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Pitt has difficult road to reach bowl game

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Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE
With Pitt sitting at 2-4 after a loss to Louisville two weeks ago, bowl game hopes were all but dashed for Paul Chryst's first season. But savvy fans knew that there were a few weak opponents coming up and if the Panthers avoided a pitfall, there would be a chance for bowl eligibility at the end of season.

Fast forward two weeks, and after a dull win over Buffalo and a blowout against Big East foe Temple, Pitt is suddenly back in contention for a postseason appearance. The destination won't be a great one, but the Panthers do have a chance to play somewhere. Unfortunately, it's still merely a chance.

It's true that with four games left, Pitt only needs two wins to play in a bowl game, but the road isn't all that easy. First up is a road trip to South Bend to take on No. 3 Notre Dame. Pitt has had some success against the Irish lately, winning two out of the last four games and losing by only a field goal in last year's contest. But this Irish team is significantly better than any of those previous versions. Also still left on the schedule is a 7-1 Rutgers team that looks to be the second-best in the Big East. Pitt gets that game at home, but it will be a tough one nonetheless. The Scarlet Knights have one of the top ten defenses in the nation. Pitt also generally struggles with Rutgers and is only 2-5 against the Scarlet Knights in the past seven seasons.

The two games Pitt likely stands the best chance of winning are against UConn and South Florida. Both teams are in the basement of the Big East and haven't had much success this season. But the bad news is that both are on the road. The story may be a bit different for powerhouses, but for average teams such as Pitt, road conference games are never an automatic win.

Also, UConn and South Florida may be better than their records suggest. The Huskies are 3-5, but have lost three games by a total of 12 points and could quite easily by 6-2. One of those narrow losses came to a solid North Carolina State team, and the Huskies also beat a 4-4 Maryland squad on the road. They have a terrible offense, but boast a top 25 defense.

Similarly, the 2-6 Bulls aren't that far from a 5-3 record with three losses by a total of seven points. South Florida's offense is also getting on track a bit and has averaged 30 points a game over their last three contests. In other words, these teams might not be all that great, but have had some tough breaks along the way this year. Either one beating Pitt at home wouldn't be all that big of an upset. The game that's particularly dangerous for Pitt is the UConn game. That one is on a Friday night and playing in weeknight atmospheres where fans are hyped up even more are usually tough for opposing teams.

And don't forget - even if the Panthers reach bowl eligibility with six wins, there's no guarantee they'll be selected to play in a postseason game. Their strong football tradition helps, but realistically, the Panthers just don't have any great wins. Their biggest victory came against Virginia Tech ... which is now 4-4. If Pitt is unable to defeat Notre Dame or Rutgers, the Panthers won't have any real signature victory. That's something that may hurt them when it comes to a bowl making a decision on certain teams.

A bowl game is possible for Pitt, but I wouldn't plan a vacation just yet.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.