Pitt's loss to Akron on Saturday was a lot of things - deflating, upsetting, discouraging are words (fit for print, anyway) that come to mind. But what it also was, was the low point in Paul Chryst's tenure at Pitt. Chryst has had other points that seemed like good candidates for rock bottom status, but make no mistake about it - this is officially the worst loss in his time at Pitt.
The Panthers' loss to Youngstown State a few years back in Chryst's first game as a head coach was arguably the standard before today. But several factors make that one a little easier to stomach. First, it was Chryst's first game not only at Pitt, but as a Division I head coach. In addition, the team was also shorthanded with several suspensions to key players that happened shortly before the game. Neither of those is an excuse for not defeating an FCS team on your home turf, but it wasn't ... this.
Last year, Pitt suffered a disappointing loss to Navy that could have gotten the team off to a 4-2 start. Even though beating Navy is a must for a major college football program, that's nowhere near as bad as this, however, since the Midshipmen were a nine-win team.
The reason the Akron program tops the list of disappointments for Chryst is because the program had the look of one turning the corner. Pitt easily won their first three games, including a road win over a Boston College team that beat top ten USC afterwards. The Iowa loss was disappointing, but even there, Pitt had the look of the better team to many.
Akron isn't in the FCS, but since Pitt was taking steps forward this year, the loss is more disappointing because of the progress Pitt had made. It's difficult to tell how much of that was undone with a single loss, but it's clear that the program is in worse shape than they were after the 3-0 start.
The bottom line is that while Chryst had not previously built up any good will before his first season, with the hot start that the team had this year, fans were starting to believe. Now, this team is so far removed from that and there are arguably just as many questions about Chryst now than when he first arrived on campus.
Where Pitt goes from here is anyone's guess and that's the frustrating thing. Despite three straight 6-6 years, overall, Chryst has had success recruiting talent on offense. These are the kinds of losses that not only derail seasons, but turn recruits off and force programs to take a step back. And, by the way, mired in so much mediocrity as it is, this really isn't a program that can afford to go back much further.
Instead of a 5-0 start with tons of momentum heading into the rest of their schedule, the Panthers are now 3-2 and completely off of everyone's radar. Last week made many fans think this was the 'same old Pitt program.' After today, though, there are a lot more fans in that group.
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