ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Pittsburgh Panthers

Will Pittsburgh Continue Its Fourth-Quarter Struggles Versus Cincinnati, Or Finally Hold On to a Victory in 2012?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: PIttsburgh Panthers

Opponent: Cincinnati

Last Year: Loss, 26-23 vs. Cincinnati

This Year: September 6, @ Cincinnati

In a struggle to keep their heads above water all season, the Panthers came in to their November game versus Cincinnati needing a win. With star running back Ray Graham lost for the season with a torn ACL, the wins were just as crucial, yet more difficult to come by than ever. Their first test without Graham started well enough. Managing three-point halftime lead against a 6-1 squad, which quickly turned into a 10-point lead in the third, Pitt looked like they had every intention of righting their season, and getting back in the driver’s seat for the Big East title. But the Bearcats’ offense would wake up, their defense would buckle down and the Pitt offense would fail to score again. At Cincy’s 33 with seconds to go, the 50-yard kick was way off the mark, sending the team to another rough defeat (in a season full of them).

What’s frustrating here is that even though Pittsburgh was without its best offensive weapon, they were still in position to win this game. Yet couldn’t manage to execute when it mattered most. The Panthers outgained Cincinnati in rushing and passing, converted more first downs and were more successful on third. By all accounts, they should have come away with a victory. But then the pressure came. The poor decisions starting racking up for always-questionable QB Tino Sunseri, and the team fell victim to itself once again.

This year, there’s ample opportunity for Pitt to write a different story, however. Bringing back boatloads of talent on both sides of the ball, they sport an experienced roster left with a bad taste in their collective mouth after the Todd Graham experiment. Further, with Ray Graham back in action, and teaming with fellow RBs Isaac Bennett and Rushel Shell, the Panthers may have one of the country’s more effective backfields. While all the kinks of new head coach Paul Chryst’s offense may not necessarily be worked out by week two of the season, there’s a pretty good chance that Pitt’s formidable defense will be fully capable of holding a young, inexperienced Cincinnati offense in check. If so, the Panthers may very well be on their way to the league title they’ve been talented enough to win for years, but haven’t, due to their inability to execute in big games.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Maryland, Miami, NC State, North Carolina

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