PITTSBURGH - Carl Torbush didn't want to accentuate the negatives.
Sure, if his North Carolina football team would have picked up its sixth loss of the season against Pittsburgh, its bowl hopes would have been dashed.
But Torbush wanted to focus on what the Tar Heels could still accomplish with a victory. A win would elevate the UNC's record to 4-5 with two games remaining. Six wins would still be within reach.
At least for one more week, they still are.
North Carolina's 20-17 victory against Pittsburgh on Saturday night went a long way toward helping the Tar Heels become bowl eligible. And those hopes are still possible thanks in part to the message Torbush delivered to his players before the Pittsburgh contest.
"They can add," Torbush said. "If we lose this, that's out. We tried it in a positive manner -if we win, we've still got a chance. It was never if we lost."
And the Tar Heels didn't. North Carolina came out of the gates with a sense of urgency and shocked the Panthers with its physical play.
The Panthers, who came into the game with a 5-2 record, weren't worried about missing out on postseason play. Many of Pittsburgh's players were concerned with simply winning one of their final four games to become bowl eligible. That mentality might have cost Pittsburgh against a hungry UNC squad.
"A lot of guys are fixated at this point that we just need one more win, when it's really just try to win every game," Panther wideout Antonio Bryant said. "The more wins, the better the bowl. The reality hasn't struck a lot of the guys on our team. It's only a few of us that are trying to emphasize that."
Of course, the Tar Heels aren't afforded that luxury. They are going to have to scratch and claw to appear in any bowl, period.
UNC is seventh in the ACC with a 1-5 conference record. If it wins its last two games against Maryland and Duke, N.C. State would have to lose to Duke, Virginia and Wake Forest to give UNC a chance at fifth place in the league and a spot in a bowl in Hawaii.
The Silicon Valley Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl, which UNC won in 1998, are the only ones with an at-large bid.
"My freshman year we were 6-5 and invited to a bowl," UNC quarterback Ronald Curry said. "Hopefully some of the guys want to see Carolina come and play in one of their bowls."
UNC has won 10 consecutive games against Duke, and the streak doesn't look like it will end this year against the Blue Devils, who are 0-9.
A win against Maryland looked much more promising for the Tar Heels before the Terrapins upset N.C. State 35-28 in double overtime on Saturday. This week, the Tar Heels must face the toughest opponent left on their schedule.
But then again, the same was true last week. And UNC cleared that hurdle on its path to bowl eligibility.
"It just makes us feel like one more chance," UNC cornerback Errol Hood said. "Our season's not over yet.
"If we'd have lost this game, the fellas would be looking on to new things. But this right here keeps the guys' hearts into it."
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