Obstacles Await

Here we are, three days away from possibly Pitt's most challenging test of the season. The good news for Pitt is that a defeat will not mean all that much in the grand scope of things.  Pitt wants to (and needs to) win the Big East this year and get to a BCS bowl game. This game will have no bearing on that goal.

That said, no one in their right mind should think it's okay to accept a loss.  The game could set the tone for a hugely successful season and really get things off on the right foot. Depending on how some voters see it, it could also put Pitt on the brink of the top ten in the polls.

There are a lot of things in Pitt's way for this first game.

To start, there are injuries - most notably, Ray Graham. Injury reports aren't out yet, but Dave Wannstedt says Graham will play when he addressed the media today:
"From an injury standpoint, we are probably about as healthy as we could expect coming out of a very physical training camp. Greg Romeus is a big topic, and he's been great the last week. Ray Graham is very close; he practiced in team (drills) yesterday and he will be available to play.
That's big news, obviously. Utah's front four is said to be a strength of the defense and it's good to know that when Lewis needs a breather, Graham will be there to provide it. I expect Pitt to run early and often and Graham gives them another home run threat.

Then there's the altitude. Dave Wannstedt apparently thinks the elevation of over 4,500 feet won't matter:
"Every place I've coached for 16 years, we went out (to Denver) the day before, lined up, and played. That's Dallas, Chicago, and Miami. I think all the studies will tell you that if you wanted to make a total adjustment, you have to be out there three days. It takes 72 hours. So even going that extra day like some of the NFL teams do, it doesn't do anything. You go out, you line up, and you play."
They must contend with the thin air of Rice-Eccles Stadium, elevation 4,657 feet. The coaches and players have downplayed the altitude, but it will have some affect, however small.
When the Pitt men's basketball team played in mile high Denver in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, a number of players admitted breathing was noticeably more difficult.
I don't know how much of a difference it will make, but it's got to be at least a small factor. I understand Wannstedt's motivation for trying to downplay it as much as possible, but I do think it's going to count for something.

Combine Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak with season openers, games after byes and games held on nights other than Saturdays and the Utes have won their past 13 contests when they have more than a week to prepare.
And did I mention this was a road game on a Thursday night no less?

Oh yeah, and don't forget about, you know, the actual game. There's a pretty good team on the other side of the ball - and a unique one:
No. 15 Pitt will try to solve Utah's high-scoring spread offense when the No. 15 Panthers open the season Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. The Utes run four-receiver sets, power formations, the option and the Wildcat -- and that's just the beginning.
"Everything you think you might see in a year," Bennett said, "we are seeing in the first game."

The Panthers know first-hand how potent Utah's offense can be. Then-coach Urban Meyer's Utes routed Pitt, 35-7, in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2004 season. Back then, the spread offense wasn't as prolific. Today, it is the offense of choice for many programs. Pitt's schedule is dotted with teams that use some version of the spread, including West Virginia and Cincinnati.
Ugh, that 2005 bowl game still makes my head spin.  Seriously, though, that last part is the key. Pitt has seen this type of stuff before and while it won't be the easiest thing in the world to do, against a young quarterback, Pitt has the tools to be successful against that type offense. This year's team is leaps and bounds better than the one Utah lined up against nearly six years ago.
Still, lots of obstacles to get over.


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