Posted: 12:00 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, 2013
Game week - it's here, people.
Okay, so technically, Pitt doesn't have a game until Monday. But with a long weekend ahead of us, the game is a continuation of the weekend's action. And for the Panthers, no game is bigger than the Florida State matchup.
That's not to say the Seminoles will be a better team this year than Notre Dame or even Miami, the other two big heavyweights on Pitt's home schedule. But in the initial ACC game, the season opener, on a holiday weekend, in prime time? Don't be fooled - this is the big one, folks.
In a few words, the Panthers will have their hands full. The Seminoles come into town as the No. 11/12 team in the nation and will be a tough, tough out. I'm not here to tell you Pitt will win - and I'll spoil my end of week prediction by saying I expect Florida State to come out on top. However, there are a few things that could make the game interesting.
Like Pitt, the Seminoles are replacing a quarterback after EJ Manuel went to the NFL. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was named the starter and barring something crazy, will be under center at Heinz Field. Winston is immensely talented, but still only a freshman. He's going to make mistakes this season and Pitt needs to hope he starts doing that early. A turnover or two could go a long way in trying to pull off an upset.
Along those lines, the game will be a primetime matchup at night. Heinz Field isn't always sold out, but it will be at capacity or darn close to it on Monday. That place will get loud and in a hurry.
One thing that may work in Pitt's favor, too, is, believe it or not, last year's opening loss to Youngstown State. If you're a D-I player, that is the kind of loss that is utterly embarrassing. That should make the Panthers even more fired up for this opener, eager to prove themselves against the home crowd.
Lastly, while we don't know what we'll get out of the offense this year, the defense really should be quite solid. Pitt's secondary is, as I've said, going to be unbelievable. That might not show as much against a top team in the first game, but there's real talent there. IMO, Lafayette Pitts, K'Waun Williams, and Jason Hendricks could all be playing on Sundays. The linebackers should be reasonable, and the big question for me will be if the front four can get enough pressure and keep Winston in check. As a whole, the defense has a chance to keep Pitt in the game.
Lots of questions remain, obviously. Pitt has their own new quarterback in Tom Savage. Starting running back Isaac Bennett suffered a lingering injury in camp. Todd Thomas, an impact player on defense, left the team then came back. Even special teams is a big question mark with a freshman kicker in Chris Blewitt. We really don't know what to expect out of this year's team, but we're about to find out.