Pitt vs. Notre Dame: Ray Graham, Devin Street losses would destroy Panthers' chances

Justin K. Aller

Three critical Pittsburgh players found themselves in legal trouble days before a trip to No. 3 Notre Dame. If Pitt elects to sit them, the Panthers stand an even smaller chance on Saturday.

Three Pittsburgh Panthers players were charged with assault Thursday, all starters: running back Ray Graham, receiver Devin Street and cornerback Lafayette Pitts. While Pitt fans aren't expecting the three players to be suspended, if they were, this game would go from a mismatch (the unbeaten Irish are already favored by more than two touchdowns) to an all-but-certain bloodbath.

If Paul Chryst chooses to bench the three, Street's loss could be the most damaging. The 6'4 junior currently leads the Big East in catches (50) and receiving yards (695), along with topping the Panthers in receiving touchdowns (four). The possession man is paired with big deep threat Mike Shanahan to create one of the country's better receiving twosomes (and thus one of Pitt's very few conceivable advantages against Notre Dame, considering the Irish's relatively unproven secondary), but if Street is out, Tino Sunseri's surprising season (tops in the Big East in passer rating, only two interceptions) could be in even greater trouble against Manti Te'o and friends.

Graham has returned from injury and reclaimed his spot in Pitt's offense, leading the Panthers in rushing and total yardage, putting up at least 71 total yards from scrimmage in every game this year. Pitt's better suited to weather his loss, due to Rushel Shell and Isaac Bennett posting higher yards-per-carry averages (against weakened defenses), Bennett picking up experience during Graham's absence last year, and, well, Notre Dame probably not letting Pitt run for very many yards anyway. Notre Dame ranks No. 9 in the country in rushing yards allowed and has given up just one ground score all year.

All of which means special teams could be Pitt's only real hope of scoring. Speaking of!

Redshirt freshman Pitts currently leads the Big East in kickoff return yardage. He also has eight games worth of experience starting at cornerback, where he's tied for the team lead in passes broken up and posted 21 tackles.

Tl;dr: if these three players end up being suspended, Notre Dame should be able to rest its starters even earlier than otherwise.

Check the national college football scoreboard right here, and look through SB Nation's many excellent college football blogs to find your team's community.

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