Early 2009 schedule analysis: Pittsburgh

February, 2, 2009
2/02/09
2:01
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

This week, I'll take an early look at the 2009 schedules (so far) of the Big East teams and see what's in store for each. I'll bring you two a day, in no particular order.

It's a tricky proposition for this league because so many teams have unsettled slates even though the season is fewer than seven months away. Teams like Rutgers, Louisville and possibly South Florida are still seeking games to get to the full 12. Some schools know whom they'll play in the nonconference but don't know when they're playing. And no one knows when the Big East games will be played yet since the league schedule won't come out until later this month.

One team that has most of its schedule figured out already, however, is Pittsburgh. So we'll start today with the Panthers, who finished tied for second in the Big East in 2008. (All dates provided in these posts are tentative):

Nonconference schedule

Sept. 5: Youngstown State
Sept. 12: at Buffalo
Sept. 19: Navy
Sept. 26: at NC State
Nov. 14: Notre Dame

Thoughts

One of the unfortunate hallmarks of Dave Wannstedt's tenure has been Pitt's tendency to drop games to teams that it figured to beat, at least on paper. The Bowling Green loss in the 2008 opener was the latest example. The most obvious potential upset is the trip to defending MAC champion Buffalo, though the Bulls may take a step back with the loss of senior quarterback Drew Willy.

The road game at NC State may prove to be the biggest challenge in the nonconference slate as the Wolfpack ended the 2008 regular season on fire and bring a lot back, including super sophomore Russell Wilson at quarterback. Heinz Field will be packed for Notre Dame in November, with plenty of Irish fans in the building. After the 2008 four-overtime classic, this will be the most hotly anticipated nonconference game of the year for Pitt.

The Panthers will play an FCS opponent in 2009 after not facing a team from the lower level a year ago, though Youngstown State has had a traditionally strong program.

Big East schedule (dates TBA)

Home

Cincinnati
UConn
South Florida
Syracuse

Away

West Virginia
Louisville
Rutgers

Thoughts:

Even without LeSean McCoy, Pittsburgh should be considered a legitimate contender for the 2009 Big East crown. The Panthers are helped in that quest by having four league home games. And though the Backyard Brawl is in Morgantown, they've won two straight in the series. Rutgers has had Pitt's number of late, and it won't be easy to change that with a trip to Piscataway. Still, if Wannstedt's team can sweep its home games and take care of business at undermanned Louisville, it should be right in the running for the league title.

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