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Strength of Schedule: Pitt Owns One of Easiest Power 4 Slates

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Pitt running back Rodney Hammond Jr.

During the Pat Narduzzi era, Pitt football has built some rugged schedules. In 2018, the Panthers had the second-hardest schedule in college football when it met No. 13 Penn State, No. 13 UCF and No. 5 Notre Dame in non-conference action to go along with a ranked Virginia team in the ACC.

Pitt found itself boasting a top-30 strength of schedule several times early in Narduzzi’s tenure, but as of late, the Panthers have been on the opposite end and that will continue this year.

According to the ESPN Football Power Index, Pitt has the 66th overall strength of schedule at the FBS level and has the 10th-easiest schedule amongst Power 4 teams.

After a disappointing season in 2023 that saw the Panthers go 3-9, an easier schedule will provide Pitt with an opportunity to return back to bowl contention and possibly challenge for a spot in the ACC Championship game.

The easier the schedule, the better, right?

Not so much, especially if the Panthers want to compete on a national stage. While college football strength of schedule did not hold as much weight in the past, it will start to hold a much higher importance with the expansion of the College Football Playoff.

The expanded playoff format that will debut this season includes five automatic bids with conference champions and seven at-large teams.

Just like the March Madness committee, the College Football Playoff selection crew will rely a lot more on the difficulty of team’s schedules.

A three-loss SEC or Big 10 team may very well take an at-large bid away from a two-loss or maybe even a one-loss ACC or Big 12 due to the difficult nature of the former teams’ conferences compared to the latter.

The SEC has nine teams in the top 10 of strength of schedule, whereas the ACC has five teams in the top 10 of easiest slates in the Power 4.

The two games with the highest difficulty will come on consecutive weeks with Clemson at home on Nov. 16 highest and Louisville on Nov. 23, with the two teams residing at No. 15 and 21, respectively, in the FPI.

Pitt’s schedule opens up with the easiest member at the FBS level in Kent State at Acrisure Stadium on Aug. 31. The Golden Flashes were winless in the Mid-American Conference a season ago and finished with a lowly 1-11 record. Entering the 2024 season, Kent State currently sits last in the ESPN FPI rankings.

The Panthers then head into back-to-back rivalry matchups with Cincinnati on the road and the Backyard Brawl returning to Pittsburgh a week later against West Virginia. Both of those matchups are toss-up games as Pitt looks to get back on the winning end of both games.

From there, Pitt has a lot of unknown when it comes to North Carolina, California, Syracuse, SMU, Virginia and Boston College with many of those looking like winnable games for the Panthers.

Final strength of schedule (according to ESPN FPI):

2023: 54

2022: 62

2021: 57

2020: 28

2019: 61

2018: 2

2017: 21

2016: 30

2015: 28

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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