Best Case/Worst Case: Pittsburgh

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

The Best Case/Worst Case series turns now to Pittsburgh. Remember that the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Best case

Add the Panthers to the pantheon of Pittsburgh champions, along with the Steelers and Penguins.

Pitt's plethora of talent blossoms together and results in the finest season for the program since the days of Dan Marino. Freshman backs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham play like the second comings of Tony Dorsett and LeSean McCoy. The dynamic running game opens things up for the passing game, and Bill Stull, Tino Sunseri and Pat Bostick all contribute to victories during the year. They all enjoy throwing repeated touchdowns to Jonathan Baldwin, who starts catching the ball one-handed on purpose midseason just to give himself a challenge.

The defense is as strong and fearsome as anything Dave Wannstedt assembled with the Dallas Cowboys, and the Panthers roll through the early part of their schedule by blowing out Youngstown State, Buffalo and Navy. An easy win at NC State garners national attention, and Pitt has no trouble with either Louisville or Connecticut to start Big East play.

At 6-0, the first stumbling block comes in a familiar place: old nemesis Rutgers. But from there, it's relatively smooth sailing, including a thrashing of Notre Dame at home, a third straight win over West Virginia and revenge on Cincinnati for last year's loss.

The 11-1 Panthers go to the Fiesta Bowl to face Big Ten runner up Penn State. Wannstedt outcoaches Joe Paterno, who begs Pitt for a chance to play again down the road. Forget it, Wanny says.

The team returns to yet another victory parade in the city, and in honor of the marvelous season, Primanti Brothers declares, "Free sandwiches for all!"

Worst case

Thank goodness for the Steelers and Penguins, so Pitt fans have something to distract them.

The offense, never all that pretty in its best days under Wannstedt, regresses with the loss of McCoy. Stull struggles early, and Sunseri and Bostick show why Wannstedt stuck with Stull for so long. Unable to keep defenses honest against the pass, and with two freshmen backs who miss assignments and fumble the ball, points are harder to come by than winning seasons for the Pirates.

The defense, wrecked by injuries up front, really misses Scott McKillop, and the secondary gets picked on too much.

The team's trend of early-season clunkers continues with an upset in Week 2 at Buffalo, and a loss at NC State in Week 4 leaves Pitt at 2-2. The team and fan base are split over who should play quarterback. Pitt beats Louisville and UConn, but loses at Rutgers and can't stop South Florida at home. After getting a breather against Syracuse, the season ends with three straight losses to Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati.

A 5-7 record leaves fans grumbling again about Wannstedt. West Virginia wins the Big East and the Sugar Bowl, while Penn State captures the BCS title. Baldwin is so upset over his quarterbacks' inability to get him the ball that he transfers to an FBS program so he can catch passes for a year before going to the NFL.

Primanti Brothers is bought by a health nut who makes all the sandwiches lo-cal vegan, accompanied by a chilled cucumber broth.