PITTSBURGH — Pitt can rightly call itself the kings of the Coastal Division after Saturday’s 48-38 win over Virginia at Heinz Field that clinched the 2021 Coastal title.
But not just for 2021, for all time.
In the first six years after the division was established, six different teams earned a berth in the ACC Championship Game. In 2020, the ACC played without divisions, thanks to the pandemic’s influence on the schedule. This year, Pitt won the Coastal for the second time, the first and only school with two Coastal Division titles in its trophy case.
The 2-1 lead in Coastal titles doesn’t have head coach Pat Narduzzi ready to plant Pitt’s flag as the division’s heavyweight just yet, but he did say it was an important step toward the Panthers establishing themselves as one of the division’s top programs.
“We have to win an ACC Championship to do that,” he said. “Winning the division is nice, but I’ve been part of division championships, but the real championship is to come. We want to win an ACC Championship. I think that’s the ultimate goal. Until we do that, like Clemson has, we haven’t done anything, to be honest with you.”
Throughout much of that time, Clemson has been the dominant force on the other side of the table, playing in six straight ACC Championship Games. Clemson didn’t just win the Atlantic a bunch, the Tigers won all six of their recent title game appearances, including a 2018 rout of Pitt. Winning that, Narduzzi said, would rightfully change the perception about what Pitt is capable of.
“I think our kids were happy last time just going there, but now we get an opportunity to go back to Charlotte, and it’s going to be a different story,” he said. “Any time you get to go once, you feel really good about it. You go the second time and go to win it the next, it’s kind of what I’ve done in the past, and that’s what we’re going to do this year.”
Narduzzi was part of a Michigan State team that went to the first Big Ten Championship game in 2011 and lost to Wisconsin. Two years later, the Spartans went back and beat No. 2 Ohio State.
Pitt could very well be on a similar trajectory, as the Tigers have lost their grip on the Atlantic Division and need significant help on the final weekend of the regular season to make it back to Charlotte. Both Wake Forest and NC State would have to lose for Clemson to be Pitt’s opponent.
The Panthers will likely head into the last weekend of ACC play as the conference’s highest-ranked team and if they take care of business against Syracuse on Saturday night, will be favored in the title game.
Beyond even the upcoming championship, though, the Panthers seem as well-positioned as anyone to establish themselves as a dominant force in the Coastal.
Virginia Tech fired head coach Justin Fuente. Miami just fired its athletic directory and coach Manny Diaz is on the hot seat. Those are the only programs in the division with more history than Pitt.
North Carolina just had to fend off rumors that Mack Brown may retire. Duke and Georgia Tech won a combined two conference games.
Why not Pitt? Narduzzi has established a positive team culture and seems to be able to retain and develop players at a high level. The stars of Saturday’s game — as has happened so often for Pitt under Narduzzi — were not stars that he recruited, but stars that he and his veteran coaching staff helped build.
There are warts with this Pitt team and program. The defense wilted under a competent opposing quarterback again. The team has both a long and recent history of being unable to completely capitalize on successes.
As Narduzzi said, Pitt hasn’t accomplished much yet. But if right now, you had to pick one team to emerge from the Coastal Chaos and establish itself as a force in the division, you’d have to pick Pitt.