The idea of scheduling cupcake FCS opponents as the season opener is a common theme in college football, but Pitt has reverted away from such a schedule in 2022.
With West Virginia and Tennessee to kick off the 2022 season, Pitt starts quickly. It’s been a few years since Pitt opened the season against a Power Five opponent, look back to the season-opening debacle against Virginia at Heinz Field in 2019 as the last instance, but Pat Narduzzi won’t reflect on a “crappy” night three years ago when planning for this season’s P5 opener.
Pitt’s offense struggled in Mark Whipple’s first game as Pitt’s offensive coordinator, and Narduzzi chalked up the loss as a bad day of football — just a bad game. That experience won’t impact his game plan for WVU, but a few early rivalry experience may be relevant when it comes to WVU.
He’s just happy to have to start off quickly in a setting like the Backyard Brawl.
“I don’t even remember who we played last year in the opener,” Narduzzi joked Monday afternoon at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. “It was UMass. There’s no question about it, everybody likes a little bit of a warmup game just to get going.
“But I think it’s better to have a game like this to be opening up with, I believe, just because your kids are cranked up for it. I think it helps in the preparation. The guys aren’t sitting there going, ‘Oh, yeah, we only have UMass.’ Then you glide through camp.
Narduzzi said that camp this year down on the South Side was a lively affair, a month of good work being put into preparing not only for West Virginia in Week 1 but the season as a whole. With a WVU-Tennessee start to the season, it’s certainly a fast start — and a bit tougher than UMass last season and Austin Peay in 2020.
While Pitt didn’t open the season against Penn State from 2016-19, all four games took place in Week 2. It’s not just the early nature of the game when looking at the overall schedule as a whole but the experience of playing a major rival — especially early in the season — that gives Narduzzi lessons to remember when looking at WVU this season.
“You learn from every rivalry game you played in,” Narduzzi said. “No doubt about it. You learn a lot of different things about it, whether you win ’em or lose ’em.
“We won that first one, Penn State. I guess I did a crappy job on the others. Should have gone for it on fourth-and-one. It’s on me. I know you all had the right answer. Someday I’ll tell you the truth. Someday I’ll tell you the truth.”
It’s been 11 years since the last Backyard Brawl, back when most of Pitt’s roster was roughly 10 years old and Narduzzi himself was still the defensive coordinator at Michigan State, but there’s no doubt that Pitt wants to — and needs to — start fast this season. A win over WVU isn’t just a significant rivalry win but the first step toward long-term goals.