Chris Blewitt's 39 yard field goal with 1:17 left in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl gave Pitt a 30-27 win and clinched the Panthers' their first winning season since the 2011-2012. It also means that Pitt has survived.
There's no need to rehash the coaching fiasco that Pitt went through. It was bad, and it killed any momentum that Pitt had from the end of the Wannstedt era. But as Pitt enters year 3 under Paul Chryst, that whole situation begins to disappear. Pitt may still feel the ill effects from the recruiting side of the turmoil over the next two seasons, but you get the feeling that the program has avoided disaster.
That's no small feat. Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, and USF have all had coaching change in the last half decade or so and fell off of the face of the earth because of it. Pitt simply fell into (admittedly frustrating) mediocrity. Tennessee, Florida, and Texas have all missed bowl games during Pitt's current six game streak. Paul Chryst has managed to keep the program afloat. He's not perfect, but he turned Tino Sunseri into an effective quarterback, and he helped Tom Savage have a nice season this year. Both of his teams had up and down years, but clawed their way into a bowl game. To put it simply, Paul Chryst has shown that he has a floor, and it's a respectable one.
Fans, understandably, want more. They want conference championships and BCS bowls and top ten recruiting classes. That's not happening right now. Things do not drastically change for the better overnight. And they might not get better for a long time. But the simple fact that the program did not find itself with a 9 or 10 loss season is an accomplishment.
Next year's team will probably be similar to this one. Some key contributors leave, but the schedule is manageable. Pitt will probably be in the 5-8 win range again, mediocrity personified. The important thing is that now people can start talking about Pitt's future instead of the past. This team has young talent, especially on offense. The Coastal Division is much less formidable than the Atlantic. If Chryst is the right coach, Pitt will be contending for division titles in the next three or four years. If not, they will hang around that 6 or 7 win mark, alternating between the Sun Bowl and the Belk Bowl.
The important thing is that there is a future with hope. New conference, more money, and series with Penn State and Oklahoma State give Pitt a chance to be relevant on the national scene again. For the first time in three years, Pitt goes into the offseason with some confidence. The long coaching nightmare is over, and Pitt is in basically the same shape it was 2011. This time, the conversation will be about the young players and the potential rather than a new coach. And in three years, the conversation will hopefully be about something greater than the Little Ceasar's Bowl.