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Tempe To Detroit: Pitt Looks To Return To BCS Bowl

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Pitt has languished near .500 since its 2005 Fiesta Bowl appearance, and loses a lot of talent this year, but players like Manasseh Garner do return to make a run at a better bowl in 2014. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.
Pitt has languished near .500 since its 2005 Fiesta Bowl appearance, and loses a lot of talent this year, but players like Manasseh Garner do return to make a run at a better bowl in 2014. Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images.

Jan. 1, 2005.

The last time the Pitt Panthers got anywhere close to a BCS bowl game. The Panthers were Big East champions with an overall record of 8-3, lead by quarterback and future NFL journeyman Tyler Palko.

The Panthers went into the game against current Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and his No. 11 Utah Utes, coached by Urban Meyer. Smith picked apart Pitt's defense, throwing for four touchdowns and leading the Utes to a perfect 12-0 season.

Since their Fiesta Bowl loss in 2005, the Pitt Panthers have played in six non-BCS bowl games: The Sun Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl, BBVA Compass Bowl (three times) and for this season, the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl.

Since its BCS bowl bid, Pitt has been over .500 twice (2009, 2010). Pitt will face Bowling Green in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl in Detroit on Dec. 26. Although they have made bowls the last six seasons, the games have been far from upper-echelon.

One explanation: Pitt has employed five different coaches since they let go of Walt Harris after the Fiesta Bowl. Harris was head coach from 1997 to 2004. Since then, Pitt has turned to names like Dave Wandstedt, Todd Graham and current coach Paul Chryst.

Another reason that the Panthers may have not made it back is due to the play of their quarterbacks since Palko's departure in 2006. Pat Bostick, Bill Stull, Tino Sunseri and current starting quarterback Tom Savage have played better lately with little to show. Bostick spent one year as a starter, Stull for two seasons and Sunseri for three seasons. Sunseri showed talent with his 21 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2012, but the Panthers couldn't put it together as they went 6-7. This season, Savage has thrown 21 touchdowns to nine interceptions, but the Panthers finished the regular season with another 6-6 record.

Since the Fiesta Bowl invite, the Panthers have gone 61-51 in nine seasons, including 34-30 in conference play within the Big East and now the ACC. The move to the ACC will be a new challenge for the Panthers as they will face better competition then when they did in the Big East. Pitt's first season in the Coastal Division led to a 3-5 record with a big win over the Coastal champs, the Duke Blue Devils. They also beat No. 23 Notre Dame back in early November, but lost two of three at the end of the season fall back to .500.

Chryst has the opportunity to put the program back on the rise with the benefit of the ACC spotlight, but he'll have to get top recruits to get Pitt back into the BCS picture. Chryst will have to find a replacement for Savage, who will graduate this season with first-team all-everything and multiple major award winner and defensive lineman Aaron Donald. Oh, and standout wide receiver Devin Street.

Freshman sensation Tyler Boyd, who finished with more than 1,000 receiving yards this season, will return. Pitt also will bring back juniors Issac Bennett and Manasseh Garner on offense next season. The Panthers will look to make a mark in their second ACC season next year and return to a BCS bowl game — or at least finish above .500.