they should be just as excited as last season, but that's not the case. This year's 9-3 isn't like last year's.
"Yeah, it's different, because we had everything in our hands this year,'' Pitt fifth-year senior defensive tackle Gus Mustakas said. "We had home field, and we just didn't get the job done. Last year was a learning experience. We had everything in our favor this year, but we couldn't finish it off.''
Pitt fifth-year senior quarterback Bill Stull answered "absolutely'' when asked if this year's record was different from the last one.
"Knowing what we could have had,'' Stull said. "Being so close, and everything we accomplished as a team this year. Also, it wasn't just Shady scoring or Shady doing something, but we won this year as a team. We won as a team on offense and as a team on defense and as a team on special teams.
"That was a big difference. ... Sure, we're disappointed, but we have a lot to be proud of about this season. And it's not finished yet. We just need to keep our heads up, fight adversity and win our bowl game. (And) I know we can do it. I think we're a tough team, physically and mentally.
"And we have a lot of seniors on this team that won't let it get down,'' Stull added. "We'll make sure that ... we'll be ready for our bowl game. Sure, it's going to be tough, a tough loss to swallow, but we've been through a lot the past four, five and for Adam Gunn, six years together.''
Gunn addressed that as well.
"It's been great, and I'm extremely thankful for the opportunity I got this season,'' Gunn said. "There was a time when I didn't know if I'd play again, but I always had faith. And I know this team will bounce back in our bowl game. We're a little down now, but we'll be back.''
And a 10th win would be a nice springboard into the offseason.
Pitt Guns For 10 Wins
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