Pitt Panther 2021 Football Schedule Sets Up for Success

(AP Photo/ Keith Srakocic)

My barometer of success for Pitt football has always been a 10-win season.  I believe the top three teams are so far beyond the rest of the nation that expecting a National Championship is silly.  Clemson, Alabama, and Ohio State are just that much better than everyone else.  Also, since one of those teams competes in Pitt's conference, a conference championship is just as tough to come by.  Hence, my 10-win barometer of success.

In 2019, Pitt played 13 games with the inclusion of their bowl game.  In 2018, they played 14 games because of their loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship game, plus a bowl game that followed.  In neither season did they win 10 games.  Surprisingly, they had more wins in their 2019 season with one less game played than their 2018 season, but I digress.

Strength of Schedule

Flat out, winning 10 games is really difficult.  In 2019, only 28 teams in all of Division 1-A finished with double digit win totals.  Only 14 of those schools were in Power 5 conferences and 9 of those teams came out of the Big 10 or the SEC.  Only one ACC team, Clemson, finished with 10+ wins in 2019.

It is a really tough task.  However, if there was ever a year to do it for Pitt, based on their schedule, this is it.  How can this be possible to conclude with Clemson on their schedule?  Mark that as a loss on the schedule in pen, move on, and take a look at the rest.

Non-Conference Schedule

Pat Narduzzi in the past has never taken the easy road on an out of conference schedule.  This year, however, he most certainly has. 

The season opener is a matchup against a UMass team that had one win in 2019 and went 0-4 in a shortened 2020 season.  That is followed up by an away game at Tennessee, who is expected to finish near the bottom of the SEC.  Any road Power 5 game is tough but if you gave me a list of teams I would want to see Pitt play on the road, Tennessee would be near the top.  Especially after winning just one game at home last season.

After the Panthers return home from Knoxville, they play Western Michigan from the MAC and New Hampshire from Division 1-AA.  Typically, those 1-AA matchups come much earlier in the season.  When they occur as the season opener, Pitt has occasionally come out flat.  However, unusually having this matchup as their fourth game may lead to an absolute blood bath. 

ACC Schedule

Of the bottom four teams expected to win the ACC Championship game per DraftKings Sportsbook odds, Pitt plays all four.  Duke, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Virginia are all expected to finish to in the bottom of the ACC.    Unfortunately, Pitt is also scheduled to play the expected top four teams in the conference as well in Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, and Virginia Tech.  However, they can lose three of four of those games and still be okay. 

Pitt begins their ACC schedule with Georgia Tech in Game 5.  In the past, Georgia Tech would prove a challenge because of their unorthodox, triple-option offense.  Playing the Yellow Jackets was always unpredictable.  However, now that they run a normal style offense, Georgia Tech should be an easy conference win for the Panthers.  I truly believe this is as likely a season as ever for Pat Narduzzi to start 5 and 0.

Then, admittedly, Pitt does face a brutal stretch of games with Virginia Tech on the road followed by Clemson and Miami at home.  However, out of those three teams, Virginia Tech is the weakest, so that being the one on the road is a positive.  Also, they will have five games under their belts at this point and we should know by then the identity of this particular Pitt team.  If the Panthers can come out of this stretch 6-2, I will be satisfied.

The Panthers then take on a Duke team who has declined since Daniel Jones was drafted a couple of years ago.  These games are always high-scoring shootout and I expect Pitt to win this particular one.  Following the Duke game, Pitt will take on North Carolina at home on a Thursday night.  UNC came out of Heinz Field victorious on a Thursday night in 2017, and I could see that happening again.

Finally, Pitt completes the regular season with Virginia and Syracuse who are expected to finish at the bottom of their respective ACC divisions.  Two wins in their final two games should bring forward momentum into a bowl game. 

Dreams Versus Reality

Now, if Pitt were to scrape their way into the ACC Championship game with a 5-3 conference record, 9-3 overall, their momentum would be crushed going into a bowl game.  Clemson would, presumably, be even more equipped to beat Pitt after playing them earlier in the season.  They’d end up 9-5, and I would be a sad Pitt fan again, just like in 2018.

However, if Pitt were to finish 9-3 overall, miss the ACC Championship game, and then carry some momentum into a bowl game, I see no reason they couldn’t finish the season 10-3, or better.  Thus, making me a happy Pitt fan for the first time in quite a while.

That may seem backward.  Hoping the Panthers miss the ACC Championship game.  However, hear me out.  Of course, I would love for Pitt to finish the regular season 11-1 and prove themselves a worthy adversary for Dabo Swinney and the Tigers. That is ideal.

But if I wrote an article saying Pitt was going to finish 11-1 and beat Clemson to make the playoffs, I would lose any credibility with you all.  So for me, I would much rather a 10-3 Pitt team who narrowly misses the ACC Championship game, than a 9-5 Pitt team who gets stomped by Clemson and then loses their bowl game.  If you disagree, then you were much happier with the 2018 season than I was.