Starkey: What’s realistic for Pitt football? |

Starkey: What’s realistic for Pitt football?

So many thoughts, so little space in the wake of the Backyard Maul, Pitt’s embarrassing 35-10 loss to West Virginia …

• Many Pitt fans continue to pine for the great old days and seem to consider it their birthright to have a nationally prominent football program. Could it be that 8-4 and an annual invite to the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl, or some such atrocity, is actually a fulfillment of the program’s potential?

I ask, because the hard truth is that the past 70 years have produced just one short timespan in which the Panthers were considered a national power — and that era ended 27 years ago.

• Look it up: From 1976-83, Pitt consistently finished in The Associated Press Top 10. Since then, it has not finished above No. 15. Before then — from 1940 to 1975, anyway — it finished in the Top 10 exactly once.

Add it up, and we’re talking about a 70-year stretch in which Pitt cracked the final Top 25 just 16 times and the Top 10 just seven times. Nobody beyond Butler County has thought of Pitt as a national power since about 1983 — the year camcorders and compact discs were introduced.

• Upon further review, Bob LaMonte — erstwhile agent for then-Pitt coach Walt Harris — doesn’t seem so crazy. You remember LaMonte’s rant at Pitt’s administration for not extending Harris’ contract in 2004. It helped grease the skids for the coach’s departure.

LaMonte claimed Pitt was not one of the top 20 coaching jobs in the country. He said people were “delusional” if they deemed the program to be “bigger than what it really is.”

His money quote: “At the end of the day, people have to realize what Pittsburgh football is in the 21st century. This is not the Pittsburgh of Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett and it probably never will be.”

• Dave Wannstedt didn’t come close to landing the only Dorsett/Marino-type local talent to emerge during his tenure. That would have been Terrelle Pryor.

• All that said, Pitt should be held to a higher standard. Given its first-class facilities, decent built-in recruiting base and joke of a conference, it should, at the very least, be winning Big East titles.

In other words, I agree with Pitt chancellor Mark Nordenberg, who essentially said that 8-9 wins weren’t good enough when Harris was forced out in 2004 (the year Pitt fluked its way into the Fiesta Bowl).

• My gut feeling is that Nordenberg will retain Wannstedt, because he likes him personally.

• No, I don’t think it’s athletic director Steve Pederson’s call. If it is, you have to believe Wannstedt will be fired.

• A quote from Pederson springs to mind. Then Nebraska’s AD, he fired Frank Solich after a 9-3 season in 2003. Solich had a six-year record of 58-19, seasons of 12, 11 and 10 wins and a national title-game appearance in 2001. But he was 16-12 over his previous 28 games.

“I refuse to let the program gravitate into mediocrity,” Pederson said, memorably. “We won’t surrender the Big 12 to Oklahoma and Texas.”

Those words spawned Bill Callahan.

• Pederson surely would agree: It’s better to be gravitating toward mediocrity than hopelessly mired in it.

• For better or worse, Pitt could still win the Big East. Don’t laugh. Just recall 2004, when the Panthers backed into the Fiesta Bowl because Syracuse upset Boston College.

Yes, it would take a Pitt win at Cincinnati, a UConn loss at USF and a West Virginia loss at home to Rutgers. But we’re not exactly talking about a Miracle on Ice scenario here. We’re talking about the worst BCS conference in the history of the BCS.

• Think Rutgers has no chance at West Virginia• Consider that the Scarlet Knights beat UConn, which beat West Virginia, and that the Mountaineers lost at home to Syracuse. One other thing: The last time West Virginia played a really large home game, it was a 28 1/2-point favorite and lost.

I believe the score was 13-9.

• Finally, a quote from Wannstedt, who took the Pitt job in 2005 and called it the one he always wanted (except when Pitt tried to hire him a week earlier, of course). The New York Times asked him whether winning a national title was realistic.

“I don’t think a national championship is anything to be unrealistic about,” Wannstedt said. “You win the Big East and you have a chance, if things fall right, to compete for the championship.”

Six years later, a question:

Where’s the Beef?

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