Pitt takes on the Miami Hurricanes tonight at Heinz Field in a big game for both teams, which have much in common.
At the end of the night, one of these preseason top 15 teams will be off to a 1-2 start. The Panthers and Hurricanes are both looking to take advantage of fairly weak conferences, hoping to reach a BCS game.
While the game won't have ramifications on each team's goal of winning its respective conference, both will be looking to win this prime-time matchup - both have already been defeated in nationally televised appearances this season. Pitt lost to Utah in overtime, while Miami lost to potential National Championship contender Ohio State.
The two teams last played on a Thursday night in 1997 when Miami was ranked and still a member of the Big East. This year sets up a similar scenario - Pitt again enters the game unranked and looks to knock off one of the most storied programs over the past 30 years.
There's also plenty of history between the two coaches, Dave Wannstedt and Randy Shannon:
Wannstedt was one of the first to see Shannon’s potential.
He was Miami’s defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson when Shannon played for the Hurricanes. Wannstedt liked Shannon right away, yet remembers telling Johnson he didn’t know where to play him, thinking he was too small to play linebacker and too slow to play safety. Shannon added some bulk, and Wannstedt turned him loose as a linebacker.
"Once I was around him, and seeing how football-aware he was, how smart he was, there was no question he was going to help us," Wannstedt said.
With Wannstedt calling the defenses, Miami went 34-2. Shannon was a starter on the 1987 national championship team. And once he graduated, he and Wannstedt saw their relationship continue evolving.
"He went to Dallas and I was a player there," Shannon said. "Just by me being in Dallas, I learned a lot of football."
Pitt's linebackers coach, Bernard Clark, also played at Miami.
The Panthers are looking to get healthy, with the potential return of Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti in a sorely depleted secondary. And Dan Mason, Pitt's starting middle linebacker, will start the game on the bench due to his involvement in the DUI accident last week with backup running back Jason Douglas.
Perhaps the most eyes will be on the Pitt running backs. Starter and preseason Heisman candidate Dion Lewis has struggled mightily so far through two games. Backup Ray Graham, who had a breakout game last week with 115 yards and two touchdowns, will certainly get carries. The question is how many. Wannstedt has said that both should get their fair share of playing time and even went as far to say both players are 'interchangeable' in his weekly press conference.
While both will get time, Wannstedt also said that if one is performing well, he could see more carries:
"We’ll go in this week knowing that they’re both going to play, but with no specific plan that Dion (Lewis) will get so many carries, and Ray (Graham) will get so many carries. If we get a hot hand, we’ll play the hot hand."
Miami isn't a Big East foe and this game really has no effect on the team's ability to win the conference championship. But with nearly 400 alumni scheduled to attend and the school airing pre- and post-game shows on its new Comcast network, Pitt is clearly making a big deal out of this game. It'd be nice to come away with a win against a ranked team on national TV and carry some momentum into next week's winnable matchup against Florida International.