PITTSBURGH — After Pitt lost to North Carolina on a last-second touchdown three weeks ago, things looked pretty bleak for the Panthers’ chances at an ACC Championship Game appearance.
When the Tar Heels knocked off Florida State a week later, a division title looked hopelessly out of reach.
But while Pitt was beating Georgia Tech last weekend, North Carolina’s title hopes took a broadside blast of their own with a 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech.
Now, it’s the Hokies sitting free and clear atop the division, but for the Panthers, that means their postseason fate is back in their hands — a win over Virginia Tech in two weeks could catapult Pitt back to the top of the standings.
But first comes Virginia, and not just because they’re the next opponent on the schedule, either. The Cavaliers have only played one conference game, but it was a win over Duke, and they’re in just as good of a position as anyone else coming into the heart of the schedule.
The next three weeks will be key in making some separation at the top of the Coastal Division, with five games taking place between the five teams currently bunched at the top.
Of course, the Panthers — like all football teams — profess a one-week-at-a-time attitude, and with good reason. Overlooking an opponent is a sure way to add to the loss column.
“It’s always week-by-week,” quarterback Nate Peterman said. “We want to win every game that’s in front of us. … We just have to stay focused on that game in front of [us]. I think any time you get away from that, it can be disastrous.”
But still, knowing that their ultimate goal — a conference title — is back within reach has to have added a layer of seriousness to the proceedings, right?
“Probably not as much as you’d think,” said defensive end Ejuan Price. “I think we pretty much go day-by-day. We’re a funny group. We understand the seriousness of it, but we’re pretty laid back. We’re not a tense group. We talk about our goals, we know what we want to accomplish but the locker room is all jokes. When it’s time to work, we work, but when it’s joke time, you know we’re joking.”
Of course, despite the looseness of the locker room, there is a heightened awareness of the situation
“We control our own destiny going forward,” said tight end Scott Orndoff. “We have to do our best to win every game. It’s up to us where we want to be in December and where we want to be situated, so we have to just take it game-by-game and try to beat every conference opponent we can.”
Head coach Pat Narduzzi feels comfortable enough with the maturity of his group that he hasn’t even seen fit to bring the topic.
“We really haven’t talked about it in a staff meeting or team meeting,” he said. “It’s like, let’s worry about this one game. If you start to look ahead, even think about it … ahead doesn’t matter. It’s really in the present, what we’re doing today to win this game against a good Virginia team on homecoming in their house. That’s really the only focus.”