A look at the calendar and it says the day is just 16 days away. Just 16 days until the return of the Pitt/Penn State rivalry.
But a second look at the calendar also informs us that there is a game between now and then.
Contrary to my own attempts to constantly overlook it, the Pitt Panthers do indeed have a game against Villanova on the schedule before that big event on September 10th.
I constantly find myself needing to remember that. But do the players?
“We’re all focused on the Villanova game. It’s what we have been practicing for,” said linebacker Elijah Zeise
I’d like to believe that. Unfortunately, the last Pittsburgh athlete who tried to convince us how “Focussed” he had been was Le’Veon Bell. So pardon my skepticism.
The topic isn’t necessarily pertinent because of the opponent. The 1-AA Wildcats play in the CAA of FCS. And last year, they weren’t very good in it. Nova finished 6-5. In theory, unless Scottie Reynolds has some football eligibility remaining that we don’t know about, Pitt shouldn’t be threatened by Villanova.
But it is pertinent because of Pitt’s history. Youngstown State beat the Panthers in Paul Chryst’s 2012 opener. The Penguins also had the ball with a chance to tie with roughly three minutes left last year too in Pat Narduzzi’s debut. Bowling Green also infamously ruined a home opener in 2008 27-17. And even though it wasn’t a loss, let us not forget the Furman OT near disaster of 2004.
The Panthers are pockmarked with inexplicable opening losses and poor early season performances, both home and away, in recent years. And it feels as if the massive amount of hype for the Penn State game is already starting.
And why shouldn’t it. Every Pitt fan (and Western PA Penn State fan) should be looking forward to this game with glee.
But the players can’t. Even though the Nova opener has “look ahead” written all over it.
“I don’t think anyone thinks about that,” insisted senior offensive lineman Adam Bisnowaty. “Every game is important to us. Starting with Villanova.”
Pitt’s slogan this year is “The Pursuit.” It’s all over social media, the practice facility, the walkway out to the practice field. Pat Narduzzi explained it this way
“Our kids know where they want to go. What is your vision? We want to be on the field in Charlotte (at the ACC Championship Game) in December. That’s what our kids are on the pursuit to.”
And to be frank, Pitt’s pursuit of just about any goal, aside from the infinitesimally small chance of a national title, wouldn’t be dented by a loss to Villanova.
The pursuit of the ACC Coastal Division wouldn’t be affected by another epic toe-stub to start the year against the Cats. Neither would the pursuit of a conference title. Neither would the actual pursuit of beating Penn State.
The pursuit that would be slowed though, is that of program momentum. The pursuit of dispelling the notion that this Pitt team is destined to be as mediocre as the many that have recently preceded it.
None of this is to suggest that Pitt will lose. Nor is it to suggest that anyone should feel flat about the PSU renewal if an upset should happen. It’s simply a reminder to you to check the calendar.
And a reminder to the players to check their own quotes.