Pitt struggles at home when ranked
Fresh off a four-overtime victory at Notre Dame, Pitt returns to Heinz Field with a No. 25 ranking and a chance to put itself in position to win the Big East Conference championship.
For most teams, that would be an ideal scenario.
For the Panthers, it's been a recipe for disaster.
Pitt (6-2, 2-1) is 0-3 at home under coach Dave Wannstedt when nationally ranked and has yet to beat Louisville (5-3, 1-2), which visits at noon Saturday, since the Cardinals joined the Big East three years ago.
"We need this win to erase some doubts about Pitt not playing well when we're in the national spotlight," fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop said.
Wannstedt has no explanation for the lapses, other than to say that a few second-half mishaps in the season-opening loss to Bowling Green and the Oct. 25 defeat to Rutgers could have turned the tide to Pitt's favor. Then again, Pitt has won three games by a collective nine points.
Louisville has won seven consecutive over Pitt, including a 24-17 victory last season, when Pat Bostick and LeSean McCoy botched a handoff at the Cardinals' 1-yard line in the final minutes.
"Our team knows that we've got to play a very good football team on the road," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said.
The Panthers know that they control their fate, with remaining Big East games against Louisville, at Cincinnati (6-2, 2-1) on Nov. 22, West Virginia (6-2, 3-0) on Nov. 28 and at Connecticut (6-3, 2-2) on Dec. 6. If Pitt wins every game, it will clinch the Big East title and a BCS bowl berth.
"I think it's pretty clear that the conference is up for grabs," Wannstedt said. "However we play in this last month will obviously be a determining factor. I looked at the schedule last night, and everybody is playing conference games now. Every week is a big week."
Not that the Panthers need any additional motivation, but they have some in knowing that a victory over the Cardinals would be Pitt's first in a quarter century and likely would clinch the first bowl invitation in Wannstedt's four years.
Although Pitt is bowl eligible, seven wins may be needed to snag one of the Big East's designated bowl spots. Pitt also became bowl eligible with a 6-1 start in 2006 only to lose its final five games, so the Panthers know not to take anything for granted.
"To the team, it's always special to get to a bowl game," senior center C.J. Davis said. "That's the goal every season. I feel like if I don't get to a bowl game, my career was a failure."
Then again, this is a season that saw Pitt win for the first time after a bye week in beating Iowa, win on the road with a short week against South Florida and win with a 16-day layoff at Navy. The Panthers are hoping that their 0-3 record at home when ranked is another streak that is snapped.
"Any time you play at home, you don't want to lose, regardless of whether you're ranked or not ranked," McKillop said. "We'd like to play the way we play away (when playing) at home. It all starts with Louisville."Additional Information:
Pitt, which plays Louisville on Saturday at Heinz Field, is 0-3 in home games when nationally ranked under Dave Wannstedt:
Sept. 3, 2005-23rd-Notre Dame/L, 42-21
Oct. 30, 2008-25th-Bowling Green/L, 27-17
Oct. 25, 2008-17th-Rutgers/L, 54-34