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Monday, August 11, 2003
Updated: August 18, 5:39 PM ET
Anything short of a BCS bowl may be disappointing

By Jorge Milian
Special to ESPN.com

Pittsburgh Panthers
2003 Schedule
9-6 Kent State
9-13 Ball State
9-20 at Toledo
9-27 at Texas A&M
10-11 Notre Dame
10-18 at Rutgers
10-25 Syracuse
11-1 at Boston College
11-8 Virginia Tech
11-15 at West Virginia
11-22 at Temple
11-29 Miami
Coach: Walt Harris (36-35, 7th season)
2002 overall record: 9-4
Conference record: 5-2

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/Punter: 2

2002 statistical leaders (* - returners)
Rushing: Brandon Miree* (943 yds)
Passing: Rod Rutherford* (2,783 yds)
Receiving: Larry Fitzgerald* (1,005 yds)
Tackles: Gerald Hayes (133)
Sacks: Claude Harriott* (9.5)
Interceptions: Shawntae Spencer* (3)

Outlook: Walt Harris was asked at Big East Media Day if anything less than a BCS berth would be a disappointment. "I'm not going to get caught in that trap," Harris said. Too late, Walt. The expectations are sky high in Pittsburgh, and for good reason. Seventeen starters are back from last year's 9-4 team that finished with a resounding 38-13 victory against Oregon State in the Insight Bowl. Included in that group is receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who learned to catch from Cris Carter while serving as a Minnesota Vikings ballboy as a kid. Fitzgerald was tutored well, registering 1,005 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. There's also a star on defensive in end Claude Harriott, the Big East's runner-up in sacks last season. But the key to Pittsburgh's fate is quarterback Rod Rutherford, a two-way threat who shined during the second half of the season. The schedule certainly appears in favor of Pittsburgh making a run at the conference title and a Top 10 finish. The Panthers play Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse and Notre Dame at home.

Key game: If Pittsburgh lives up to its billing, the Panthers could host the regular-season finale against Miami with the Big East title and BCS berth riding on the game. The Panthers will get plenty of chances to prove themselves before the Miami game starting with an Sept. 27 showdown with Texas A&M at College Station.

Keep an eye on: Brandon Miree. The former Alabama transfer had an uneventful start to his first season at Pittsburgh, but finished it with a flourish going over 100 rushing yards in four of the Panthers' last five games. He may be the best running back in the Big East not named Kevin Jones.

It's a good year if. . .: The season ends in a BCS bowl. Pittsburgh hasn't played in a bowl worth caring about since the early '80s. The Panthers don't have to win the Big East to earn a BCS bid, but it would help considering the conference has never sent two teams to a BCS game in a single year.

Jorge Milian covers the Big East for the Palm Beach Post.