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Pitt football notebook: Chryst provides stability for Panthers

| Saturday, Dec. 29, 2012, 6:14 p.m.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst will lead the Panthers into their third consecutive appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Jan. 5. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review
Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri throws against Virginia Techin the first quarter at Heinz Field Sept. 15, 2012. Chaz Palla | Tribune Review

Pitt leaves Tuesday for Birmingham, Ala., and its third consecutive appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

If it sounds like the same stale story, quarterback Tino Sunseri said there is one overwhelming difference to this trip.

“We didn't have a coach last year,” he said.

For the first time since 2009 — when Pitt defeated North Carolina, 19-17, in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C. — the Panthers will play a bowl game with the same coach who led them through the regular season.

“It's a really big difference,” said Sunseri, taking a break from watching video of Ole Miss, Pitt's opponent in the Compass Bowl.

“The familiarity of being with your coach and understanding what is expected out of you at all times is huge.”

Interim coaches Phil Bennett and Keith Patterson led Pitt in the Compass Bowl after the 2010 and 2011 seasons when Dave Wannstedt was fired and Todd Graham resigned to go to Arizona State.

This year, Pitt coach Paul Chryst turned his back on the opportunity to be considered for the Wisconsin job opening.

“That's his character,” Sunseri said. “He has a lot of integrity, he understands what he wants, and he understands what he is obligated to. He's a man of his word.”

Last year, Graham and his nine-man staff scattered to new jobs, leaving only Patterson and four other assistants to run the team in a 28-6 loss to SMU.

“It builds character,” Sunseri said. “We understand what it's like to be left (by a coach). We understand what it's like to have a coach and have somebody there for you who wants to see you succeed.”

Big crowd expected

Pitt resumed practice Saturday after taking a holiday break, and it used recorded noise to prepare for a hostile crowd.

Bowl officials are expecting a record crowd of more than 50,000, with most of it cheering for Ole Miss. The Compass Bowl record is 42,610, set three years ago when South Carolina played Connecticut. Pitt appeared in front of crowds of 28,726 and 41,207 the past two years.

Ole Miss sold its allotment of 23,381 tickets, bought 5,556 from Pitt and could have more than 40,000 of its fans in 71,594-seat Legion Field, according to assistant athletic director for media relations Kyle Campbell.

Pitt has sold almost 9,000 tickets for the game.

Campbell said his school sold more bowl tickets than any SEC school and is second in the nation to Stanford.

Familial help

The Sunseri family's SEC ties may help Pitt against Ole Miss.

Sunseri spent the holiday talking football with his father Sal, the former defensive coordinator at Tennessee, and brother Vinnie, a safety at Alabama, which beat Ole Miss, 33-14, this season.

“My dad (now a linebackers coach at Florida State) was able to watch a little bit (of Ole Miss video) and give me his input,” Sunseri said. “They are trying to help me as much as they can, just like I try to help Vinnie with what I saw against Notre Dame.”

Sunseri will be in Miami on Jan. 7 to watch his brother's team play Notre Dame for the national championship.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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