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Pitt Vs. Rutgers: Wrap-Up #2

Typically, I like to do a media recap after the games over the weekends. Yeah, that ain't happenin'.

Instead, I wanted to rant a bit more about the game. That's why I started this blog about three years ago, so indulge me.

First, if you think Pitt is a better team than Rutgers, I wouldn't buy that. I get that that sentiment exists and that Pitt may have been merely outplayed on that day, but the fact is that the Panthers had their heads handed to them. And because of that, I, for one, don't think there's much doubt that Rutgers is the better team at this point in the season.

Yes, Rutgers' offense is still abysmal. But guess what? Pitt's was about three steps below that on Saturday. Not sure what it is about Rutgers. They are to Pitt what Iowa is to Penn State and especially in playing in Jersey, they struggle mightily.

Looking at the big picture, though, there's this: Pitt dumped Dave Wannstedt because he didn't win games like this. Sure, there was the SI report that didn't help his cause, but Pitt thought they needed to do better. They needed to win a conference title and get rid of losses like these.

As I said back when Graham was hired, the bottom line was that Pitt needed to take that next step under him. Wannstedt, love him or hate him, averaged nine wins a year over his final three seasons. In order to make the Graham hire pay off, Graham needed to average at least that many and win a conference title or two along the way. Otherwise, what was really the point in bringing someone else in - especially if it's someone being paid more money.

Now, I'm not going overboard. This is Graham's first season and he deserves at least two full years before we even think about judging him. All I'm saying is that Graham simply can't afford to lose to unranked Rutgers teams. Or win eight games a year. He certainly gets a pass this year and probably even next. After that, though? Pitt needs to be markedly better.

Jumping off the Graham stuff a bit, this team is so enigmatic.  I briefly warned after the USF game that despite the hype, more struggles would come. But I didn't see this. Not a 24-point loss to a team that needed two overtimes to beat Syracuse and really wasn't expected to do all that much in the conference. The loss surprised me, but it's the way Pitt was manhandled that opened eyes. Just where is this team, anyway?

The answer? Here's my take.

This team is as middle of the road as they come. Pitt is not nearly as good as they appeared in the South Florida game and they're probably not as bad as they looked against the Scarlet Knights. This team, when it does things right, is capable of winning nine games over the course of a season in the Big East. When they don't? 6-6.

That's the reason Pitt has looked so good one minute (up by 20 against Maine and 17 against Iowa late) and awful the next (giving up two TDs late to Maine and completely collapsing against the Hawkeyes). Forget consistency from game to game - this team is inconsistent from quarter to quarter. At times, Pitt will be capable of putting a full game together (i.e. see USF), but more often than not, will probably struggle to do that.

So where does Pitt end up this year?

With six games left, Pitt can top out at nine regular season wins. But, we all know that's probably about as likely as it is that WVU would lose all of their remaining games.

Games at home against UConn and Syracuse are winnable. Louisville on the road is another one that Pitt should win. But after that, it's murky. Utah and Cincinnati are at home, but are both going to be tough games. I could see Pitt winning one of them, but not sure which. West Virginia, as it has to me all season, looks like a loss.

Following that formula, it's looking like a 6-6 or 7-5 season to me. At this point, eight wins would be a major accomplishment and looks unlikely.

In preparing for mediocrity not seen in several years, the most encouraging thing I can say is that this doesn't get pinned on Graham. He's basically starting from scratch and things will take time. Does that mean there's a guarantee that he'll ever get there and that we'll see 10-win seasons? Of course not. But we can't make that type of judgement based on six games - especially when Graham's system depends largely on a high level of quarterback play (another talk for another time) ... and he hasn't had that.