(Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE)
The Panthers hope to build momentum off of their Virginia Tech win last Saturday.
Don't blame Pitt for this one, folks. The Panthers really would have liked to avoid playing another FCS school for a multitude of reasons. For one, it just flat out looks back for FBS programs to do so. For another, only one win over FCS teams can count towards bowl eligibility. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it), Pitt won't have that problem as they were surprised by Youngstown State in their opening contest of the season. But after the latest round of conference expansion happened, Pitt was left without an opponent.
Despite the trouble the Panthers had with the Penguins in that first game, though, the team really should have little trouble with Gardner-Webb. The Runnin' Bulldogs simply aren't very good this season, as their 0-3 record thus far would indicate. Not only has the team failed to win a game to this point, they haven't even been competitive in one yet, losing by more than 20 points each time out.
After struggling mightily through the first two games of the season, Pitt got on the winning track last weekend, upsetting the nationally-ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. Make no mistake - all of the Panthers' problems weren't fixed with that single victory. This team still has plenty of question marks and to somehow declare Pitt bowl-bound on the strength of a single game would be entirely too premature. However, the team showed fans what it's capable of by not only beating a ranked team, but handling them fairly easily.
The game plan for Pitt? You can bet it will start with a heavy dose of Ray Graham and Rushel Shell. The duo combined last week for about 250 yards and should get plenty of carries in this game as well. The Runnin' Bulldogs have also shown they're capable of giving up some rushing yardage - in their first game, they allowed nearly 300 yards on the ground to Wofford. They've since been a bit more stout defensively, but nearly gave up 100 yards last week to Samford's Fabian Truss, who only had 11 carries.
After the Youngstown State mess, nothing if impossible. But Pitt should have a considerable edge in this one as long as the team avoids costly turnovers.
For more on the game and Pitt football, check out SB Nation blog, Cardiac Hill.