OK, I got a lot of responses on my “Ten worst losses for Pitt since I started covering the team in 2002 a few weeks back” and the comments I got the most were “Why do you have to be so negative?” and “How could you leave all four of the Rutgers losses off the list”.
To the second point first, the four Rutgers losses – I think Pitt should have won at least two of them but really let's examine them closer and when we do, I think you'll see why none of them really deserved to be in the top ten (though last year's could have been honorable mention) –
2005 - Pitt got down like 28-0 or something and came back and lost by only a touchdown. Yes, the Panthers played poorly in the first half, but really, it was more a matter of dropped passes and turnovers – and Rutgers making a few big plays – than anything I would call “head-scratching” or “mind-boggling.” Pitt just got beat up that night.
2006 - A bad Pitt team played its tail off against a team that was within a few points of winning the Big East title. The Panthers even had a chance to win as they trailed only 13-10 until Ray Rice, a great player, made a great play and went about 70 yards up the middle. Nothing to be ashamed of in this one as a win would have been a very nice - and surprising -- upset.
2007 – In all of my years of covering Pitt, I’ve never uttered these words about any game but this one – Big East officials robbed the Panthers. I don't believe officials cost games, I don't buy into referee conspiracy theories, but, the phantom pass interference call on Oderick Turner at the end of the game (it would have been the game-winning touchdown as Pitt trailed by four and more importantly was one of a handful of glaringly bad calls that the Big East reviewed at the end of the year that got the ball rolling to some of the changes made in the official linuep of referees as well as the philosophy and way refereeing in the Big East would be approached as a new regime began), thrown by an official halfway up the sidelines and late, is one of the worst and most ridiculous calls I’ve ever witnessed. Pitt should have won this game but got hosed. That’s not really on the Panthers, especially since this was a team with all of those quarterback issues which fought hard and never quit. It deserved better.
2008 – Pitt took a “you know what” kicking. That’s the bottom line. If there was something a bit disappointing about this game it was that the defensive game plan made no sense and was not adjusted, or at least didn’t appear to be adjusted until it was too late. Despite that, Pitt had a chance until two late turnovers – one by Aaron Berry on a punt and an interception thrown by Pat Bostick – sealed its fate. This one could have made the list probably given the fact that it wasn’t the smartest game played by Pitt, but Mike Teel was on fire that day and sometimes you just have to tip your hat to the other team’s scholarship players because they make plays, too.
Now, to the first point – about me being too negative – it is laughable, particularly since I have an inbox full of e-mails from angry out of town fans (particularly from fans of that team in the middle of the state who swears they don't care about Pitt) calling me a homer. I just call it as I see it. But to prove I am a kinder, gentler beat reporter, and in the interest of fairness, here is a list of “Pitt’s ten best wins” since I started covering the team in 2002……
1.) Pitt 13, West Virginia 9 (2007) – What more can be said about this one? In all my years of covering this team, this is the only game which I can say the outcome took me totally by surprise. I make predictions, some are wrong and some are right (of course, I always hear about it when I am wrong) but even when I make predictions, I almost always can come up with an argument for how it could go the other way. But I remember talking about this game leading up to and saying "I just can't see any realisitc scenario in which Pitt wins this one" and if you didn't say the same thing or something similar, you are lying. One could argue that this game changed the landscape of college football because -- if WVU wins it goes to national title game (and probably beats Ohio State). Rich Rodriguez is likely still at WVU, Les Miles, whose team would not have been going to a national title game, likely is at Michigan, Bo Pelini might be the head coach at LSU and not Nebraska....And just because I know it never gets old for you here was the aftermath from the winning and losing sides, including a little dance off...
And of course, that was the most disheartened I've seen a coach in a postgame since, well, 2001 when I covered WVU and the same coach had a hard time talking about the fact that the Mountaineers had just been upset by Temple in Morgantown.
Oh, and here are a few shots of the locker room celebration -- thankfully for Pitt's sake the players proved to be much better at playing football that night than they were at dancing and singing.
2.) Pitt 16, West Virginia 13 (2004) - Yes, the Panthers technically clinced the BCS berth the next week down in Tampa but this was for all intents and purposes the battle for the Big East championship. And this was also the last home game coached by Walt Harris. WVU came in highly ranked but were without a couple of their high-profile knuckleheads (I think both Chris Henry and Pac Man were suspended for this game) and the Panthers, led by Tyler Palko scored late to come-from-behind and win the game.
3.) Pitt 20 Boston College 17 (2004) - Pitt had won some games during this season in dramatic fashion but it wasn't until this game - complete with the Tyler Palko running over the safety on the sideline - that the Panthers showed they were not only tough enough, but resiliant enough to beat a really good team. The Panthers went the distance to get back into this game then won it with a Josh Cummings kick in overtime. This is the game that really got them headed in the direction of the Fiesta Bowl.
4.) Pitt 31 Virginia Tech 28 (2003) - The game lost a little bit of luster because the Panthers got smacked around by Miami the next week but what more can be said -- Lousaka Polite up the middle for a late touchdown to win the game. ESPN Gameday was in town and the victory put the Panthers in position to win the Big East. But like we said - the Hurricanes spoiled the party.
5.) Pitt 24, Cincinnati 17 (2007) - People laugh when I talk about this win being a big one for Pitt, but remember the Panthers were pretty bad this year and the Bearcats were ranked and on their way to a 10-win season. This was one of the best defensive efforts of any of the teams I've covered and frankly I'd say this game - not the West Virginia upset a few weeks earlier - was the turning point for the Dave Wannstedt era because it showed that he had indeed recruited a good group of talented players and if they could get a little better play from their quarterback, they could be a good team.
8.) Pitt 21, Iowa 20 (2008) - This game answered a lot of questions about the mental toughness of the 2008 team and laid the groundwork for what was a very successful season. It also taught this team how to win games. Every season has a point where it turns for the better or worse -- this is where the season really took a big step forward. It also wiped away the bad taste from the loss to Bowling Green a few weeks earlier. And one other thing - it gave Greg Cross his 15 minutes of fame thanks to one highlight reel play.
9.) Pitt 36, Notre Dame 33, OT (2008) - It is always a big deal to win at Notre Dame. But to come from behind and do it and do it in overtime was pretty impressive, especially considering it looked like the Panthers were in big trouble, down 17-3 at the half. And imagine the simplicity - yet brilliance -- of throwing three fade patterns in a row to Jonathan Baldwin before it finally worked for the game-tying touchdown to send it to overtime.
10.) Pitt 41, Furman 38 (2004), OT – An overtime win over a I-AA team? I know, but before you say "are you nuts" hear me out. This was the game that the team matured and learned how to win - and those things came in handy down the stretch when they won four games coming from behind in the fourth quarter. Pitt was down by 17 in the second half in this game but, behind Palko, came storming back and won the game in overtime. Walking off the field I said to one of the people next to me that "the Panthers learned how to win today" and I really believe this is when that team - which went on to get to the Fiesta Bowl - came together and rallied behind Palko.
Honorable Mention: Pitt 38, Oregon State 13 (2002 Insight Bowl); This year - Pitt 41, USF 14
AND FINALLY, HERE IS THE ABC COVERAGE MAP FOR THE PITT-NOTRE DAME GAME.
The game will be shown in 83 percent of the country, so that's a lot of television sets: