Utah hosts No. 15 Pitt in ’04 Fiesta rematch

Utah was still a bit of a novelty the last time it played

Pittsburgh.

In fact, it was the only time. The Utes celebrated their status

as the first ”BCS Busters” and an unbeaten 2004 season with a

35-7 victory over the Panthers in the Fiesta Bowl.

The BCS has been busted plenty in the years since, including

another run by Utah in 2004, and the Utes are well enough

established in college football that they’re actually favored over

the higher-ranked Panthers in the season opener for both teams

Thursday night.

”We’ve been pointing to this game for a lot of months now,”

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said.

Utah has won 17 straight at home and every ticket for Thursday

night – even standing room – was gone by early in the week. Utah

fans are anxious to begin the three-month farewell to the Mountain

West Conference and get to the Pac-10.

Whittingham is officially 1-0 against Pitt, although he was

sharing ”co-head coach” duties with Urban Meyer in his final game

at Utah before taking over Florida. The NCAA credited both coaches

with the victory, a distant memory for Whittingham as he opens his

sixth season as coach.

No. 15 Pitt is now coached by former Panther Dave Wannstedt, who

appears to have his alma mater headed back toward the level it once

occupied.

”He has done a great job with personnel,” Whittingham said.

”This team is much more talented than the 2004 team in the Fiesta

Bowl. He has done an excellent job in recruiting.”

The Panthers were almost a unanimous pick to win the Big East in

a preseason media poll and their AP ranking is Pitt’s highest since

opening the 2003 season at No. 10. All this praise despite bringing

in a new quarterback in Tino Sunseri, who has thrown all of 17

passes in his career.

Wannstedt said he reassured Sunseri with some guidance last week

and tried to keep him from getting overwhelmed thinking about the

opener.

”He came into my office and I gave him a few stories of other

quarterbacks, both on this level and the NFL that were starting off

their careers for the first time,” Wannstedt said. ”I really

wanted to make the point to him that he’s one of 11 players on

offense. We’re not the type of offense where Tino’s the only one

who needs to make plays.”

Sunseri’s inexperience and three new offensive linemen seem to

be getting overshadowed by running back Dion Lewis, who in just one

season has Pitt fans buzzing about the 5-foot-8 sparkplug whose

1,799 rushing yards were the second-most in school history.

Only Tony Dorsett ran for more in a season, gaining 2,150 yards

when he won the Heisman Trophy in 1976. Having Lewis as the main

option will give Sunseri and the other newcomers on offense a

little room to develop, although not much. Utah is deeper on the

defensive line than anywhere else and will pressure Sunseri while

trying to contain Lewis.

The Panthers will rely on Lewis to offset inexperience up front

and at quarterback and have colossal defensive end Greg Romeus

(6-foot-6, 270 pounds) to anchor the defense. Romeus is one of just

nine senior scholarship players on the Panthers’ roster.

”You try to practice things in camp with these younger players

by pressing them physically, and then putting them in situations on

the field where they have to compete at full speed,” Wannstedt

said. ”While we did those things in camp, there’s nothing like

being out there on your own, with the lights on you and you get hit

in the mouth. Everybody has a good plan until you get hit in the

mouth.”

Utah opened last season after a tough quarterback battle in

training camp, won by junior college transfer Terrance Cain. Cain

went 7-1 in eight starts, but Whittingham and his staff were

impressed enough by what freshman Jordan Wynn was doing in practice

that he took over the starting job midway through the season.

In six games, Wynn completed 58 percent of his passes and threw

for 1,329 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions. He

finished the season with 338 passing yards and three touchdowns in

the Utes’ win over California in the Poinsettia Bowl.

AP Sports Writer Alan Robinson in Pittsburgh contributed to this

report.