Conner's dedication; ranking Pitt's potential opponents

Written by Brian Batko on .

From one former WPIAL 1,000-yard rusher to another, Pitt star James Conner took the spotlight on him Saturday night and shined it on DiMantae Bronaugh, instead.

Conner wasn’t in action, but made his presence felt at the ACC championship in Orlando, Fla., nonetheless — and Bronaugh's presence, too.

While being honored with the conference’s Brian Piccolo Award for its most courageous player, an accolade that was announced Thursday, Conner took the opportunity to speak of late Aliquippa player DiMantae Bronaugh, who died Tuesday after his own battle with leukemia. Conner, who of course beat cancer to return to the field this season and rush for more than 1,000 yards, said receiving the award was bittersweet after learning of Bronaugh’s death Tuesday.


“I always say you play for somebody who can’t,” Conner said in an article on “And I’ll definitely be playing for him this bowl game and probably for the rest of my career.”

Also in the article written by Sam Gardner, Conner expands on the relationship he had with Bronaugh, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a junior at Aliquippa in 2014. His running mate that year was Quips star Kaezon Pugh, now a freshman linebacker at Pitt. 

I included the Conner-Bronaugh story from Saturday night on our college football page in Sunday morning's Post-Gazette, page C-4, if you'd like to check it out.


That's pretty much where we are right now. We'll find out sometime Sunday where Pitt is headed later this month and who the Panthers will face. A quick roundup of bowl projections from various sites, in one handy place:

Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel - Stanford, Sun Bowl
ESPN's Mark Schlabach - Utah, Sun
ESPN's Brett McMurphy - Utah, Sun
SBNation - Stanford, Sun
CBS Sports - Northwestern, Pinstripe Bowl
Yahoo - Stanford, Sun
Sporting News - Northwestern, Pinstripe
Sports Illustrated - Northwestern, Pinstripe
247Sports - Stanford, Sun
Athlon Sports - West Virginia, Russell Athletic Bowl

So, that's four guesses for Stanford, three for Northwestern, two for Utah and one brave soul predicting a Backyard Brawl Bowl (FWIW, Mandel was dead-on about Pitt to the Military Bowl last year before the final weekend). Now, I'd never claim Pitt "deserves better" than any opponent, but just for fun, here's one man's ranking of who would be most fun (bowl location/prestige, aside).

1. West Virginia — For obvious reasons. Even if you hate WVU with a passion, this would make for a great bowl atmosphere.

2. Stanford — Christian McCaffrey alone would make this an intriguing matchup, even if the name on his jersey said "Idaho" but it doesn't. With all its tradition and big-name stature, Stanford would make for a high-profile bowl game. "McCaffery. Conner. It's the Sun Bowl on Whatever Channel The Sun Bowl's On."

3. Northwestern — James Conner and Justin Jackson would be another solid matchup of top RBs. Not to mention, the P-G's Ron Cook went to Northwestern, so this would almost be like a rivalry game.

4. Utah — If only because I figure Pitt fans wouldn't want flashbacks to that 2005 Fiesta Bowl when the Utes creamed the Panthers 35-7. Or that 2010 season opener when a Tino Sunseri overtime interception ruined a good thing before the No. 15 Panthers could even get rolling. Basically, things just never seem to go well for Pitt against Utah.

5. Navy — OK, so none of the bowl projection gurus put their chips on the Midshipmen, who are a mortal lock to the Armed Forces Bowl to play a Big 12 team, but I'm just going to assume no one — from coaches and players who'd have to prepare for the triple-option to the fans who'd have to watch them try to stop it — from Pitt wants to see this team in a bowl for the second year in a row.

Brian Batko: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  and Twitter @BrianBatko.

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