Pitt Wins Share Of Big East Championship, But Heads To BBVA Compass Bowl

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Pitt Bowl Game: Panthers To Play In BBVA Compass Bowl

Pitt has accepted the BBVA Compass Bowl’s invite to play in Birmingham, Alabama against Kentucky on January 8. In his bowl predictions for Big East teams, SB Nation Pittsburgh’s Jeff Junstrom noted that this “isn’t a glamorous game,” and the Big East team gets a mediocre $600,000 payout, so this really wasn’t a good result for Pitt. They’ll get to play somewhere warm and there won’t be much else on TV that day, but that’s the best one can say.

Their opponent isn’t much to write home about, either. Kentucky snuck by a good South Carolina team but otherwise really struggled against SEC competition, going 2-6. The Wildcats are bowl-eligible only because of out-of-conference wins against Akron, Louisville, Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky.

The BBVA Compass Bowl was supposed to have the fifth Big East team, but Syracuse is headed to the New Era Pinstripe Bowl, which was supposed to take the No. 4, and South Florida will go to the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, which was supposed to take the No. 3. Because Syracuse had already accepted the New Era invite and because Pitt played in Charlotte last year, the Panthers end up in Birmingham.

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Week 14 College Football Standings: Pitt Clinches Share Of Big East Title, But Eliminated From BCS

The Pitt Panthers clinched a share of the Big East title with today’s win over the Cincinnati Bearcats, but lost out on a potential BCS berth when West Virginia beat Rutgers. West Virginia and Pitt finish the conference slate with identical 5-2 records, but WVU gets the tiebreaker because the Mountaineers won the Backyard Brawl.

The Mountaineers and Panthers are now tied atop the division, and UConn could clinch a piece of the Big East championship with a win tonight. Because the Huskies beat both WVU and Pitt, they would go to the BCS bowl with a win.

Here are the Big East standings:

WVU 5-2
Pitt 5-2
UConn 4-2
Syracuse 4-3
South Florida 3-3
Louisville 3-4
Cincinnati 2-5
Rutgers 1-6

In the end, it was unfortunate for the Panthers that their two losses came against the two teams in the division who ended up with the best records. The only other Big East game they played that was terribly close was their 17-10 win against South Florida. They finish their regular season with a 7-5 record. Because they jumped out to a big lead in the Big East early on, their failure to win a BCS berth feels like a missed opportunity.

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Pitt Vs. Cincinnati: Panthers Win Big, But Fall Short Of BCS

As expected, the Panthers were able to defeat the lowly Cincinnati Bearcats on the road today, 28-10. But equally predictable was the Mountaineers’ victory over Rutgers. That win officially eliminated Pitt from BCS contention and now the Panhers await their bowl fate.

Pitt’s game was played in a steady snow throughout, which meant the ground games for both teams was the prime mode of moving the ball. Dion Lewis had four touchdowns and a career-best 261 yards on the ground, nearly equaling Ray Graham’s 2010 season-high of 277 yards. It was the first time Lewis rushed for more than 200 yards in his career.

The game capped a disappointing season not only for Pitt, but for Lewis. He entered the season as the NCAA’s leading returning rusher after a 1,799 season last year, but only managed to top 100 yards three times this season. It’s tough to know what his feelings are, but this season’s lackluster performances might force him to return for his third season at Pitt, even though he’s eligible for the NFL Draft.

The running game also was successful for the Bearcats as they rushed for more than 150 yards. Pitt had trouble slowing down junior Isaiah Pead who ran for nearly 100 of those yards.

Ray Graham was questionable heading into the game and only had one carry on the day. Chris Burns also received a few carries, but when you have a guy rush for 250+ yards, you don’t really need a backup all that much.

Tino Sunseri had a lackluster day with only 158 passing yards, but he performed far better than Cincinnati QB Zach Collaros who was only 12/24 for 109 yards with three interceptions.

So where does this leave Pitt? Who knows. The Panthers still have an outside shot at the Champs Sports Bowl if they decline to take a mediocre Notre Dame team. That may sound like it won’t happen, but the bowl can only select Notre Dame once every four years. It may choose to play its Notre Dame bowl card at a different time. For that to happen, Pitt needs UConn to lose tonight. That would put the Mountaineers in the BCS. Otherwise, if any Big East team were selected, it would be WVU.

For more post-game analysis, check out Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.

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Pitt Vs. Cincinnati: Ray Graham Possibly Out

Ray Graham could be held out of today/s game. Dion Lewis went out for a breather, and it was backup Chris Burns, not Graham, who came in.

The announcers are saying Graham has a back injury.

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Pitt Vs. Cincinnati - Ray Graham Questionable

The weekly Big East injury report says that Panther running back, Ray Graham, is questionable for todady’s game. No word yet on if he will play, but even if he does, it could mean that Dion Lewis handles the bulk of the carries today.

Return man and backup wide receiver Cam Saddler is also on the injury list, but is probable.

Here’s the full injury report.

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Pitt Vs. Cincinnati: Can The Panthers End A Disappointing Regular Season With Win?

With one more game left in Pitt’s regular season, the question is, can the team stay motivated after a disappointing season?

The Panthers had high hopes coming into this season. Even after a slow start when the team began the season 2-3, Pitt experienced new life when the team opened up a two-game lead in the Big East standings. But after a tough loss on the road to UConn and a blowout defeat in the Backyard Brawl to West Virginia, all hopes of winning the conference outright and going to a BCS bowl are virtually lost.

To get to the BCS, the Panthers not only need UConn and West Virginia to lose on Saturday, but they need to win themselves against a high-scoring Cincinnati Bearcats offense. The Bearcats feature the 22nd best passing offense in the nation, led by QB Zach Collaros and WRs Armon Binns and D.J. Woods. Binns and Woods have racked up just under 2,000 receiving yards this season.

But Cincinnati’s offense hasn’t been the issue. After all, they’ve put up 30 points or more in nearly half the team’s games this year, including a 69-point outburst against Rutgers a few weeks ago. The problem with the 4-7 Bearcats has been the defense, which gives up nearly 30 points per game.

Pitt isn’t only playing for pride – they’re playing for a guaranteed spot in a bowl game for the third straight season. The team can still get to a bowl even if it loses, but a loss could mean they get passed up.

Pitt has too many weapons on offense to not score any points against a bad defense. The question is, though, will the defense be able to stop the potent Bearcats’ passing game?

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Week 14 College Football: Review Of Cincinnati's Schedule Shows Zach Collaros, Bearcats Shouldn't Be Dismissed

What does Cincinnati’s schedule tell us about the Bearcats’ chances against the Pitt Panthers this week? The Bearcats have two wins against Big East teams, Louisville and Rutgers. They also held South Florida close. They got blown out by West Virginia, Syracuse and UConn. They have a 4-7 record overall.

And yet the Bearcats should not be dismissed entirely. Their only two other wins this season were cupcake games against Indiana State and Miami of Ohio, but they also kept two very good teams in Oklahoma and North Carolina State from completely destroying them. They also have a strong offense, and in one of their aforementioned blowout losses – the one against Syracuse – star quarterback Zach Collaros didn’t play. Collaros posted 366 yards against Rutgers and a ridiculous 463 against South Florida. Cincinnati isn’t a good team, but the Panthers can’t take them lightly.

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Pitt Vs. Cincinnati: Big East Football Picks

We're in the final weekend of the regular season and after a disappointing game against the West Virginia Mountaineers, the Panthers now have the unenviable task of trying to stay focused on beating Cincinnati to assure itself of making a bowl game. Louisville and Syracuse have finished their seasons, but we've still got three important conference matchups left. Here are my picks for all Big East games this week:

Pitt Vs. Cincinnati: Who knows which Panther team we'll get. Will it be one that's focused and determined to end the season on a high note (well, as high as one can end considering the circumstances)? Or will Pitt come out and put forth little effort in a stunning defeat? I don't think Pitt will play their best game, but I expect them to play well enough to win. The Bearcats have a high-powered offense, but has struggled against some good defenses like West Virginia, Syracuse, and UConn. Pitt 27, Cincinnati 20

UConn Vs. South Florida: If UConn wins this game, they're headed to a BCS berth This is by no means a gimme, but after throttling Cincinnati last week, I think they'll be ready. They've put together good games against West Virginia and Pitt and despite playing a good team on the road in a night game, I think they win. UConn 31, South Florida 14

West Virginia Vs. Rutgers: The Mountaineers play their game against Rutgers before UConn's game against South Florida. WVU knows that if it wins and UConn loses they're headed to the BCS, so I expect them to put everything they can into their game. I expect a dominant performance like the one they put together to defeat Pitt in the Backyard Brawl last Friday. West Virginia 28, Rutgers 10

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