2012 was an average year for Pitt's revenue sports. Objectively, going by the numbers, about as average as you can get. Men's basketball, a perennial NCAA contender and source of pride for the University, awkwardly fumbled its way to a 17-16 regular season finish and a 5-13 mark in Big East play. Football, trying to find an identity under its sixth head coach in three years, fought to finish 6-6 for the second consecutive year. 17-16 and 6-6? Not all that impressive.
But, our Pitt Panthers still accomplished a great deal and kept us thrilled throughout the year. They made us celebrate in victory, they made us simmer in anger, they made us pout in defeat. Looking back at the calendar, here are the top five Pitt highlights of 2012.
5. Wrestling wins third straight EWL title
On February 17, Pitt's wrestling team defeated Edinboro 26-10 at the Fitzgerald Field House to capture the program's third straight Eastern Wrestling League championship. A few weeks later they also won the EWL Tournament title, the program's second in as many years. In a pretty pedestrian year for Pitt's most popular sports, wrestling continued to shine.
4. Basketball wins CBI
For the first time in 10 years, Pitt didn't take part in the Big Dance. After floundering to a 17-16 regular season finish with little senior leadership, the Panthers got snubbed by the NIT and instead accepted an invitation to play in the College Basketball Invitational. Although some were displeased by Pitt's acceptance, the Panthers went on to win five more games and defeat Washington State 71-65 to win the CBI title.
3. Midnight Madness
While the 2011-2012 basketball season ended with relative disappointment, the 2012-2013 season got off to a flashy start with Midnight Madness. During Pitt's 225th Homecoming weekend, athletics brilliantly constructed a mini arena on Bigelow Blvd. right in front of the Cathedral to showcase both the men's and women's basketball teams and kick off the year in style. Needless to say, it was an awesome event and a site to be seen.
2. Football becomes bowl eligible in Paul Chryst's first season
The Paul Chryst era didn't exactly get off to a strong start as the team fell flat against Youngstown State and Cincinnati to start the year 0-2. After a couple great wins over Virginia Tech and Gardner Webb, Pitt found itself back at .500 and the season looked promising once more. Fast forward six weeks and the Panthers were a dire 4-6 with almost no hope of bowl eligibility. But, Chryst kept the team focused and won the final two games - including a resounding win over ranked Rutgers - to finish at 6-6 and earn a three-peat appearance in the Compass Bowl. Bowl complaints aside, the fact that Chryst was able to finish his roller coaster first year as a head coach with a bowl appearance and a potentially winning record is an important accomplishment.
1. Pitt-Notre Dame
In one of the best games I've ever witnessed in person, Pitt sparred with the NCG-bound Irish for four quarters plus before finally falling in three overtimes 29-26. If the Panthers could've finished, it would've been one of the biggest upsets in school history, knocking Notre Dame from national title contention, but unfortunately the luck of the Irish prevailed. Nonetheless, it was a thrilling game - the most thrilling game of 2012 for me - and Pitt football shined on national TV for the first time in years.
Honorable Mention: Paul Chryst Stays at Pitt
Need I say more?
Here's to a happy, healthy, and successful 2013. Happy New Year and as always, Hail to Pitt.