Four games in and the Pitt Panthers (2-2) can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Much to the delight of Pitt fans who’ve grumbled about soft nonconference scheduling, this Panthers team eschewed the typical format of fattening up on early season wins against less-than-stellar competition.
Pitt raced out of the gates against a respectable Villanova team, winning 28-7. Then, the Panthers reignited an apparently still-smoldering in-state rivalry with Penn State at Heniz Field, which Pitt won 42-39. Pitt was 2-0 to start the season.
The next two tests that followed came on the road, a tilt with Oklahoma State, a quality Power 5 school that suffered an infuriating home loss bungled late by referees the week prior, and the Panthers’ conference opener against a UNC team that won 11 games last year. While the games were close, Pitt lost both, 45-38 to the Cowboys, and 37-36 to the Tar Heels.
Only four games in and Pitt’s already been put through the gauntlet.
But now, the Panthers sail on toward smoother scheduling waters ahead. They return to the friendly confines of Heinz Field for three of their next four contests — and against what should be decidedly weaker opponents to boot.
Saturday, Pitt looks to right the ship hosting Conference USA foe Marshall (1-2) in a matchup more typical of a Week 1 or 2 tune-up game. Then, the Panthers will host Georgia Tech for Pitt’s homecoming game, followed by a trip to the University of Virginia. Pitt will then return home for a Thursday night game against Virginia Tech.
Pitt should be heavily favored in all four. Neither Georgia Tech, UVA or Virginia Tech figure to be major players in the ACC this season — or any time soon.
If the Panthers take care of business and can rip off four straight wins, they’ll stand 6-2 overall and 3-1 in conference. They’ll be back on track for a solid eight-to-nine-win season and will be right in the thick of the ACC Coastal division race.
And these next four games are going to be absolutely critical if Pitt has any chance of staying competitive in the division. The Panthers’ schedule gets a bit more difficult after the next four games, so Pitt needs to make sure it can capitalize and take the ‘W’ where the team can get it.
After Pitt’s upcoming four-week stretch of easier scheduling, the Panthers are away for two games, first at the University of Miami and then at Clemson University. Clemson is a top-5 team and a serious championship contender, so a big win in Death Valley is probably out of the question (although crazy things do happen). Against Miami, a team that’s fairly level competition for Pitt, a win is certainly achievable and could be a buoy for the Panthers.
Following clashes with Miami and Clemson, Pitt wraps up its season at home against Duke and Syracuse, both of which should be winnable games.
So, despite losing two heartbreakers and squandering chances to pull off a helpful upset (or two), the Panthers’ 2-2 start is hardly a death sentence.
Luckily for Pitt, the team now departs choppy early-season waters for smoother sailing and a sunny horizon ahead.
Image credit: Pitt Athletics