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Panthers looking to snap road jinx



Published: Fri, September 8, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Coach Dave Wannstedt's team (1-0) is playing at Cincinnati (1-0).

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Pitt is still looking for that one win on the road.

The Panthers went all last season without winning a road game. Their 0-5 mark away from home was the most glaring shortcoming in their first losing season in six years.

That futility is front-and-center as the Panthers (1-0) get ready to open the Big East season tonight at Cincinnati, where the small crowds rarely provide much of a problem for visiting teams.

If they're going to break that 0-for-the-road, this is as good a place as any to do it.

Caution advised

"This is going to be a big game for us -- on the road, up there on a Friday night," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "And we have to be mature enough as a team this early in the season to be able to go up there and deal with that."

The Bearcats (1-0) are trying to get the crowd involved, something they've traditionally struggled to do. In their first Big East season last year, the Bearcats didn't even come close to filling 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium. Their biggest crowd was 25,893 for the final home game against West Virginia, one that drew a lot of folks from the neighboring state.

Cincinnati opened its 2006 season last Saturday with a 31-0 home victory over Eastern Kentucky. Attendance: 18,792.

"I want fans to come out," coach Mark Dantonio said. "I have never in three years asked people to come support the Bearcats. I am asking now. We try to do our work the right way, but we need to be supported."

High school is hot

It could be a tough sell. High school football is big in southwest Ohio, with most teams playing Friday night. And, the Bearcats don't have a very big fan base, even in the best of times. They went 4-7 last season, finishing second-to-last in the conference.

"I have always said, 'When we win, they will come,' " said Dantonio, in his third season as head coach. "I have always tried to do that. I think our players deserve a great atmosphere."

Both teams looked good in their openers, getting a feel for where they stand as conference play begins.

Pittsburgh made the more impressive debut, beating Virginia 38-13. The Panthers returned two interceptions for touchdowns and got a decisive performance from quarterback Tyler Palko, who was 17-of-22 for 283 yards with three touchdowns. Two of the touchdown passes went for 72 and 78 yards.

"There is no one player on this team that has to carry us," Wannstedt said. "Your job is to manage the game, which he did."

Long absence

Now they make their first trip to Cincinnati since 1922, playing a team coming off its first shutout in 11 years. The Bearcats got four touchdowns out of an offense that features two quarterbacks -- Dustin Grutza and Nick Davila.

Pitt's defense will provide a much better read on where the Bearcats stand.

"We are starting a series where we will play Pitt, Ohio State and Virginia Tech," Dantonio said. "I tell our guys that we want to have a football team good enough to play with anyone in the country. Unless you believe it and say it, it's not going to happen."




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