Bowl eligibility at stake for Pitt
If Pitt defeats South Florida on Saturday night in Tampa, Fla., the Panthers could return to nearby St. Petersburg three weeks later to play in the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl on Dec. 21 against a Conference USA opponent.
Pitt (5-6, 2-4 Big East) needs one more victory to secure minimum bowl eligibility. The Big East has contractual obligations to six bowl games, and Beef ‘O' Brady's gets the final pick.
Negotiations this week among bowl, conference, school and ESPN officials will determine placement, but a six-victory Pitt team has a good chance to extend its season.
“If we do have an eligible Pitt team available, our bowl partners would be obligated to take them instead of a team from another conference,” said Chuck Sullivan, the Big East's director of communications.
The BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., has fifth choice, but Pitt has played there in each of the past two seasons. Bowl officials might opt for Connecticut (5-6, 2-4) if it becomes eligible, or another team, leaving Pitt for the Beef ‘O' Brady's.
Telephone calls made Sunday to officials from both bowls were not returned.
The other four Big East bowl berths would go to the conference champion (Rutgers, if it defeats Louisville on Thursday night), Cincinnati, Syracuse and Louisville. All four of those teams will finish ahead of Pitt in the final standings.
The Big East champion is expected to go to the Orange Bowl, with the Citrus, Belk and Pinstripe bowls making the next three picks in that order.
The Pinstripe Bowl matches Big East and Big 12 teams, raising hopes of a Backyard Brawl renewal between Pitt and West Virginia in Yankee Stadium. But the Pinstripe has fourth pick from the Big East and might be inclined to take in-state school Syracuse. Pinstripe representative Jason Latimer did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Pitt's game against South Florida will kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Raymond James Stadium. It will be televised by ESPN2.
Running back Ray Graham needs just 16 yards to move past Curvin Richards into second place on Pitt's all-time rushing list. Graham has 3,177 career yards and will achieve his first 1,000-yard season if he reaches 52.
Quarterback Tino Sunseri has thrown for 8,194 yards, fourth on the school's all-time list. He is 149 short of No. 3 Tyler Palko (8,343), and could surpass No. 2 Dan Marino (8,597) if Pitt goes to a bowl game. Sunseri is averaging 262.9 yards per game.
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.