PITTSBURGH — As has been the case for each of the first three years of Pat Narduzzi’s tenure at Pitt, the Panthers will start the season with an opponent from the FCS ranks.
This year, it’s Albany, which will include the return to Pittsburgh of former Pitt assistant and Duquesne head coach Greg Gattuso, who is in his fifth season as the Great Danes head coach.
The Panthers are probably hoping things go a bit better than they did in 2017, when Youngstown State took them to overtime in Week 1. Pitt played Villanova in 2016 and YSU in 2015. Albany is generally considered to be a step below those two teams, though the Great Danes did beat then-No. 7 Villanova last season. Narduzzi said the decision to schedule the Great Danes was as much about Albany’s northeast locale, WPIAL players and Pitt connections.
“Obviously, Greg Gattuso is a great football coach,” Narduzzi said on Monday. “With his lineage and being around [former Pitt] Coach [Dave] Wannstedt, you know he’s a darn good coach. They’ve got three Pitt guys on that staff. They’ll be ready to go. … When you look at all the Pitt connections they have, I think it’s a pretty colorful look.”
According to the Massey Ratings system, which combines FBS and FCS results, Albany was the No. 163 team in the country in 2017. The Panthers were ranked No. 49. There are 130 FBS teams.
Narduzzi fielded some questions in regard to his “see you in Charlotte” send-off from Friday’s kickoff luncheon. Narduzzi has been open about that being his team’s goal since he arrived, but he said it’s taken some time for that mentality to grow throughout the team.
“When I first got here, these guys just wanted to win six or more games,” Narduzzi said. “That was the goal. We had to change how we thought. We talk about goal-seetting, doing big things and dreaming big. … We had to change a lot of mindsets.”
In the first three seasons under Narduzzi, Pitt went 8-5, 8-5 and 5-7.
IT’S IN THE GENES
Albany will start Vincent Testaverde at quarterback, the son and namesake of the longtime NFL passer. The younger Testaverde played one game as a true freshman at Texas Tech in 2014 and spent two seasons without playing at his father’s alma mater, Miami, before transferring to Albany before the 2017 season, which he sat out due to NCAA rules. Narduzzi said his staff has reviewed the film of Testaverde’s one collegiate game with the Red Raiders in 2014.
“He looks composed,” Narduzzi said. “He was a true freshman in 2014. He looks composed throwing the football. Really accurate quarterback. … I’m sure his dad has taught him well.”
Pittsburgh hasn’t always been a happy trip for the Testaverde family. Vinny Testaverde beat Pitt at Pitt Stadium in 1986 as Miami went unbeaten in the regular season before losing to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, but as a pro, he went 2-10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Pitt is replacing kick and punt returner Quadree Henderson this season, and while dynamic players like Maurice Ffrench, Paris Ford and Shocky Jacques-Louis have tried out for the role, when it comes to punt returns, the surehandedness of senior Rafael Araujo-Lopes has won out.
“Lopes has really been fantastic as far as being a reliable punt returner,” Narduzzi said. “With reliable, it goes that we have possession of the ball. When you think about punt returns and returning punts, I’ll tell you one thing, we have to have possession of the football after the end of that play. It starts with that.”
ANOTHER SON OF A QB
Narduzzi officially acknowledged that former Illinois starting quarterback Jeff George, Jr. will transfer to his team from Michigan. Narduzzi said the team isn’t sure if George will be eligible for this season.
“We’re happy to have Jeff,” Narduzzi said. “We’re still waiting to find out if he’s eligible or not. … He’s spent the last 20 practices in Ann Arbor. He’s really a transfer. I don’t know what’s going to happen. He’s ineligible right now. So, we’ll wait to find out what that status is for him.”
Narduzzi said that George had visited Pitt in the spring before signing with Michigan. He’s expected to start out working with the scout team.
‘SHIP FOR K-MAC
Narduzzi presented senior wide receiver Kellen McAlone with a scholarship on Sunday, getting his team to the 85-scholarship limit by rewarding a three-year letterman walk-on.
“The guy will do anything,” Narduzzi said. “He would come in here and mop these floors if we wanted him to. That’s the most impressive thing. I thought there might have been a little dip in his swagger after Jimmy Medure got one. … All you saw was a rise. That guy, I watched him especially to see how he was going to react to that, and he turned it up even higher, which is Kellen McAlone.”
McAlone has been a special teams ace his first three years, but he’s also gotten some work with the second team offense this training camp, as well.
NOTES, QUOTES, VIDEO
• The Panthers released their two-deep depth chart for the Albany game.
• Pitt will be part of a five-day ACC opening weekend. The conference has games Thursday through Monday. Thursday, Wake Forest visit Tulane. Friday, Syracuse will go to Western Michigan and Duke hosts Army. On Saturday, NC State hosts James Madison, Clemson hosts Furman, Georgia Tech hosts Alcorn State, Boston College hosts UMass, North Carolina will visit Cal, Virginia will host Richmond and Louisville will play Alabama in a neutral site game in Orlando. On Sunday, Miami and LSU will play in Arlington, Texas. Monday, Virginia Tech will visit Florida State.
• As part of ESPN’s Mega-cast of the Monday night game, the network will bring back the popular Coaches Film Room feed. Former Pitt head coach Todd Graham will be part of the panel.
Narduzzi, on his team’s readiness: “I think they’re ready to hit a different-colored jersey.”