Justin K. Aller
At 2-4, Pitt's season hasn't gone all that well. But surprising as it may be, the Panthers can still reach a bowl game with a strong performance the rest of the season.
The critical stretch? Not games against ranked Notre Dame or Rutgers, but contests over the next two weekends against Buffalo and Temple. Why? Because Pitt should actually have a good chance to win those games to get back to .500.
The quest starts against the Bulls on Saturday as the Panthers travel on the road to face a team that's given them some trouble in recent memory. Pitt is a perfect 3-0 against Buffalo in the short history of the series, but the Panthers haven't had an easy time of things against the MAC squad.
In 2008, the Panthers led by a single point in the fourth quarter before adding a touchdown and field goal to win by 11. The 2009 game was a rout with Pitt winning big, 54-27, but in 2010, the Panthers faced another tough contest much of the way. The Panthers led 7-3 at the half and only 21-16 in the 4th quarter. They eventually pulled away with two touchdowns, but Pitt was clearly tested for more than three quarters.
Now, this Buffalo team is a bit worse than the ones Pitt has seen before. The Bulls tout one of the worst offenses and defense in the entire FBS. They also have lost by more than two touchdowns in three of their five defeats against Georgia, Kent State, and Northern Illinois. But despite all of that, Buffalo has been competitive at times losing by only a touchdown to Big East program UConn and undefeated Ohio (both on the road).
Based on the close games in the past as well as the team's play this season, I can't imagine Pitt will be taking the Bulls very lightly. This game is simply a 'must have' if the team wants a realistic shot at getting to a bowl game and frankly, a game Buffalo is capable of winning. The Panthers are still four victories away from becoming bowl eligible and with some tough teams still on the schedule, Pitt needs to capitalize here.