With the clock winding down in Pitt's game against Duke this weekend, the Panthers looked to not only be assured of reaching a bowl game, but still contending for the ACC's Coastal Division title. One missed Chris Blewitt field goal, however, and the Panthers' postseason hopes are on thin ice.
Pitt's chances for playing in a bowl game aren't dead (yet). But one thing is clear - after the loss to the Blue Devils on Saturday, a bowl game hardly looks like a done deal.
The Panthers not only need to win two of their remaining three games, but against decent competition.
Pitt first will take on North Carolina after a bye. I mentioned this in the aftermath of the Duke game, but Pitt allowed more than 50 points to Georgia Tech and Duke over the past two weekends. In the Tar Heels, they'll face maybe the best offense they'll see all year as North Carolina's 35.4 points per game rank 29th in the nation. The Tar Heels have played absolutely terrible defense, but still managed to beat both Georgia Tech and Virginia last month - two teams that defeated Pitt.
After that comes Syracuse. This looks like the most winnable of the bunch, but a victory against the Orange is far from guaranteed, either. Syracuse is only 3-6, but has played a brutal schedule, facing Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Louisville. You could actually argue that Pitt would fare no better with Syracuse's slate and the Orange actually kept things reasonably close with Clemson, losing by only ten. I expect Pitt to win this one with the game at home, but it might not be as easy as expected.
Lastly, Pitt travels to Miami. To me, this looks like the most difficult game. No, the Hurricanes don't play in front of what is usually a very live crowd, but it's still a road game for the Panthers. More importantly, though, Miami is just a better team and playing well right now. The Hurricanes are 6-3 and have won four of their past five games, winning easily against Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech. And if Miami is still in the hunt for the Coastal title (which may be a reach considering they still have to face Florida State), that game will be even more difficult for Pitt.
Not even factoring in the competition, just step back and think about the state of the team in general. This is team that has lost five of their past six games. It's a team that was on the edge of knocking off a Top 25 team only to botch a chip shot field goal and lose. It's a team that was thoroughly embarrassed at Homecoming two weeks ago. The spirits of the players can't be real high right now and forget the talent - you start to fear that guys will be checking out mentally pretty soon. The state of the program just has to be very down this week.
And now we expect them to win two of their last three games against decent competition? I don't know.
Realistically, the Panthers may have seen their best chance at reaching a bowl game come and go - and if they don't qualify for the postseason with this schedule, it's a pretty bad look for Paul Chryst and company.
And not only is it bad for his image, it's bad for the program as a whole. Winning a bowl game ends seasons on positive notes. Pitt has had a disappointing year and nothing short of winning the next three games and winning a bowl game will qualify this year as a success. But when you reach a bowl game, you get the extra practice time and with such a young team, that's really something Chryst's squad could use. It also would give the team a little momentum heading into 2015 - the all-important fourth year for Chryst.
Right now, though, it's difficult to make bowl plans just yet since Pitt will have their work cut out for them.
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