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July 24, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 40

The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 40 days away from its Labor Day opener against Florida State at Heinz Field. Panther-Lair.com is counting down the days until the biggest season opener in recent memory.

Today's number is 40, so we're looking at one of Pitt's best defensive players in the last 10 years.

Few players have risen from unheralded backup to star and leader quite as meteorically as Scott McKillop - who wore jersey No. 40 - and his career is one that still seems to be overlooked by Pitt fans.

After the 2006 season, most were concerned about the middle linebacker position in Dave Wannstedt's 4-3 defense. Gone was multi-year starter H.B. Blades, a perennial 100-tackle player and first-team All-American who finished as the No. 3 all-time leading tackler in Pitt history and served as the heart and soul of the defense and the team.

To replace all of that, the coaches ultimately - and somewhat grudgingly - turned to a linebacker who wasn't supposed to be big enough or fast enough to take over the important middle position. McKillop had been Blades' backup in 2005 and 2006, and even though he stepped in for Blades against West Virginia in 2005 and piled up 13 tackles, there was a fair amount of disbelief that the former Kiski Area standout could do the job.

So when McKillop took the starting position for the 2007 season, he had a lot to prove. By the end of the year, there were no more doubters. All McKillop did as a first-year starter was lead the nation in tackles per game and rank No. 2 in solo tackles. He recorded double-digit tackles in seven of 12 games and finished with 151 total tackles, which topped Blades' impressive 2006 performance.

McKillop was strong from the start in 2007, with 12 tackles against Syracuse, 14 against Navy, 16 against Cincinnati, 15 at Virginia and 17 at Michigan State. But his true "breakout" game was at Rutgers, when he recorded 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception. Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors were a no-brainer at that point, and he followed that performance with an 18-tackle/3-TFL/1-forced fumble outing against South Florida. And in the season finale against West Virginia, McKillop had nine tackles, including a huge play to stop Steve Slaton on fourth-and-3 late in Pitt's 13-9 victory.

How did McKillop follow his 2007 performance? By being one of the most productive linebackers in the country as a senior. In 2008, McKillop put up 137 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. He ranked No. 3 in the nation in tackles per game (averaging 10.54) and No. 22 in tackles for loss. He was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year and earned four conference weekly honors. He was a unanimous First Team All-Big East selection and was named a first-team All-American by the Football Writers Association of America, CBSSports.com, and Phil Steele. He was a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award and the Lott Trophy, and he earned three national defensive player of the week honors after his performance against South Florida, when he recorded 12 tackles (all solo), three tackles for loss, two sacks and blew up a fake field goal attempt.

McKillop even finished his career with a bang, recording 11 tackles and a goal-line interception against Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. After two years as a starter, he had 344 career total tackles, good for No. 10 on Pitt's all-time tackle list.

Previous entries in the Countdown

Countdown: 41 - Another versatile mid-century athlete
Countdown: 42 - One of the greatest
Countdown: 43 - Pitt vs. the 2013 opponents
Countdown: 44 - An unfortunate score
Countdown: 45 - The Rhino
Countdown: 46 - The great Bimbo
Countdown: 47 - A huge effort in a tough loss
Countdown: 48 - The highest-scoring game
Countdown: 49 - The sack master
Countdown: 50 - The winningest coach in Pitt history
Countdown: 51 - A kicking record
Countdown: 52 - The link between Goldberg and Dorsett
Countdown: 53 - The legacy of Henry Ford
Countdown: 54 - A "Corny" mid-century quarterback
Countdown: 55 - Pitt makes history
Countdown: 56 - Panthers in the Super Bowl
Countdown: 57 - A unique scoring title
Countdown: 58 - Another Dorsett record
Countdown: 59 - The rare 59-point game
Countdown: 60 - A record that won't be broken
Countdown: 61 - Pitt's longest-running rivalry
Countdown: 62 - The last touchdown against Penn State
Countdown: 63 - The No Bowl Panthers
Countdown: 64 - The most passes in a game
Countdown: 65 - The other 13-9
Countdown: 66 - A local star
Countdown: 67 - One-win seasons
Countdown: 68 - The most prolific receiving game
Countdown: 69 - One of the biggest plays in Pitt history
Countodwn: 70 - The origin of Pitt's nine championships
Countdown: 71 - A good player in a bad era
Countdown: 72 - An All-American who became a dentist
Countdown: 73 - May Day
Countdown: 74 - A "groundwork" season
Countdown: 75 - A successful DL-to-OL move
Countdown: 76 - The 1976 national championship
Countdown: 77 - The last three-sport athletes
Countdown: 78 - An underrated pro
Countdown: 79 - One of the best
Countdown: 80 - The greatest non-championship team in Pitt history
Countdown: 81 - A crushing end to a great season
Countdown: 82 - The dawn of the Foge Era
Countdown: 83 - The most accurate kicker in Pitt history
Countdown: 84 - Pitt in the Pro Bowl
Countdown: 85 - A play that will never be matched
Countdown: 86 - A long but unfulfilled play
Countdown: 87 - The final year of Ironhead
Countdown: 88 - Pitt's All-American tradition
Countdown: 89 - Iron Mike
Countdown: 90 - The four 9-0's
Countdown: 91 - The two longest plays in Pitt history
Countdown: 92 - The senior year of the most productive QB in Pitt history
Countdown: 93 - The only 9-3 season in Pitt history
Countdown: 94 - The statistical oddity of 1994
Countdown: 95 - A relentless player and his dominant season
Countdown: 96 - The biggest win in Pitt history
Countdown: 97 - A dominant current Panther
Countdown: 98 - A transition year
Countdown: 99 - Hugh Green
Countdown: 100 - A look at Pitt in 1913

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