SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Pittsburgh opened its season with a 31-17 loss to FCS-level Youngstown State, a meddling Missouri Valley Conference program that doesn't have much business winning at Heinz Field against an FBS team.
It's safe to say Paul Chryst's tenure at Pitt didn't start off too well. The Panthers then lost by 24 to Cincinnati, but pulled what looked like a major upset in Week 3, defeating then No- 13 Virginia Tech 35-17. That's the same Virginia Tech, though, that's 4-5 after a loss to Miami and is likely staring down a 6-6 season.
Heading into Saturday, Pitt is 4-4, centered in the glut of mediocrity (and that may be too kind) that is the Big East. Take this as an example -- Louisville is 8-0 and ranked No. 10 in the BCS. They don't play a ranked team all year and by Football Outsiders' F/+ rankings, the Cardinals are the 58th-best FBS team in the nation.
Pittsburgh lost on the road to Louisville 45-35 on Oct. 13, with Tino Sunseri completing 28 of 37 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers' ageless wonder (he's 23, and is almost certainly one of the last collegiate players to be born in 1988) hasn't thrown an interception in a month and a half and only has two on the season while throwing for 13 touchdowns.
"He has really matured as a quarterback, really impressed with his play this year," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He's not turning the football over. Last year, he was similar to what we were going through with some untimely turnovers. He takes great care of the football. He's a veteran, you can see that. And the offense fits him very well and he can make plays.
"He's a guy that I think is playing the best football that he's played his entire career at Pittsburgh."
But Sunseri hasn't faced a defense as good as Notre Dame's this year, and that's by a pretty wide margin. Regardless of the matchup differences, though, Notre Dame players saying that they'll take Pitt lightly.
"We know we're going to get their best shot, not only because we're 8-0 but because it's Notre Dame, and no one like Notre Dame," center Braxston Cave said. "Everyone's going to get up and play their best game when they come to Notre Dame Stadium."
Pitt didn't suspend any of the three players -- RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street and CB Lafayette Pitts -- who were charged with assault and conspiracy on Friday stemming from an incident last month. Graham and Street are both starters, with Graham rushing for 622 yards on 134 carries and Street leading the team with 50 catches for 695 yards.
With their status no longer in question, the biggest takeaway for this weekend's game is that Street was pointed out by the victim because the two were in a class about vampires at Pittsburgh, according to the Associated Press.
For Notre Dame -- which doesn't teach a class about vampires -- the key is to avoid a letdown following last week's win against Oklahoma. The Irish already avoided falling in a classic "trap" game against BYU -- albeit by a narrow margin -- so if they learned from that, Saturday shouldn't be a problem.
The mantra of preparing for Pittsburgh and taking the Panthers seriously began moments after Notre Dame victoriously walked off the field in Norman. Most Notre Dame players brought up Pittsburgh when talking after the game, and Kelly's message was designed to keep Notre Dame's focus on this week, and this week alone -- as has been the case all year.
"If we start listening to national championship and the BCS, we'll lose a football game," Kelly said in Oklahoma. "And they're a pretty smart group, and they know if they stick with what we've done and stick with the process of just preparing for Pittsburgh, they'll be fine. But if they start thinking about all those other things and listening, we'll lose."