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The national spotlight is set to shine on UConn for the second straight game.
But unlike Oct. 29, when the Huskies rallied to upset West Virginia in overtime, UConn's cheering section will include six other Big East schools when first-place Pittsburgh arrives at Rentschler Field tonight (7:30, ESPN) for a pivotal conference game.
The Panthers (5-3, 3-0) have the only unbeaten conference mark. Every other Big East school has two losses, so the Huskies (4-4, 1-2) can do themselves and the rest of the Big East a favor by defeating Pitt.
A loss would end UConn's dreams of earning the program's first BCS bowl bid.
"If someone is on top like Pittsburgh, of course you are going to try and knock them down," said UConn tailback Jordan Todman, who needs 46 rushing yards to reach 1,000 for the second straight season. "But it's November and we know it gets no easier form here on out."
Especially against Pittsburgh, which struggled early but has won its last three games with ease, outscoring Syracuse, Rutgers and Louisville 106-38. A major reason has been the improved play of the Panthers' new quarterback, sophomore Tino Sunseri, who after a sluggish start is now third in the Big East in passing (141-for-214, 1,672 yards, 13 touchdowns, 4 interceptions) and the 1-2 running punch of Ray Graham and Dion Lewis (1,164 combined rushing yards and 12 touchdowns).
"If we want to get to where we want to get to," UConn coach Randy Edsall said, "we've got to beat this team."
The Huskies are 4-0 at Rentschler Field this year, but have not beaten the Panthers at home since 2006.
Still, Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt feels his team has to be ready for a physical and emotional test.
"Their win last week was a huge one for them, beating West Virginia," Wannstedt said during his weekly news conference. "We all know what a good football team WVU has. It's not a secret how that happens. Right now (UConn is) the least penalized team in the Big East, they lead the league in interceptions and they've given up the least amount of sacks.
"There are some true statistics and facts that support the success that they have had and the challenges that we have come Thursday night."
As for the environment, Wannstedt believes the Panthers will be ready.
"It's on top of you," he said. "They have a very enthusiastic crowd. We're expecting a lot of noise. … From being up there two and four years ago at night, we know that if you let them, the crowd is really going to get into it.
"I'm optimistic that we'll be able to keep our focus. We've played some road games, at Utah and South Bend, where we've had full houses. We hope to take some of that experience up to Connecticut."
• UConn officials said Wednesday night the game is not sold out. More than 3,000 tickets remain and will be available at the Rentschler Field ticket office.