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Tim Benz: Pitt fans must Cowboy up against Oklahoma State

| Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, 7:45 p.m.
Pitt cheerleaders warm up the student section before the Pitt Youngstown State game at Heinz Field Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt cheerleaders warm up the student section before the Pitt Youngstown State game at Heinz Field Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.

Penn State coach James Franklin made it clear. He thinks Pitt treats its matchup against his team like the Super Bowl.

Now that Pitt lost in Happy Valley, one goal is in the best interest of the Panthers and their fans.

Don't prove Franklin right.

Don't act like your season is over in mid-September just because things went badly in State College.

A golden opportunity presents itself Saturday at Heinz Field against No. 9 Oklahoma State. The Cowboys don't come into town with a regional rivalry attached to themselves like the Nittany Lions do. But they might be just as good as PSU this year.

Or better.

As Clemson was last year. Yet Pitt won that game.

“Another top-10 team gets to come into Heinz Field. I think our kids are excited about it,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “I don't believe there is any hangover from last week. I think they understand how important this one is.”

Let's hope the fans do as well.

The only thing that would've been better about last year's stunner over Clemson is if it happened here. Getting that experience at home on top of the Penn State victory of 2016 would have created two landmark Pitt moments at Heinz Field. Those events have been more infrequent than originally hoped when the Panthers moved into the facility.

Panther defensive back Dane Jackson was asked about the atmosphere he was expecting.

“I hope it's a good one,” Jackson said. “I hope it's a large crowd. And I hope our fans are engaged as well.”

There's no reason why Jackson and his teammates should get anything less than that. The Cowboys are worthy title contenders. It shouldn't matter that it's a noon start. Or that the Steelers play at home the next day, too. Or whatever the weather may be.

All the old excuses for why the stadium doesn't draw big crowds for Panther games — aside from traditional rivals — shouldn't apply to this contest.

After all, between Saturday and when No. 17 Miami visits Nov. 24, none of Pitt's remaining home opponents are currently ranked. Oklahoma State looks like the jewel of this year's schedule.

And here's a crazy thought. What if Pitt actually wins? Like last year at Clemson.

“We had a top-5 team last week. We have a top-10 team this week,” Pitt sophomore quarterback Ben DiNucci said. “You learn from what you did last week and also last year.”

DiNucci, who appears to still be second string behind transfer Max Browne despite some flashes of potential last week, recalled now-departed offensive coordinator Matt Canada laying the foundation for an upset during Clemson-week a season ago.

“Coach Canada was on everybody all the time last year,'' DiNucci said. “ ‘We aren't the underdog. We're going to win.' So, I think we can take that same approach into Saturday.”

Actually, Pitt almost won at Oklahoma State a year ago. The Cowboys needed Rennie Childs' fourth touchdown with 1:28 left to get a 45-38 victory.

OSU ended last season ranked No. 11 with a 10-3 record.

Fortunately for Pitt, Childs is out of eligibility. Unfortunately for Pitt, Mason Rudolph, James Washington and Justice Hill are not. Rudolph threw for 540 yards and two touchdowns vs Pitt last year. Washington caught both scores as part of a 296-yard afternoon. And Hill wound up with 1,142 yards rushing as a freshman last season.

Plus, their coach Mike Gundy says his defense is playing with more speed this season. And since Pitt's offense doesn't appear to be as dynamic as a year ago, it's going to hard for the Panthers to keep up with Oklahoma State.

But stranger things have happened. Like, well, winning at Death Valley when the Tigers were ranked second in the nation.

Pitt fans tend to put a lot of stock in whatever Narduzzi says. And the coach doesn't seem to think he lost the Super Bowl. The players aren't acting that way.

Die-hard Pitt fans should hope their brethren have the same point of view and show up in droves Saturday.

Because for Pitt, the only notion worse than losing to Franklin may be proving him right.

Acting like you won the Super Bowl last year is fine.

Acting like you lost it after last weekend is not.

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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