Panthers Fiesta Bound

Panthers Fiesta Bound

There was little question as to where Panthers coach Walter Harris was headed following Saturday's 43-14 win at South Florida.

Harris, who ran off the field underneath a huge sombrero, wasted no time celebrating his team's BCS berth and impending trip to the Fiesta Bowl.

Quarterback Tyler Palko threw for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns, guaranteeing Pittsburgh (8-3) the Big East's automatic bid.

"It doesn't really matter who we play, where we play or what time we play," Palko told the Associated Press after the win over South Florida.

"I'm just excited to get our football team the kind of respect that we've earned. And with that, we've set the bar high. There's going to be naysayers here and there, but the only way we take care of that is continue to stay focused as a team and keep winning."

The Panthers will play the undefeated and explosive Utah Utes on New Year's Day.

The win marked the Panthers' sixth in the last seven games. Pittsburgh, however, emerged as a relative surprise considering it opened the season 2-2 and needed overtime to get past Division I-AA Furman.

But Palko and wide receiver Greg Lee, who burned South Florida for three touchdowns, began to click as the season progressed. The results have been better than anyone expected.

Notes:

By The Numbers: 3 -- Pittsburgh's margin of victory over Division I-AA opponent Furman on Sept. 25. Had the Panthers lost in overtime that day, their chances of securing the Big East's BCS bid would have been severely hindered.

Game Of The Year: Pittsburgh 16, West Virginia 13 (Nov. 25) -- The 97th installment of the "Backyard Brawl" had BCS implications. Had the Mountaineers managed a victory at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field, it's safe to say they would be representing the Big East in the BCS rather than the Panthers.

Key Matup:  QB Alex Smith vs. the Panther secondary -- Smith had one of the best seasons of any quarterback -- throwing for 2,624 yards and 28 touchdowns. Smith loves to sling it around -- and also make things happen with his feet -- and unless Pittsburgh plays its best game, Walt Harris & Co. could have a problem.

Quote The Coach: "I thought this was a big game, obviously, for us because we had to make a statement that we weren't backing in. We had a chance to take care of our destiny. Our players stepped up and played like we had to play." -- Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris, regarding his team's 43-14 win at South Florida on Saturday and subsequent bowl invitation.

Fiesta: Pittsburgh (8-3) vs. Utah, Fiesta Bowl, Tempe, Ariz., Jan. 1 -- The Panthers are headed to their fifth straight bowl under Walt Harris, but haven't played on New Year's Day or later since 1983.

Sidelines: QB Tyler Palko -- The junior passed for a career-high 411 yards and five touchdowns in Saturday's win over South Florida. He has grown rapidly week to week and has completed 208 of 369 attempts for 2,816 yards and 23 scores, with only seven interceptions.

PK Josh Cummings -- The All-Big East selection has connected on 18 of 25 field goals and ranks ninth nationally with 1.64 made per game.

NFL Bound: OT Rob Petitti -- The 6-6, 330-pound senior is widely considered Pittsburgh's top player. Because he is a lineman and the Panthers' run attack has left much to be desired this season, Petitti hasn't drawn much attention. But pro scouts are aware of his potential.


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