By Abbey Way and Matt Popchock

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — The Panthers aren’t guaranteed a bowl game as they gear up for their Big East football farewell, but Saturday’s trip to South Florida might as well be one.

What’s at stake against the Bulls? Win or go home…till next fall.

Offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said it is going to take every last bit of effort this week to extend the 2012 season, and he’s taken notice of the work his seniors have put in during practice this week.

“A few of them are just off-the-charts passionate about having the opportunity to play one more together, and I think, as a younger group, they feel that,” Rudolph told the gathered media on the South Side.

South Florida, like Pitt, has seen a potentially promising campaign end with some level of disappointment. The Bulls have lost to Syracuse, 37-36, to Louisville–the conference’s BCS representative–by a 27-25 margin, and to Ball State by a 31-27 count.

Meanwhile, injuries, including a key one to much-hyped dual-threat quarterback B.J. Daniels at the beginning of this month, have hindered whatever postseason hopes they might have had.

The Panthers got off on the entirely wrong foot with ugly, double-digit defeats to Youngstown State and Cincinnati before righting that wrong with wins at home over then-ranked Virginia Tech and I-AA Gardner-Webb. However, losses in winnable games ensued at the hands of the Orange, the Huskies, and the BCS championship-bound Fighting Irish.

They, too, have been banged up at various points this year, particularly on the offensive and defensive fronts.

“We are expecting their absolute best. They’ve played better at home then on the road,” Rudolph said. “We understand going in there that it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and it’s going to be an absolute fight to come out of there.”

Rudolph also talked about how his underclassmen, namely locals Rushel Shell and J.P. Holtz, have impressed him this season:

Pitt has won the last four meetings, including a pair at Raymond James Stadium, where it is 3-1 against the Bulls all-time.

Kickoff between the Panthers (2-4, 5-6) and USF (1-5, 3-8) is set for 7:00 P.M. Saturday. Panther Preview, featuring Gregg Giannotti, begins that day at 4:00 P.M., on your flagship home for Pitt football, SportsRadio 93.7 The Fan.

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