The Pitt football team closed out their 2018 season with a 14-13 loss to Stanford on New Year’s Eve. It was a frustrating result given the at times dominating defensive effort that the Panthers gave in containing the Cardinal offense. 2nd team All-Pac 12 Quarterback KJ Costello was held to season lows of 105 pass yards and a 35.3% completion rate (6/17). Their 208 total yards and 14 points also both marked this year’s nadir in terms of offensive production for Stanford. However, the Panthers weren’t much better at moving the ball. Despite this, they were able to put together several drives that led to a prime scoring chance. Unfortunately they were unable to capitalize on these scarce opportunities, only managing to score one touchdown out of three trips inside the Stanford 10 yard line. Settling for Field Goals on the other two opportunities proved to be the difference in the one-point loss. Looking at all of this, it’s hard not to see the Sun Bowl as a blown opportunity for Pitt to end their season on a high note. Unfortunately for the Panthers, end of season disappointment has been very much the norm in the program’s recent history and this year’s edition continued the trend.
After failing to qualify for the postseason for three straight seasons in the mid-2000’s, Pitt has made a bowl game in 10 of the past 11 seasons (dating back to the 2008 Sun Bowl). While the Pitt football team has consistently been good enough to be selected for an end of the season contest, their performances in these games has also been pretty consistently disappointing. While the results of these games doesn’t actually matter, perception-wise winning your bowl game can serve as a springboard into the final recruiting push before the February signing date and build excitement around the program going into spring ball and the off-season. Pitt hasn’t gotten this very much as they are 3-7 in their 10 most recent bowl games and have now lost 4 straight that they have played in.
Overall Pitt has lost these games by an average score of about 25 to 20, so it’s not as though they have gotten blown out in all of these games. However, this may be indicative of how disappointing and close these losses have often been. The results have been similar regardless of what type of opponent the Panthers are playing. When playing teams from a Power 5 conference Pitt has gone 2-4 and have been 1-3 against teams from Group of 5 conferences. Ironically, they’ve been slightly better as a whole against Power 5 teams, losing only 19-17 to those teams on average compared to losing 34-25 on average against Group of 5 teams. Regardless of opponent, Pitt has been a disappointment in attempting to cap their season’s with a statement victory.
It hasn’t all been bad for the Panthers. Their best win probably came in 2009 when they beat 8-win North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl (now known as the Belk Bowl). Pitt kicker Dan Hutchins hit a Game-Winning 33-yard Field Goal with less than a minute left to give the Panthers the 19-17 victory. The win also gave them a 10-win season, their only such season since 1981 (and also represented their last win over UNC). The next year they had a dominating 27-10 victory over Kentucky in the BBVA Compass Bowl, the first of three straight trips to Alabama for the game now known as the Birmingham Bowl. Their only other win in this stretch came in 2013 when Chris Blewitt hit a 39-yarder to beat 10-win Bowling Green in the now-defunct Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. However, these games probably stand out simply due to how common the losses have been....
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