CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Pitt’s 2023 football season opens with a home game against Wofford, an FCS side from the Southern Conference.
The Panthers’ players, coaches and staff are undoubtedly excited for that game – it’s the season opener after all. Who wouldn’t be?
But still, it’s hard to blame any of them for looking just a bit past Wofford and peeking at the rest of the schedule.
Pitt’s slate this season is both challenging and exciting. The non-conference schedule includes meetings with Notre Dame and Cincinnati – the latter of which will be the ACC’s debut game on the CW – and it also includes the latest chapter in the Backyard Brawl. The Panthers visit rival West Virginia in Morgantown on Sept. 16.
“We’re very excited. Obviously, it’s a huge rivalry. It’s tough. We pin that on our schedule each year,” Pitt offensive lineman Matt Goncalves said Wednesday the ACC Kickoff at the Westin hotel in Charlotte. “But, you know, we want to take it one game at a time. Right now, we’re looking at Wofford. When the time comes, Cincinnati, then West Virginia.”
That is the challenge Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will have in September: keeping his team focused on the game of the week and preventing them from looking too far ahead on the schedule.
“It’s me just making sure that they understand how important each one of those games is. That game leads up into that West Virginia game,” Narduzzi said. “Those first two games lead to that one, which I know is important to our football team, our fan base, but you know, playing well in those two games will set us up for that third game.”
For Pitt, this season also starts a stretch of seeing Notre Dame on a regular basis. The Irish remain independents in football, but play in the ACC in every other sport. And so, Notre Dame agrees to play select ACC teams each season. Beginning this year, the Panthers play the Irish seven times over the next 14 seasons.
Narduzzi – now entering his ninth season at the helm – has mixed feelings about the long-term arrangement.
“I don’t know how that is, but we embrace that. We’re looking forward to going up to South Bend,” Narduzzi said. “It’s a big game, and our kids will be cranked up for that game. Whatever the ACC says, ‘Hey, you’re playing Notre Dame or playing Clemson.’ It doesn’t matter who we play. We embrace that.”
Pitt has played Notre Dame three previous times in Narduzzi’s tenure, with the Irish winning each matchup.
For new Pitt quarterback Phil Jurkovec, playing in South Bend on Oct. 28 should feel familiar. Before spending three seasons at Boston College, Jurkovec was at Notre Dame for two. He played in eight games, totaling 222 passing yards, 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 2018 and 2019 for the Irish.
But Jurkovec seemed to be more excited about another game further down the schedule. On Nov. 11, the Panthers will face Syracuse in Yankee Stadium.
“It’s going to be awesome. I’ve been to Yankee Stadium before, but being able to play on that field, it’s legendary just thinking of all the great players that have been there in baseball and football,” Jurkovec said. “Yeah, we can’t wait for that one.”
Goncalves is amped up for that one too. He’s a New York native, and has started in 21 games on the offensive line over the past three seasons for the Panthers.
“I’m very excited. I have been a Yankees fan as far as I can remember,” Goncalves said. “My dad bringing me to Yankee Stadium when I was younger seeing Derek Jeter, A-Rod and all those guys. I’m very excited to step on the field and just take in the moment. My family, my friends are all going to be there, and I cannot wait for the 3:30 p.m. kickoff in New York. Can’t wait.”
Pitt and Syracuse played the first football game at the original Yankee Stadium back in 1923, with the Orange winning 3-0. Pitt last played in Yankee Stadium in 2016, losing to Northwestern in the Pinstripe Bowl.
The other notable thing about Pitt’s schedule this year is that there are no longer divisions in the ACC. The conference ditched the Atlantic and the Coastal – the latter of which Pitt won twice during Narduzzi’s tenure. Instead of division winners advancing to the conference title game at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium in December, the top two teams with the best records will face off.
M.J. Devonshire wore his 2021 ACC Championship ring during Pitt’s appearance in Charlotte on Wednesday. That season, even with the division alignment, Pitt still beat Clemson at home and Tennessee on the road. Devonshire’s ring was a reminder that Pitt has the potential to contend, no matter the format.
“The mentality shouldn’t change,” Goncalves said. “We got to battle to the top.”