Notre Dame expecting Pittsburgh's best

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Notre Dame expecting Pittsburgh's best

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Pittsburgh opened its season with a 31-17 loss to FCS-level Youngstown State, a meddling Missouri Valley Conference program that doesn't have much business winning at Heinz Field against an FBS team.

It's safe to say Paul Chryst's tenure at Pitt didn't start off too well. The Panthers then lost by 24 to Cincinnati, but pulled what looked like a major upset in Week 3, defeating then No- 13 Virginia Tech 35-17. That's the same Virginia Tech, though, that's 4-5 after a loss to Miami and is likely staring down a 6-6 season.

Heading into Saturday, Pitt is 4-4, centered in the glut of mediocrity (and that may be too kind) that is the Big East. Take this as an example -- Louisville is 8-0 and ranked No. 10 in the BCS. They don't play a ranked team all year and by Football Outsiders' F rankings, the Cardinals are the 58th-best FBS team in the nation.

Pittsburgh lost on the road to Louisville 45-35 on Oct. 13, with Tino Sunseri completing 28 of 37 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. The Panthers' ageless wonder (he's 23, and is almost certainly one of the last collegiate players to be born in 1988) hasn't thrown an interception in a month and a half and only has two on the season while throwing for 13 touchdowns.

"He has really matured as a quarterback, really impressed with his play this year," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. "He's not turning the football over. Last year, he was similar to what we were going through with some untimely turnovers. He takes great care of the football. He's a veteran, you can see that. And the offense fits him very well and he can make plays.

"He's a guy that I think is playing the best football that he's played his entire career at Pittsburgh."

But Sunseri hasn't faced a defense as good as Notre Dame's this year, and that's by a pretty wide margin. Regardless of the matchup differences, though, Notre Dame players saying that they'll take Pitt lightly.

"We know we're going to get their best shot, not only because we're 8-0 but because it's Notre Dame, and no one like Notre Dame," center Braxston Cave said. "Everyone's going to get up and play their best game when they come to Notre Dame Stadium."

Pitt didn't suspend any of the three players -- RB Ray Graham, WR Devin Street and CB Lafayette Pitts -- who were charged with assault and conspiracy on Friday stemming from an incident last month. Graham and Street are both starters, with Graham rushing for 622 yards on 134 carries and Street leading the team with 50 catches for 695 yards.

With their status no longer in question, the biggest takeaway for this weekend's game is that Street was pointed out by the victim because the two were in a class about vampires at Pittsburgh, according to the Associated Press.

For Notre Dame -- which doesn't teach a class about vampires -- the key is to avoid a letdown following last week's win against Oklahoma. The Irish already avoided falling in a classic "trap" game against BYU -- albeit by a narrow margin -- so if they learned from that, Saturday shouldn't be a problem.

The mantra of preparing for Pittsburgh and taking the Panthers seriously began moments after Notre Dame victoriously walked off the field in Norman. Most Notre Dame players brought up Pittsburgh when talking after the game, and Kelly's message was designed to keep Notre Dame's focus on this week, and this week alone -- as has been the case all year.

"If we start listening to national championship and the BCS, we'll lose a football game," Kelly said in Oklahoma. "And they're a pretty smart group, and they know if they stick with what we've done and stick with the process of just preparing for Pittsburgh, they'll be fine. But if they start thinking about all those other things and listening, we'll lose."

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

As questions about his future remain, David Accam is in his best run with the Fire

For the past two seasons, David Accam was a bright spot on bad Chicago Fire teams.

This season, with more talent on the roster, Accam has blossomed into one of the most dangerous players in the league.

He had a hat trick and an assist in Saturday’s 4-0 win against Orlando. That gives him 10 goals and six assists on the season. Only two other players in Major League Soccer have 16 combined goals and assists, New York City FC's David Villa and teammate Nemanja Nikolic (the leading goal-scorer in the league).

“I thought I could do anything on the pitch today,” Accam said. “I just wanted to enjoy myself and entertain the fans and also help the team win. That’s what we did today, especially after my first goal. I just thought I could get more goals and also help the team win.”

Accam’s big game comes after he sat out the previous two games, which were both played on turf. He wasn’t listed on the injury report, but coach Veljko Paunovic said, “he didn’t recover from the physical issues that he had in the previous game.”

The rest seemed to do Accam some good, but his success in the game (as well as his recent run of eight goals and four assists in his last eight matches) coincides with questions about his future. He was recently rumored to be the target of a Turkish club.

In the past, Accam has spoken about his ambition to play at the highest levels. Typically, that means Europe. General manager Nelson Rodriguez said last month that he expects offers to come in for the 26-year-old because he is a good player in his prime ages.

So is Accam playing like someone trying to earn a new contract? That could be either impressing potential suitors in Europe or boosting his negotiation position with the Fire. Rodriguez has talked about contract negotiations with Accam before, and said those will not resume again until after the season.

“I wanted to be in a team where I would develop as a person and also win trophies, whether here or somewhere (else) I don’t know,” Accam said. “For me, I’m doing really well here and every year if I keep playing well there will be always interest. I know there is a lot of interest because I’m doing well. For me it’s always extra motivation to keep doing well. You don’t know where I will end up, whether here or somewhere else. I’ll just keep playing.”

Accam’s play earned him another call-up to the Ghanaian national team. He will join the team on Sunday for a pair of friendlies in the U.S. The Black Stars will take on Mexico in Houston on June 28 and the U.S. in East Hartford, Conn., on July 1 as the two North American countries prepare for the Gold Cup.

“That’s where I want to be,” Accam said. “I want to be playing for the national team so it’s extra motivation for me to perform well and also to go to the national team.”

Accam has been one of the most productive players in MLS this year, based on goals and assists, and is young enough to draw the attention of plenty of teams. For now, the Fire have him as a key part of the best season the club has had in years.

“I think that he understands very well how to play with the team that we have now and with the teammates that he is surrounded with,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We just have to work to give David opportunities… Then we expect that performances like that will come even more.”

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