PITTSBURGH ó No offense to the fine people who run the BBVA Compass Bowl, but Pittsburgh offensive guard Ryan Schlieper doesnít want to spend the final football game of his career hanging out in Alabama again.
A win over Miami (Fla.) in the season finale on Friday would take care of that and then some.
The Panthers (6-5, 3-4) secured a sixth straight bowl bid by edging Syracuse 17-16 last Saturday, using a blocked extra point by all-everything defensive tackle Aaron Donald and an astute timeout call in the final minutes to foil a fake field goal attempt by the Orange.
Pittís move to the ACC means thereís almost zero chance of the Panthers returning to Birmingham, Ala., for a fourth consecutive year to play in the Compass Bowl, though stranger things have happened. If the Southeastern Conference canít fill its bowl allotment and Pitt falls to the Hurricanes (8-3, 4-3) and the ACC has an extra bowl eligible team laying around, you never know.
Schlieper would rather not think about it. Itís a script heís known all too well.
Heís started each of the last two seasons, ones that have ended with Pitt stumbling at Legion Field to finish 6-7.
Itís a scenario thatís in play no matter where the Panthers end up if they canít beat Miami for the first time in nine tries. Itís why their focus is on finishing strong and not so much what awaits after this weekend.
Asked to define the gap between ending the regular season 6-6 for the third straight fall or 7-5 with a win over Notre Dame and Miami and Schlieper canít help but get excited.
ďI think itís a huge difference,Ē Schlieper said. ďEvery year Iíve played weíve gone 6-6 and went to a bowl game and lost and went 6-7. I donít want that to happen.Ē
The game will be the final appearance for Schlieper and 17 other seniors who have endured perhaps one of the most unsettled stretches in the programís history. Pitt rolled through four full-time head coaches (and two interim ones) over the last four years. Itís not exactly what Donald and company signed up for, but heíll take it. His focus was never on the men wearing the headsets but his friends in the shoulder pads.
ďItís not a certain game (that stands out) but just being able to play with these guys Iím playing with,Ē Donald said. ďJust being around them and building a brotherhood with them. Iím truly blessed to have played with these guys and go out and ball with them every week.Ē
Itís a sentiment echoed throughout a group that was recruited by three coaches with three divergent personalities, from the gruff Dave Wannstedt to the hyperactive Todd Graham to laidback Paul Chryst.
For all the credit Chryst has received for his ability to return Pitt to calmer waters, freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd knows what has really kept things together.
ďThis senior class is leaders,Ē Boyd said. ďThese boys donít take nothing from nobody. They lead us in the right direction. They want to win as bad as we want to win.Ē
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