PITTSBURGH — Entering the 2018 season, the Pittsburgh Panthers were predicted to finish 5th in the ACC Coastal division. The Panthers responded by earning a 6-2 conference record, winning the division and making their first ACC Championship appearance since joining the conference seven years ago.
A year after shocking the college football world, the Panthers find themselves in a similar situation picked to finish fourth in the division by the conference’s 173-member media poll. While the team certainly feels that they deserve respect, they are using the early doubters as motivation.
Junior center Jimmy Morrissey finds the projections amusing.
“Motivation, I found it funny,” he said. “I don’t know. I don’t care really what they say.”
While he finds the media’s early mistrust of the Panthers comical, Morrissey does love the bulletin-board material.
“It motivates me extremely,” he said. “I love that kind of stuff. I love when critics talk and people doubt us, people count myself (out). … So, It’s good, I mean, really just focused on the team right now, going into the season. But, it’s always in the back of my mind, anytime I hear critics talk. If they think we are fourth in the Coastal that’s… wait until Aug. 31.”
The Panthers seem to cherish the role of the underdog. Head coach Pat Narduzzi wishes they were forecast to finish even worse in the preseason rankings.
“I think we were picked fifth a year ago, so I wish we were picked sixth really – push us down,” he said. “Again, it all just comes down to respect.”
Still, he admits that he cares more about where they finish the 2019 season than where they start.
“I think it comes down to how you finish your season, and we didn’t finish maybe as strong as Virginia did, and good for them,” Narduzzi said. “I’m not worried about what the preseason ranks look like, I’m worried about what the postseason ranks look like.”
Narduzzi wants his players to remember that they are the defending champs, but he would prefer they focus on writing their own history in 2019.
“I don’t want to talk about what we’ve done in the past. I’d liked to really move forward,” he said. “As you walk in, you can see a little bit of it. I want them to see it; I don’t want to talk about it. If I sit here and talk about it every day, they’ll be like, ‘Coach is still thinking about 2018.’ I’m on to ’19.”
Pitt will have an immediate opportunity to prove their doubters wrong in the season opener, as they start their campaign on Aug. 31 at Heinz Field against the Virginia Cavaliers, the team widely predicted to take Pitt’s Coastal crown.