The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 81 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 81, so we're looking at Pitt's great - and crushing - 1981 season.
Jackie Sherrill's final year as head coach of the Panthers was a pretty incredible one. Despite losing the likes of Mark May, Hugh Green, and Russ Grimm from the 1980 squad, Sherrill had a loaded roster coming back, led by junior quarterback Dan Marino.
Pitt opened the season ranked in the top ten and stayed there all year as the Panthers rolled through their schedule. That included a 42-14 win over Florida State, a victory that avenged Pitt's lone defeat from the 1980 season.
After a Halloween win over Boston College, the 7-0 Panthers climbed to No. 1 in the AP poll and pushed even harder. In the next three games (at Rutgers, Army, and at Temple), Pitt scored a total of 130 points - an average of 43 points per game - and allowed just three total points. The Panthers pitched consecutive shutouts heading into the regular-season finale against Penn State, and after scoring a pair of touchdowns in the first 10 minutes against the Nittany Lions, Pitt had put together a string of 144 unanswered points.
Then Penn State answered.
The Nittany Lions tied the game with two touchdowns in the second quarter and then ran away with the game, scoring 34 points in the second half while Pitt's potent offense went scoreless amidst seven turnovers.
After seeming to be destined for a national championship, the Panthers were left at 10-1. They put in a classic performance to beat Georgia in the Sugar Bowl, but the third consecutive 11-1 record was little solace after immortality had been so close.
Marino finished fourth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy that year and set the Pitt record for touchdown passes in a season (37) and passing yards by a junior (2,876). His passing yardage also ranks No. 5 on the list of most prolific seasons in Pitt history.
Receiver Julius Dawkins also set the Pitt record for touchdown passes in a game and he did it twice, catching four scores against Cincinnati and Army.
Pitt produced four All-Americans that season - Marino, Dawkins, offensive tackle Jimbo Covert, and linebacker Sal Sunseri - making 1981 just the sixth time in Pitt history that four Panthers have earned that honor.
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