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Close losses spoil Pitt's football season

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

With Pitt football's regular season taking a dirt nap last weekend, I meant to get to this a little earlier. But in between traveling for Thanksgiving, keeping up with basketball, stupid Paul Chryst rumors, and readying for Christmas, I mean, things just haven't gone according to plan.

But I did want to go back and briefly revisit an aspect of the regular season - namely, how a few close games really played not only a key part in terms of this year, but also the outlook of the program as a whole.

For the third straight year, Pitt finished a disappointing 6-6. Several close calls, though, kept the team from doing much more.

Start with the most winnable of the bunch - the Duke game. I've said it over and over, but if Pitt simply makes a 26-yard field goal, the team is 7-5 and has a chance to get to eight wins - the most in the Paul Chryst era. Things get even worse, though. Pitt had three other games where they lost by five points or less - North Carolina, Iowa, and Virginia.

First things first - I'm not going to take the ridiculous stance that if they win all of those they could be an amazing 10-2. That's just kind of short-sighted since few teams win all of their close games. Sure, the team played well enough against Iowa to win but they also needed a furious rally to even make things close against Virginia after getting dominated in the first half. You can, however, say that they had a good chance to win against North Carolina, holding a late lead.

Still, taking even a conservative approach and scoring one win in those three games would have made things even better. That would have given Pitt eight wins and a chance to get to nine - the most since the Dave Wannstedt era.

Also, as I mentioned, the impact of an eight-win season would go far beyond just this year. Eight wins and the Panthers would have a good chance to be in the Top 25 - something recruits pay attention to and something that would give the nation much more exposure. It also would have likely assured the team of a preseason Top 25 ranking with James Conner and Tyler Boyd returning, as well as starting quarterback Chad Voytik.

And speaking of that impact beyond this year, fan enthusiasm would simply be much higher. The team is going to have a difficult time selling tickets next year, but the momentum of an eight, or even nine, win season would have made things a lot easier. Instead of having major questions about Paul Chryst, fans would be rallying around him.

A few key plays can drastically impact the season for many teams, so Pitt isn't completely unique here. Coulda woulda shoulda - I get it. But the Panthers really missed a big chance to capitalize on a weak schedule as they head in 2015.

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