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UC-Pitt preview

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The UC football team can talk all it wants about taking the season one game at a time, about not looking past any opponent to the onrushing landscape up ahead. And for the most part, that's probably true. A team caught overlooking an opponent oftentimes finds itself trying to pick itself up off the canvas.

 

But after the Bearcats football schedule was released, it was hard for them not to look toward the final game of the season. They saw Pittsburgh on Dec. 5, and they saw the potential of an unofficial Big East championship game on the turf of Heinz Field.

 

"This began in January after the Orange Bowl," junior tight end Ben Guidugli said. "It's been at spring football, training camp, the regular season. We knew the Big East championship was going through Pittsburgh. We're ready to go. We've put our work in. Pittsburgh was the team to beat to win the championship when we saw that at the end of the schedule."

 

The wish came true. That's exactly what Saturday's noon game will mean. If Pitt wins, the Panthers and the Bearcats will share the conference crown, but the Panthers would take the BCS bowl berth. If UC wins, it wins the league title outright, and the Bearcats, for the second straight year would head south to a big-time bowl game (unless they go west).

 

"They didn't come this far not to win a championship," Brian Kelly said. "It comes down to one week and one game."

 

For the Bearcats to win, they'll have to stop senior quarterback Bill Stull, who leads the Big East in pass efficiency (10th nationally) and total pass yards (2,294). And they'll have to slow down freshman running back Dion Lewis, a national freshman of the year candidate who ranks fourth nationally in rushing (131.45 yards per game).

 

"(Lewis) is a special player," Kelly said. "As a freshman, with his balance and vision, you can't get a hard hit on him. He's bigger than Jacquizz Rodgers. He's an outstanding football player. He's emerged as a star. We have our work cut out for us."

 

Said senior linebacker Andre Revels: "They have the heart of the team, which is the offensive line. The running back is doing great things, but the offensive line looks mean on film. They come off the ball aggressive. It's almost reminiscent of the Steelers and the Bengals when they play together. It will be a hard-hitting game. It will be one team's will against the other."

 

The Bearcats offense also will face some concerns.

 

The Panthers pass rush has paid huge dividends for the squad this year. Pitt averages 3.82 sacks per game, good enough to lead the nation, and its 42 sacks are the most since 1988. Defensive end Greg Romeus is the one UC will have to watch the most - he leads the squad with eight sacks - but the entire front four (which also includes defensive end Jabaal Sheard, defensive tackle Mick Williams and nose tackle Gus Mustakas) will be a concern for the Bearcats.

 

--So, what happens if UC loses? Well, as unfair as it might seem to Bearcats fans, the squad probably will fall to the Meineke Car Care Bowl (do you remember how much people wanted to go to that bowl in 2007 and how unfair people thought the PapaJohn's Bowl game was?).

 

Not that Kelly has pondered the possibilities.

 

"That has not even gone into my thought process," he said. "I haven't looked at all those. The people upstairs who work in marketing and promotions are working on it. I don't even know what the other options are."

 

And as for possibly sharing the Big East title: "We're not playing for co-championships. I'm sure it will go in the media guide that way, but we would be extremely disappointed."

 

--Prediction: I haven't picked the Bearcats to lose this year, and I'm undefeated in my selections. So, why should I change now? I think this game might be a shootout, but I'm not sure Pitt can outscore UC.

 

Say, UC 38, Pittsburgh 30

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