'Big Least' Pitt's best friend

| Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008

A win is a win, but did anyone's opinion of Pitt dramatically change during this life-and-death struggle with Mid-American Conference member Buffalo?

Mine didn't.

These teams were evenly matched -- Pitt had 352 yards to Buffalo's 348 -- just as Pitt and Bowling Green had been a week earlier.

That can't be encouraging.

Then again, Ohio State barely survived Ohio earlier Saturday, so maybe the MAC is better than some of us thought.

Pitt hung on to win, 27-16, thanks to an efficient second-half offense. Tailback LeSean "Shady" McCoy (20 carries, 93 yards) sprung to life, receiver Cedric McGee made a miraculous catch, and quarterback Bill Stull (22-for-33, 241 yards) delivered several clutch strikes.

Pitt actually passed the ball with a late lead, too, which was heartening. But the Panthers certainly didn't thrust themselves back into anyone's Top 25.

At this point, I'm not convinced Pitt would contend in the MAC, though I'm certain it has a fighting chance in the Big East.

And that's the best news of all for Pitt fans. The Big East stinks.

This is coming from a guy who has defended Big East football as underrated and over-criticized over the past three seasons.

Not this year.

Did you see some of yesterday's scores?

  • East Carolina 24, West Virginia 3 (Bill Stewart's honeymoon comes to a crashing halt).
  • UConn 12, Temple 9 -- overtime. (Two years in a row the Huskies barely escape the Temple of doom).
  • Oklahoma 52, Cincinnati 26. (Cincinnati is supposed to be one of the Big East's better teams).
  • Akron 42, Syracuse 28. (It really is time for the Greg Robinson era to end; for his sake, as much as anyone's).
  • USF 31, Central Florida 24 -- overtime (Bulls blow late two-touchdown lead, barely survive).

All of which came after an opening weekend in which Rutgers was stomped at home by Fresno State, Louisville lost to visiting Kentucky by the humiliating score of 27-2 and Pitt crumbled against Bowling Green.

Anybody but Syracuse can win the Big Least.

Buffalo outplayed Pitt in the first half but trailed, 10-9, because of a horrific extra-point attempt (the kicker blasted the ball into a teammate's back). Pitt also took advantage of a personal-foul call on Buffalo's Mike Newton.

It happened with Buffalo leading, 6-0, and ready to take possession after holding Pitt on third down late in the first quarter. Newton blasted McCoy on a pass that sailed over McCoy's head, drawing the flag.

McCoy and Stull said it was an obvious call -- a helmet-to-helmet hit. Buffalo coach Turner Gill said the call was made on account of a new rule.

"When a pass is thrown over a receiver's head," Gill said, "you're not allowed to hit him."

Isn't that a flag-football rule?

In any case, the game changed for good.

Give Pitt credit for turning a potential three-and-out into an eight-play, 67-yard touchdown drive and a 7-6 lead. It never trailed again -- though it had trouble stopping Buffalo quarterback Drew Willy, at times making him look like the reincarnation of Drew Willy Namath.

Buffalo didn't help its cause by drawing two more personal fouls later in the game.

Pitt was leading, 17-16, at the beginning of the fourth when it put together a gorgeous 10-play, 74-yard drive. McCoy carried four times for 34 yards, including a 2-yard TD run. McGee kept the drive alive by reaching back for a one-handed snag on third-and-4 at the Buffalo 44.

One thing about McCoy: You have to like his fire.

"I took (the Bowling Green loss) personal," he said. "I played a horrible game. I looked at this as a new beginning."

So, Pitt's season is very much alive. After a bye week, the Panthers play host to Iowa then swing into the Big East schedule with visits to Syracuse and USF.

Nothing that happened here last night made me believe this is a really good team, but nothing that has transpired in the Big East makes me believe Pitt can't contend.

It could still be a mighty interesting season.

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