PITTSBURGH — If there’s such a thing as a sure thing in sports, most head coaches are not a big fan of change.
Pitt and the rest of the ACC is making a big change to start the 2019 season, as the Panthers will face Virginia as part of a front-loaded conference schedule to coincide with the launch of the ACC Network.
But head coach Pat Narduzzi is a fan of starting the season with a conference opponent.
“This opener is going to be a little bit different,” he said on Monday. “I’m excited. I mentioned this back in the summer, as well, I’m excited about opening it up with a conference team, a well-coached Bronco Mendenhall team. Regardless of who the team is, opening up in the ACC is special. I really do.
Virginia is a good football team, and is the preseason favorite to unseat the Panthers for the top spot in the ACC Coastal Division. That’s meant a heightened sense of urgency from his team during training camp and into the first week of regular practice. Narduzzi thinks that’s a good thing.
“I think it gets our kids’ motors going a little bit further,” he said. “They’re not thinking, ‘We got this game.’ I can say the last four openers, maybe 4-0, but we didn’t play Virginia, okay? I think they’re a very, very talented football team. We better be ready to go.
“I think the attitude, they know what’s on the line. It’s an ACC game. They know what’s on the line. They know this is a very good football team. We know we’re going to have a hungry Virginia team coming in here trying to kick our tails because we got a win down there last year. We know they’ll be hungry, tough, they’ll be physical, a lot of talk pregame. We kind of know what we’re getting into.”
The Cavaliers come into Heinz Field as a 2.5-point favorite and were picked by the media to win the Coastal Division, but that doesn’t bother Narduzzi, either. He’s just fine with Pitt playing an underdog role.
“This is totally new teams, new people,” Narduzzi said. “Doesn’t matter what happened a year ago. They’re the pre-season favorites. I don’t know if that’s media. I don’t even know who votes on all that stuff. But there’s a reason they’re there. There’s a reason we’re picked fourth. So our guys got to step up.”
On Tuesday, new offensive lineman Nolan Ulizio agreed that playing Virginia right off the bat could be a good thing.
The excitement, the added attention to detail in early practices by the player, and the increased interest from the fanbase can all be positives for Pitt this year.
But the thing about a tough opener is that none of those things are going to matter this time next week if Pitt doesn’t win it.