PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- In a game with bowl implications, 18th-ranked Pittsburgh hosts No. 21 West Virginia on Saturday in the 95th edition of the "Backyard Brawl."
More than just local bragging rights will be on the line as the winner clinches no worse than second place in the Big East and likely earns a berth in the Gator Bowl, which has its choice of the conference's second bowl representative.
While Pittsburgh (8-3) has enjoyed a solid year and nearly upset top-ranked Miami last Thursday before falling, 28-21, West Virginia (8-3) also has quietly put together a successful season under second-year coach Rich Rodriguez.
The Mountaineers moved into the top 25 for the first time since 1998 after holding on for a 21-18 victory at Virginia Tech last Wednesday.
Pittsburgh also won at Virginia Tech this season, posting a 28-21 victory at Lane Stadium on November 2 that established the Panthers as contenders in the Big East.
Pittsburgh gave Miami all it could handle, reaching the Hurricanes 25-yard line in the final minute in a bid to force overtime. But the Panthers came up just short as Rod Rutherford's fourth-down pass barely eluded a diving Yogi Roth in the end zone.
Pittsburgh has prospered behind the passing combination of Rod Rutherford and Larry Fitzgerald.
Rutherford leads the conference in total offense (246.5 yards per game) and ranks second in touchdown passes with 19, while Fitzgerald is a top candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year honors. He paces the league in receptions per game (4.8) and touchdowns (9).
The Mountaineers escaped with a win in Blacksburg when cornerback Brian King intercepted Bryan Randall in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining. It was West Virginia's third straight victory.
Avon Cobourne, West Virginia's all-time leading rusher who has eight 100-yard games this season, was limited to 80 yards on 19 carries. But the Mountaineers held Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones to a combined 107 yards.
Pittsburgh leads the all-time series, 68-33-3, and is looking to win three in a row for the first time since reeling off seven straight victories from 1976-82. The Panthers posted a 23-17 victory last season as Antonio Bryant caught 11 passes for a Mountaineer Field-record 186 yards.
West Virginia, however, has won six of its last seven road games against Pittsburgh.