The cool part about following the region’s sports teams from a media perch is that you don’t need to adhere to those mandates that coaches place upon themselves and their teams.
For example, the last topic Pitt coach Paul Chryst wants to discuss is what the Panthers need to do to reach a bowl or have a winning season. Which makes perfect sense because the players’ focus needs to be centered on the next game, next practice, next snap in practice. If you’re even thinking ahead to what’s for dinner, a good coach will jolt you out of those thoughts in a hurry.
Chyrst can’t be responsible for my actions — not that he wants to be — so I can look ahead and make this proclamation:
In many ways, the game Saturday against Big East foe Temple at Heinz Field is a must-win. Lose, and there goes the season.
– Pitt is only 3-4 and a loss Saturday means this: It must win each of the remaining four games — two of which are against undefeated Notre Dame and Rutgers — to record a winning season. By the way, a Pitt coach hasn’t won more games than he lost in his first season since Foge Fazio was 9-3 in 1982. Since 1955, only John Michelosen, Johnny Majors (the first time, of course), Jackie Sherrill and Fazio have done it.
– To go from 3-5 to 6-6 (minimum, but not guaranteed, bowl eligibility) would require a 3-1 finishing stretch. Which isn’t such an outrageous thought, actually. Pitt did three of four twice in the final eight games of the 2010 season while firing Dave Wannstedt.
– A home loss to Temple, which is less than a decade removed from almost dropping its football program, would be embarrassing and keep Pitt winless after four Big East games.
– Going to Notre Dame at 3-5 would take the shine off next week’s game, with much of the nation watching (especially if Notre Dame finds a way to beat Oklahoma on Saturday).
If Pitt loses to Temple, 5-7 is probably the best Pitt fans can expect this season.
But a victory builds a little momentum for the trip to South Bend where the Panthers will face, possibly, the nation’s best defense. Plus, if quarterback Tino Sunseri resumes his strong play against the Owls — something that was missing last week in windy, rainy Buffalo — and keeps it alive next week, it will send even more national publicity Pitt’s way. And that’s crucial with uncommitted local recruits Dorian Johnson of Belle Vernon, Robert Foster of Central Valley and Tyler Boyd of Clairton watching closely.
I believe Pitt will win the game, but the seven points oddsmakers are giving Temple are tempting: Pitt 24, Temple 20.
Just a thought that might explain why Pitt football has trouble gaining traction with area sports fans: It is 2-6 after a victory under coaches Todd Graham and Chryst.