Stop me if you've heard this one.
If you've had the pleasure (or agony ... whichever your prefer) of following Pitt football for several years, you know how this works. The Panthers have repeatedly jobbed to mediocre (and even bad) teams while doing just enough against good ones to keep fan interest. So if you were surprised about Pitt's loss tonight, you're either naive or simply not paying attention.
It's so cliched that I feel guilty even using the phrase, but this is simply what the Panthers do.
I've been in Pittsburgh since the mid 90s. Over that time, I've seen a 4-7 team in 1996 turn into a bowl team in 1997 ... turn into a 2-9 season in 1998. That's just how we roll 'round here.
I've seen Pitt beat some decent Notre Dame teams, including beating one in the final game at Pitt Stadium. I've seen a win over Penn State in the last meeting of the two schools. I've seen wins over a slew of ranked teams including Virginia Tech and Miami. Maybe most importantly, I've seen 13-9.
Then there's the flipside. I sat through a loss to Bowling Green. And Toledo. And Ohio (and I don't mean Ohio State). And earlier this year, Youngstown State.
So to be surprised at Friday night's loss to a bad UConn team would be akin to being surprised that Steven Adams gets girls. The loss to the Huskies was just too predictable for words and the bad news is that if you're a Pitt fan, you've seen this sad tale play out so many times. The Panthers love to get up for the big games and then pull their best Houdini act when there are 10,000 people in the stands.
With a near-win at Notre Dame last week, Pitt showed their potential. With three games left, Pitt actually had an outside shot to turn what was a highly disappointing season and make it a reasonable one for first-year coach Paul Chryst. Just imagine if the Panthers won out - not all that far-fetched a notion before today's disaster with games against arguably the two worst teams in the Big East and a home game against a good Rutgers team. None of those teams, after all, could hold a candle to the Irish and Pitt virtually had them beaten just a week ago. Then imagine Pitt goes to a bowl game and wins there. The Panthers would end up with eight wins and after an 0-2 start, how could you ask for much more than that with a rookie head coach and a slew of injuries?
Make no mistake about it - this is a bad football team. Playing well half of the time while falling flat on your face the other half doesn't mean you're a good team with potential ... it means you're not good enough to play well on a consistent basis. That's where Pitt is and, cruel as it may sound, the team simply isn't very good. Any football team has the capacity to play well in short spans, but good teams play well most of the time.
So instead of a mildly successful season, we're left banging our heads ridiculously against the wall and wondering what happened again. The problem of playing down to inferior teams isn't unique to Paul Chryst, but he's the man in charge now. There's no reason for this team to be competitive against the likes of undefeated teams like Notre Dame and, to a lesser degree, Louisville, while falling to an FCS program and losing games against very beatable teams like Syracuse and UConn. No coach is ever full responsible for his team's problems, but the responsibility of motivating players to come out and play hard every game lies with the coaching staff.
And when it comes to that, Chryst has fallen miserably short.