PITTSBURGH (AP) — No offense to the fine people who run the BBVA Compass Bowl, but Pittsburgh offensive guard Ryan Schlieper doesn't 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.
Pitt's move to the ACC means there's 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 can't 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. It's a script he's known all too well. He's started each of the last two seasons, ones that have ended with Pitt stumbling at Legion Field to finish a disappointing 6-7.
It's a scenario that's in play no matter where the Panthers end up if they can't beat Miami for the first time in nine tries. It's 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 can't help but get excited.
"I think it's a huge difference," Schlieper said. "Every year I've played we've gone 6-6 and went to a bowl game and lost and went 6-7. I don't want that to happen."
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 program's history. Pitt rolled through four full-time head coaches (and two interim ones) over the last four years. It's not exactly what Donald and company signed up for, but he'll take it. His focus was never on the men wearing the headsets but his friends in the shoulder pads.
"It's not a certain game (that stands out) but just being able to play with these guys I'm playing with," Donald said. "Just being around them and building a brotherhood with them. I'm truly blessed to have played with these guys and go out and ball with them every week."
It's 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.
"This senior class is leaders," Boyd said. "These boys don't take nothing from nobody. They lead us in the right direction. They want to win as bad as we want to win."