Things were falling South Florida's way when the Bulls last three Big East games resulted in three consecutive wins, including two on the road.
But with a share of first place on the line, the Bulls couldn't muster enough offense Saturday, scoring only one touchdown in a 17-10 loss to Pittsburgh.
The defeat didn't mathematically eliminate the Panthers, who are 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the league, from the conference race, but for all practical matters it did.
They would need tons of help, starting with two losses by the Panthers in their remaining league games, to get a share of the crown.
"We've all got goals that we want to accomplish, and it's unfortunate that those are taken away with a loss today, but we've still got an awful lot to play for," coach Skip Holtz said. "We've still got two games left on the season."
With quarterback B.J. Daniels wearing a brace on his right knee and not looking like his old self, the Bulls struggled to move the ball against the Panthers.
Daniels threw for only 132 yards and ended up 5 yards in the hole rushing, mostly because of the 14 yards he lost on sacks.
The Bulls' rushing game netted 153 yards, but 45 of them came on receiver Terrence Mitchell's touchdown run.
"We certainly didn't play our best game," Holtz said.
That was true of the Bulls' offense. But the defense held Pitt to 292 yards of total offense and to just three points in the first half.
--The three-game winning streak snapped by the loss to Pitt was South Florida's longest in Big East play since it joined the league in 2005. The Bulls have now lost three in a row to the Panthers.
--Special teams gaffes cost South Florida in the loss to Pitt, starting with the opening kickoff, which Eric Schwartz booted out of bounds. Lindsey Lamar's kickoff return to Pitt's 32-yard line was brought back to South Florida's 7-yard line because off an illegal block, and Terrence Mitchell made a fair catch on a punt at his own 2-yard line. P Justin Brockhaus-Kann had a punt blocked (though South Florida recovered a fumble on the play).
PK Maikon Bonani missed a field-goal try, but it was from 52 yards.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Dontavia Bogan -- Bogan finished the game with just four receptions for 60 yards, but he also drew four pass-interference penalties from Pittsburgh. Two of the flags came in South Florida's only touchdown drive of the afternoon.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Terrence Mitchell -- After making a mistake by fair-catching a punt inside his own 5-yard line, Mitchell, a true freshman who moved to offense recently, scored South Florida's only touchdown on a 45-yard run on a third-quarter reverse.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Losing is not a lot of fun, especially when you've been on a three-game winning streak." -- Coach Skip Holtz, after the loss to Pittsburgh at home.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Bulls rushed for 153 yards and held Pittsburgh to just 142 through the air, getting to QB Tino Sunseri for four sacks. WRs Dontavia Bogan and Evan Landi had four catches each, and freshman WR Faron Hornes had three.
STILL NEEDS WORK: QB B.J. Daniels was only 15-for-29 passing for just 132 yards with one interception. Special teams errors featured a kickoff out-of-bounds, a penalty nullifying a long kickoff return, a punt fair-caught inside the 5-yard line and a blocked punt.
--DE Julius Forte, a redshirt freshman, recorded his first career sack. He ended the day with three tackles total.
--RB Moise Plancher hurt his shoulder early and was limited the rest of the way. He ended up with 13 carries for 67 yards.
--SS Jerrell Young set a career high with his eight tackles.