PITTSBURGH – Regardless of what happens over the season’s final two weeks, Pittsburgh center Ryan Turnley believes the program is in better shape than the one he walked into five years ago.
Point out the Panthers have endured more volatility – at least of the non-NCAA sanctioned variety – than perhaps any other school in the nation over the last half-decade and Turnley nods his head. He understands, but he also thinks those days of flux are only a painful memory with coach Paul Chryst running the show.
“The older guys, we talk about it all the time, we hope he stays around for a long time because we think he can take his program to great heights,” Turnley said. “We think he’s a great coach. We’ve had a lot of coaches and he’s going to take Pitt where everyone wants to see it.”
Those heights won’t be reached until Turnley is long gone and the Panthers (4-6, 1-4 Big East) are in the ACC.
Still, there remains plenty for Pitt to play for heading into Saturday’s home finale against No. 21 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0). The Panthers need wins over the Scarlet Knights and South Florida Dec. 1 to become bowl eligible for a fifth straight season.
“We’re definitely in touch with reality and what we have to do,” Pitt wide receiver Devin Street said.
What the Panthers must do is try to find some consistency. Their first season under Chryst has been a mishmash of good, bad and indifferent. For every rousing victory (Virginia Tech, Temple) there’s a perplexing loss (Youngstown State) or a heartbreaking one (Notre Dame).
“It’s been different things each game,” Chryst said. “We’ve got to learn from those lessons. To me, it hasn’t been as simple as get this one thing corrected and we’re good.”
If there’s any solace Chryst can take into a critical stretch, it’s in Pitt’s ability to bounce back. The season’s first 10 games have alternated between two-game losing streaks and two-game winning streaks. After falling to the Fighting Irish and Connecticut, Chryst figures the Panthers are due for a two-game run of good fortune.
“At this point right now, I’d be all for following that 2-2-2 schedule,” he said. “We’ve got to go earn that one though.”
The Panthers won’t lack for motivation.
The Scarlet Knights drummed them 34-10 last year, a loss that seemed to blunt any sort of real momentum during coach Todd Graham’s brief tenure. Throw in the final home game for 18 seniors – most of whom saw four men hold the title of head coach during a bumpy 14 months between December 2010 and January 2012 – and Chryst likely won’t have to dig deep for a pregame speech.
“We’re playing for these seniors, we’re playing for the coaches, and we’re playing for us as a team,” defensive lineman Aaron Donald said. “So, it would be great to win these last two games to be bowl eligible and give these seniors a bowl to go out with. That’s why we’re working so hard this week. We still have a lot to accomplish this season.”