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A realistic Pitt prediction |

A realistic Pitt prediction

| Friday, August 8, 2008 12:00 a.m

Eight is enough.

Check that. An 8-4 regular-season record won’t be nearly enough to satisfy those who expect the Pitt football team to double its win total from a year ago and go 10-2 or better.

But it should be enough to satisfy the realists among us.

Seriously, how could anyone have a problem with Pitt going 4-1 in non-conference games, 4-3 in the Big East and maybe winning a bowl game to pump that total to nine?

That’s a nice season, especially for a program that hasn’t posted a winning record since 2004 and is one of 11 BCS Conference schools (out of 65) that has failed to play in a bowl game the past three years.

When you’re keeping company with Syracuse, Duke, North Carolina, Baylor, Arizona, Stanford, Washington, Washington State, Vanderbilt and Mississippi — the other 10 BCS schools without a bowl game the past three years — well, that’s just not an OK place to be.

An eight-win season looks like Nirvana from there.

We’ll allow for the possibility that Pitt’s quarterback play will radically improve and that the offensive line will quickly gel. We’ll even allow for the possibility of a magical season, because one look at the recent recruiting classes — heck, one look around the practice field — tells you Pitt might have more talented athletes now than at any time since the late 1980’s.

Maybe the Panthers will post double-digit wins for the first time since 1981. We’d settle for a breakthrough season under fourth-year coach Dave Wannstedt.

“The biggest thing we have that we didn’t have a couple of years ago is depth,” says running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy, Pitt’s best running back since Curtis Martin. “You look at any position, there’s guys who can play.”

So, anything less than a winning record and a bowl game would be unacceptable, right?

“Definitely,” McCoy said.

Wannstedt is wary of players believing their press clippings, like that No. 19 preseason ranking from Sports Illustrated. But he loves the healthy competition for starting spots and the legitimate competition between the offense and defense every day.

That’s all new.

The coach shakes his head at the memory of his first game as Pitt’s coach, seeing defensive lineman Gus Mustakas — who’d just turned 18 — going against the most experienced offensive line in Notre Dame history.

Now, Mustakas has a chance to be a solid piece of a deep, potentially devastating defensive front.

Nobody should be shocked if Pitt hauls a 7-2 record into its final three games — at Cincinnati, at home against West Virginia and at Connecticut.

Any of those teams, including Pitt, could be in a very good place or a very bad one by then, but right now that looks like a killer stretch.

Connecticut won a share of the Big East title last season and returns 19 starters. West Virginia still has Pat White and Noel Devine and all kinds of talent sprinkled through its roster. Cincinnati returns 16 starters from a 10-win team.

So go ahead and underrate the Big East if you like. Pencil in Pitt for six conference wins.

It could happen.

But it’s a bit optimistic.

I’m thinking a breakthrough season is at hand, and that four wins out of conference and four within it would qualify as one.

I’m thinking eight is enough.

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