CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Pitt won its second Coastal Division title and its first ACC Championship in football last season. Pat Narduzzi – now entering his eighth season as the Panthers’ head coach – has long been a fan of the division format in the conference, placing a high value on where the program finished in the Coastal.
“I just think, you know, winning a championship of some sort fuels you for the future,” Narduzzi said Thursday at the ACC Kickoff. “What’s our goal going to be? To be number one or number two in the division? That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, does it? I mean, don’t you want to say, ‘I want to be a Coastal Division champion?’ Or an Atlantic Division champion?”
Much to Narduzzi’s chagrin, the Coastal and Atlantic divisions are nearing their expiration dates.
Beginning in the fall of 2023, the ACC is ditching divisions and moving to a 3-5-5 scheduling model for football. This means that each team in the league will have three primary opponents and then play against two different five-team rotations that will swap each year.
For example, Pitt’s primary opponents – the three that the Panthers will play each season – are Boston College, Syracuse and Virginia Tech. Pitt will play the remaining 10 ACC teams twice during a four-year cycle, once at home and once away.
Count Boston College coach Jeff Hafley – a former Pitt assistant under Dave Wannstedt – among those who are elated about the scheduling switch.
“It’s an old Big East school… I just love the fact that we’re going to play different teams, honestly,” Hafley said. “Boston College shouldn’t play Pitt once every six years… I mean, look at the map. We should play Pitt every year. I’m excited.”
Pitt is 17-15 all-time against Boston College. From 1987 to 2004, the Panthers and Eagles played each other every season except for one year, 1992. They’ve played just three times since both became members of the ACC.
Narduzzi said he was “looking forward to the three” – Pitt’s primary opponents in the new scheduling format – but the rotating five: “I don’t know.”
It has been the ACC’s position that the College Football Playoff should expand. While speaking with reporters at the Westin in Charlotte on Wednesday at the ACC Kickoff, conference commissioner Jim Phillips admitted that stance had an impact on the conference’s decision to move forward with the 3-5-5 scheduling model. In the ACC’s new scheduling format, the two teams with the best winning percentages will meet for the conference championship. Previously, it pitted the winners of the Coastal and Atlantic divisions against each other, regardless of resume.
“When you talk about an expanded playoff, you’d like to crown your champion in a way that you have the two best teams in your conference playing for that championship game,” Phillips said. “We’ll crown the champion based on winning percentage. It definitely had impetus for what we did.”
The change should benefit the Atlantic division, which was won by either Clemson or Florida State from 2011 to 2020.
“If you take the division votes every year, the Atlantic was for eliminating it, and the Coastal was for keeping it,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Narduzzi talked about the change from divisions to the 3-5-5 format on Thursday in Charlotte. It’s safe to say that he was among the group of coaches that wanted to keep divisions.
“I’m a big proponent of the two divisions,” Narduzzi said. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t excited about, but I’ll play anybody.”
The Coastal Division garnered a reputation of being quirky and chaotic over the past decade. The division sent a different team to the conference championship game each year from 2013 to 2019. The ACC previously ditched conferences in the COVID-altered 2020 season, and Pitt finally won its second Coastal crown last season.
“The quirkiness… I don’t get. I don’t even really like it. I think it’s bad,” Narduzzi said of the way the Coastal has been characterized by some. “To me, that was a very competitive division, in the Coastal. So, I call it more competitive, where anybody could win it, which is kind of fun. And you’d like to play in that division, as opposed to the other division, which was not as chaotic or whatever you want to call it.”
Narduzzi believes that many Atlantic teams simply got tired of getting beat by Clemson for the right to go to the conference championship game.
“I think some people didn’t like to have Clemson in their side of the division and fought to get that taken away. They don’t want to play Clemson every year. Well, you know, we won the ACC Championship and we beat Clemson. And we beat Clemson at their place, and we beat them at home,” Narduzzi said. “So, I’m not afraid of Clemson.”
In the last year of divisions in the ACC, many college football experts – including ESPN’s Rece Davis and Kirk Herbstreit – are projecting Pitt to repeat as Coastal champions.