BY NATALIE BIGLEY
Regular season play is almost over for NCAA football, and Pitt is still clinging to its hopes of making a bowl appearance this year.
Before the Panthers can do this, they must win out their last two games of the season. Their first challenge is upsetting a red-hot 18th-ranked Rutgers (9-1) in Pitt’s last home game of the year.
At this final home game, the Panthers will say goodbye to their senior players, many of whom Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said he will miss.
“There’s a group of them that I really enjoyed being around and respect and understand,” Chryst said at Monday’s weekly press conference. “They love the game, work at it, prepare and then go out and play the best they can.”
“I’m looking forward to our seniors hopefully playing a great game.”
This week, the Panthers had some extra time to prepare for their opponent. They are coming off of a bye week, but may still have the bad taste of a recent 24-17 loss to Connecticut lingering in their mouths.
Pitt’s Week 11 opponents, on the other hand, only have one loss during this entire season.
That 35-23 loss happened two weeks ago when Rutgers faltered to Kent State.
Although this is their only recorded blemish, the Scarlet Knights are still the only undefeated team in the Big East conference.
Pittsburgh sits on the other end of the spectrum with only a single Big East win this season.
That came in the form of a Week 9 beating of Temple,
Pitt has struggled to find its identity throughout the season.
Its journey might be called a tale of two teams, further emphasized in their weekly game pattern.
Out of the gate, the Panthers lost their first two games. They bounced back to win their next two. And then, the pattern continued on: Two losses, then two wins.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said at this point he actually hopes the pattern continues. If it does, the Panthers would be on track to win their final two games of the season.
All joking aside, Chryst said Pitt’s rocky path hasn’t been as simple as correcting one thing and being perfect.
He said his team has been consistently inconsistent, and emphasized that each game is a lesson from which that he and his players must continue to learn.
“We’re in the process of creating a culture,” he said. “And we’re here to make players the best they can be and to represent the university the best we can.”
Pitt also goes on its Thanksgiving holiday break this week. Students are able to travel home and see their families for the holiday.
But just because the university is on break does not mean its football team is. Chryst pointed this out, stating that football preparations remain the same over the break.
“Everyone who’s around football knows that you’re still in season,” Chryst said.
“The biggest impact that it has is that without school we can kind of adjust the calendars a little bit.”
“Nowadays, even a lot of the high schools are still playing through it.”
Long days of practice might make it tough on certain players who are unable to travel back to their hometowns for Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily for his team, Chyrst said it still balances out pretty well.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are from here,” Chryst said. “Those guys, from my understanding of the past, will bring other guys with them (to Thanksgiving dinner),” he said. “They’ll have a chance to be around their families, but we still don’t have to skip a beat in preparation.”
Two brothers who are unlikely to pass the turkey this year are Pitt tailback Ray Graham and Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene. The New Jersey natives will find themselves on opposite sides of the field on Saturday, battling it out.
Graham, Pitt’s leading rusher, is just 165 yards away from the first 1,000-yard rushing season of his career.
But not if his brother has anything to do with it.
Greene is one of the Big East’s best defenders, leading the league in tackles and averaging 10.7 stops per game.
Fans will see which brother gets a win in Saturday’s post-Thanksgiving game at noon.
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