The Pitt football team plays for the Big East title this week.
Before you choke on your Cheerios, please look at the perspective the Panthers (4-3) have going into their game with Louisville (4-3) Saturday at noon at Heinz Field.
Pitt is 2-0 in the Big East, the only unbeaten team at this early point in conference play, while five other teams – including the visiting Cardinals – have one loss. Syracuse, which beat West Virginia on the road Saturday, is 2-1 and in second place despite getting pounded by the Panthers two weeks ago.
“It’s the Big East game of the year,” fullback Henry Hynoski said. “This is the Big East title game this week. We can’t look ahead or who beat who. We can only look to the present and not ahead or not at all in the past. We’re 2-0 right now, and we have to win this week to take it step by step.
“We don’t even mention that we’re on top right now as far as our team is concerned. We’re just focused in and dialed in on this week’s game, and that’s what will get us to where we want to be. If we look ahead, that’s when things can potentially go wrong. So, we’ve just got to take it step by step.”
Hynoski added that the reason for that myopic view is that the Big East might be as balanced as it has been from top to bottom in several years. While it certainly has played out that way so far, Pitt was an overwhelming favorite when the coaches and top players met in Newport, R.I., in early August.
However, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has downplayed that ranking ever since.
“I said it (then), but nobody wanted to listen to me,” Wannstedt noted Monday during his weekly press conference. “Everybody else had a different idea. (But) knowing where we were at and the players who graduated and how long it takes to bring players along, I honestly thought that there were five teams capable of winning (the Big East championship). And that’s probably holding true.
“(But) our guys are coming along, and as long as we continue to work ... I think if you look at our team now compared to five or six weeks ago, you’re seeing improvement in the offensive line. You’re seeing improvement in our running game, and you’re seeing improvement in (quarterback) Tino Sunseri. (And) defensively, you’re seeing it up front and all the way across the board.
“(But) I think the conference will be decided the last week of the season,” Wannstedt added. “(And) this is just after two games, so I think you have to keep it in perspective. And our guys will, (but) this will be our toughest (Big East) game so far. So, we can focus no further ahead and not on anything else but Louisville. And it would be foolish to look at it from any other angle.”
Wannstedt and most Pitt players believe the team’s second-half performance against Rutgers, when the Panthers blew open a 14-14 game with a 27-7 scoring advantage, was the team’s best spurt this season. Nearly every player contributed on both sides of the ball.
And the secondary, led by senior Dom DeCicco and redshirt sophomore Jarred Holley at the safety spots, helped shut down the Rutgers receivers to aid a relentless pass rush against quarterback Chas Dodd.
“I think we’ve been making strides every week,” Holley said. “We’ve been practicing hard, and the coaches have done a great job with us to this point. ... We have to play every game like it’s our last game, and the Big East championship is on the line. So, that’s the way we’ll approach this week. We know that the Big East is a tough conference.
“And every game is going to be a challenge. So, we have to stay focused every week and concentrate on the game in front of us. That’s the only way we can do it. (And) we’re well aware that everything is in front of us now, but it was that way when we began playing the Big East teams. ... We can’t get caught up in records or anything else, because you never know what will happen.”
Notes: Pitt played nearly the entire fourth quarter with four freshmen – Aaron Donald, T.J. Clemmings, Bryan Murphy and – Tyrone Ezell on its defensive line. ... Lucas Nix (knee) practiced Sunday night and should play against Louisville. ... Wannstedt would not comment on Greg Romeus’ status, only saying that the defensive end, who had back surgery earlier in the season, is improving every week. ... Pitt punter/kicker Dan Hutchins leads the Big East in five categories and is second in another. He is fourth nationally in punting average at 46.81 yards per kick.
The Pitt football team plays for the Big East title this week.
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