Panthers looking for momentum, bowl berth at USF


Panthers looking for momentum, bowl berth at USF

PITTSBURGH (AP) Mike Shanahan isn't picky. The Pittsburgh senior wide receiver will settle for a bowl game - any bowl game - if the Panthers can get eligible with a victory on Saturday at South Florida.

Yes, Birmingham included.

The Panthers (5-6, 2-4 Big East) have traveled to Alabama each of the last two Januarys for the BBVA Compass Bowl. There's a shot they could make it three straight if they find a way to beat the reeling Bulls (3-8, 1-5).

As monotonous as it sounds, considering the bumpy path the program has traveled during Shanahan's career, he'll take it.

``Well, it's a blessing to go anywhere, I guess,'' Shanahan said. ``But if we've got to go back there we'll try to win again. So, it'll be all right.''

Playing good football hasn't been an issue for Pitt this season. Playing good football consistently is another matter entirely.

The Panthers' emphatic 27-6 thumping of Rutgers last Saturday was their second win over a ranked team this season and the fourth time they've played a quality opponent tight.

Pitt came closer than anyone else did this season of unseating top-ranked Notre Dame, falling to the Fighting Irish in triple overtime earlier this month. Yet the Panthers have also lost to the likes of Youngstown State and Connecticut while looking uninspired in wins over Buffalo and Gardner-Webb.

``Every game there's a fine line and you have to play good football and do the things that lead to winning games,'' coach Paul Chryst said. ``I think it is a fine line and I've always believed that. I don't know if it's more now, than before.''

It's one the Panthers need to be on the winning side of one more time to assure themselves of a fifth straight bowl berth.

The extra month of practice a bowl game would provide could do wonders for the underclassmen who will lead the charge next fall when Pitt moves from the Big East to the ACC.

It would also provide a nice send-off to a senior class that saw the program go through four different head coaches - six if you count interims - and a conference move that precipitated a realignment craze that is changing the face of college athletics.

``I think it would be good to know that we could overcome anything and still get to another bowl game,'' Shanahan said. ``I've gone to a bowl game every year since I've been here, so I want to keep that streak going this season.''

Even if it means knowing just how close an OK season could have turned into a special one. The losses to Youngstown State, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville were all winnable games, ones the Panthers couldn't quite close on.

It's something Shanahan said the players try not to let get to their heads.

``I guess, when you look back a little this season there are a few games that could have gone either way,'' Shanahan said. ``There were some that we thought we should have won, but I don't know why we didn't win them. Maybe we just weren't ready to win those games.''

If the Panthers aren't ready to win on Saturday it will lead to a longer-than-expected offseason, though Chryst is optimistic his team is finally starting to get what it means to play consistently no matter the level of the opponent.

A .500 season and a lower-level bowl isn't quite the special season the Panthers envisioned in August. Then again, for Chryst and a program that's been in perpetual transition for two years, it's a start.

``Coach Chryst already told us that he'd take care of us seniors if we make it,'' Shanahan said. ``I don't know what that would entail, but I'm looking forward to it. So, we just need to go out with a win this week and see what happens with a bowl game.''


Follow Will Graves at www.twitter.com/WillGravesAP

Quick Links

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Washington Wizards

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!


Quick Links

Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

USA Today Sports

Orioles round out starting pitching rotation, finalize 4-year contract with Alex Cobb

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Alex Cobb's comfort and familiarity with the AL East was the deciding factor in his decision to sign with the Baltimore Orioles.

"They used the AL East and the success I've had in it to their advantage," the 30-year-old right-hander said Wednesday after finalizing a $57 million, four-year contract. "They kept challenging me with it and I love the challenge of pitching in this division and they know that over the times we talked. They did a really good job of making me feel like this is where I need to be."

Cobb gets $14 million in each of the first three seasons and $15 million in 2021, and he would earn a $500,000 bonus in each year he pitches 180 innings. Baltimore will defer $6.5 million from this year's salary and $4.5 million in each of the next three seasons.

He gets $2 million of the deferred money on Nov. 30, 2022, and $1.8 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2023-32. If he doesn't pitch at least 130 innings in 2020, an additional $5.25 million of the final's year salary would get deferred, payable $1.75 million annually on Nov. 30 from 2033-35.


Cobb has a full no-trade this year, then can list 10 teams from 2019-21 that he cannot be dealt to without his consent.

He had spent his entire six-season big league career with Tampa Bay and was the last big-name starting pitcher available in a slow-moving free agent market. He joined Andrew Cashner and Chris Tillman, who were signed last month, in a revamped rotation that includes holdovers Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman.

Cobb was 12-10 with a 3.66 ERA in 29 starts last season. He pitched 179 1/3 innings in his first full year back after missing nearly two seasons because of Tommy John surgery.

He had turned down the Rays' $17.4 million qualifying offer in November, and Baltimore pursued him from the start of free agency.

"They didn't stop bothering me the whole offseason," Cobb said. "They were very persistent, and I think that you notice that confidence they have in you just by the way they speak to you and the questions you ask and not questioning anything that's gone on. Everyone's got flaws that they come with and potential things you could really harp on that might not be your strong suit, but they never went down that avenue. They always told me how much they like certain aspects of what I do on and off the field, and just kept repeating how well I fit in here."


Cobb is 48-35 with a 3.50 in six big league seasons. Baltimore will lose its third-highest draft pick, currently No. 51, and the Rays get an extra selection after the first round as compensation.

Jose Mesa Jr. was designated for assignment Wednesday to clear a roster spot.

Baltimore opens on March 29 at home against Minnesota, but Cobb won't be ready to pitch then. He has agreed to be optioned to a minor league affiliate to help build up innings.

"I'm going to be pushing it as quick as I can," Cobb said. "That's going to be up to them. They've invested in me for a four-year period and as much as we know how much every game matters even early in April, we're going to have to look out for the overall future of this whole thing and whole contract and whatever they determine to be the way to protect me and my feedback from the bullpens I'm going to be throwing here in the next few days will probably determine the timeline."