The overall success of Pitt’s football season and the future of Todd Graham’s program do not hinge on the outcome of tonight’s game against South Florida at Heinz Field.
Let’s not get carried away with unnecessary drama. After tonight, there still will be seven games left on the schedule, enough time for a salvage operation.
But the outcome of the Big East opener is significant, given the events of the past three weeks in which Graham repeatedly criticized his team for game-day mistakes. The fact that he felt compelled to lessen the impact of his words by falling on his sword and telling us what we already knew — that he holds himself accountable for everything that happens in his program — only shed more bright light on a sensitive subject.
With that pronouncement, Graham — a good man who truly cares about his players — immediately turned up the heat on himself and his staff.
A victory would validate, at least temporarily, his coaching methods and the offensive and defensive systems that are so radically different from the recent past.
A third consecutive loss, however, would be difficult for the starving Pitt fan base to accept. How dare Graham not turn Pitt into a big winner in the space of five games.
I’ve been going back and forth in my mind, trying to break down this matchup, and I only come up with a lot of questions.
I wonder how Pitt’s offensive line — weakened by the loss of Chris Jacobson, its best player — will handle South Florida’s strong defensive line.
I wonder how the shaky, but improving, Pitt defense will find an answer for quarterback B.J. Daniels.
I wonder what it means when Graham and his players repeatedly insist that the offense is close to finding its stride. And I wonder what it will look like when it happens.
But I also know how hard the players have worked — with and without supervision, before and during the season — and I know such dedication seldom goes unrewarded.
And I know that South Florida is 4-0 after beating only one really good team, Notre Dame, and that was only after the Irish committed five turnovers.
I also know that traveling on a short week does not work in South Florida’s favor.
Put it all together, and I see a close game and Daniels making the difference in a 21-17 South Florida victory.
If I’m wrong, feel free to remind me.