PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Panthers will start off the season with a conference opponent for the first time since 2013, their first year in the ACC. They faced off against then freshman quarterback Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles, falling 41-13 to the eventual Heisman trophy winner and national champions.
Six years later, they will open the season with an ACC opponents once again. This time, they take on preseason Coastal division favorite Virginia on Aug. 31 at Heinz Field.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi says that the early season test isn’t doing anything to affect the start of training camp.
“It doesn’t matter who we’re playing,” Narduzzi said. “I think the energy is the same.”
Still, Narduzzi admits that this year’s opener may have more importance than seasons prior. Pitt has opened the last five seasons with FCS opponents, most recently Albany in 2018.
“But I think for the players, as we start to get closer, they’ll get more anxious because they know how important that opener is,” he said. “Again, a game is a game, a team is a team. But when you start off in the ACC, it’s important. Our guys know how important that is.”
While senior free safety Damar Hamlin reiterated his coach’s position that every opponent is important, he knows that the game has increased stakes based on the team’s season goals.
“Definitely with starting with an ACC opponent, and with our goals being we want to win an ACC title, it’s a little bit more urgency,” Hamlin said.
Not only are the Cavaliers a divisional opponent, but they were also picked by the media to win the Coastal in the ACC’s preseason poll. Of the 173 total ballots, 83 of them picked Virginia to win the Coastal and make an appearance in Charlotte. Defending champion Pitt received just 8 first place voted.
Since Pitt joined the ACC in 2013, a different team has won the division every year, and Pitt is trying to make history as the first team to win consecutive titles since the league expanded. The last team to repeat as Coastal division champions was Virginia Tech in 2010 and 2011.
The Atlantic division has won eight-straight ACC Championships. The last Coastal team to win the conference championship was Virginia Tech in 2010.