No. 15 Pitt (0-0) at Utah (0-0)
When: 8:30 p.m. tonight
Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium (45,017/Field Turf)
Line: Utah by 3 (49 over/under)
Last meeting: Utah 35, Pitt 7 in 2005 Fiesta Bowl
School Game Notes
It’s about four hours to kickoff one of the most anticipated seasons in recent Pitt history and here are some pre-game thoughts.
*** Pitt obviously has more far-reaching goals than beating Utah. The Big East championship and a BCS Bowl victory are much more substantive desires. That said, the Panthers have made it clear that they aren’t looking at this game as just another non-conference game that means nothing to their ultimate goals. Just the opposite, in fact. The Panthers, especially coach Dave Wannestedt, seem to be focused on this game and nothing else – as it should be.
It might be dangerous to put too much into the outcome of one non-conference early September matchup, but I get the feeling Pitt is taking tonight as seriously as – if not more than — any Big East game. And I have nothing wrong with that.
*** When you are playing at nearly 4,700 feet above sea level, there is a concern about the effects of high altitude. The coaches and players like to dismiss the thin air as unimportant. But it is a factor. One reader e-mailed me after my story on the effect of high altitude on athletes earlier in the week and said he felt a shortness of breath walking up a flight of stairs. Former All-America basketball player Sam Young said after Pitt’s first-round 2008 NCAA tournament game in Denver that it was much more difficult to breath – he realized this during a timeout when he actually had a chance to notice it.
But after a talk with strength coach Buddy Morris this week, I think the high altitude might be a benefit to the Panthers – and here’s why. Morris said this year’s team could be the most physically fit and mentally tough unit he’s ever coached. Not in the four years since he returned, but in his three stints at Pitt dating to 1980 and totaling 19 seasons.
Utah knows about its thin air, home-field advantage. I’m sure they are used to players from low-elevation schools being a little gassed in the fourth quarter. But Pitt, in theory at least, won’t be tired. The Panthers are in terrific shape and they have depth at the running back and defensive line positions – two spots where rotation is important. I think Pitt’s fitness might get into Utah’s head later in the game. They will wonder, ‘Why isn’t this team getting tired?’ We shall see.
*** Utah has won 17 in a row at Rice-Eccles Stadium, but the Utes are 0-5 in their past five openers against ranked teams, dating to a loss to No. 17 UCLA in 1956.
*** Here is one statistic that should concern Pitt fans. Utah is 13-0 in its past 13 games in which it had more than one week to prepare for an opponent – season openers, bowl games and night games other than Saturdays. Utah also is 7-0 against Big East teams.