In a Season Where Narduzzi Is Desperate to Prove Himself, the ACC is Suddenly Wide Open

 


After the Pitt Panthers shocking loss to Western Michigan 44-41, expectations for the team were low.  If the Panthers had swept their nonconference schedule, they were in line to potentially start the season 5-0 for the first time since 1991.  It would be a great start for a potential 9 to 10 win season.  When these hopes were dashed, what was Pitt playing for?

Surely, Clemson would win the ACC again.  The Tigers may have lost to Georgia, but early losses against other potential playoff teams are never held against the juggernauts of the NCAA.  Clemson would most likely finish the regular season 11-1 and then dominate the winner of the Coaster in the ACC Championship because they always do.

Plus, North Carolina was touted as having the Heisman favorite in quarterback Sam Howell.  They would most likely win the Coastal, right?  The Tar Heels had lost to Virginia Tech in the opener, but road openers against a conference opponent are always tough.  The Tar Heels would bounce back. 

With neither a conference or division championship likely, what are the expectations now?  Another ho-hum year for the Panthers where they’d finish in the middle of the conference and around a .500 record.  

And then, in just a week’s time, everything changed.

Clemson Goes Down

Like I said, I was assuming Clemson would win the ACC.  Nothing has happened within the last five or so years that would lead me to believe otherwise.  There are a few programs in college football that are perennially dominant and appear to be a full step above the rest of the country.

However, the Tigers narrowly escaped a home loss against Georgia Tech last weekend in a defensive struggle with a final score of 14-8.  Then, the impossible happened.  On Saturday, Clemson lost a conference game to NC State in overtime, making it their second loss in their first four games.  The final score was 27-21, but both teams scored just 14 in regulation.  The offense let Clemson down again.

The departure of Trevor Lawrence to the NFL appears to be having much more of a negative impact on Clemson than a positive impact on his new team, the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Clemson, a team that had grown accustomed to scoring 40+ points regularly, has scored just 38 points in their three games against FBS opponents this season.  And seven of those points required overtime against NC State.  

There appears to be a chink in the armor, and the other ACC teams smell blood.  A sure loss on Pitt’s schedule now looks a little more possible to flip to a win.  The Panthers play Clemson at home on October 23rd.

Tar Heels Get Dominated  

Then another shocking event occurred this weekend.  The favorites to win the Coastal in the preseason, the North Carolina Tar Heels, took a loss in Atlanta.  And not only did they lose, they got dominated by Georgia Tech 45-22.  The Tar Heel defense could not stop Yellow Jacket quarterback Jeff Sims.  Sims had just 112 yards passing, but ran for 128 yards on 10 rushes.  

This was even more blood in the proverbial ACC champion water.  Clemson and North Carolina losing left many asking, who wins the ACC now?  The answer: it’s truly up for grabs.     

Why Not Us?

This is exactly what Pat Narduzzi needs this year at the most crucial time in his Pitt career.  After the loss to Western Michigan, many Pitt fans, including myself, were calling for a change.  The main criticism being that Narduzzi delivers mediocre teams, but never accomplishes much more than that.  Would a new coach get this Pitt football team to “the next level?”

While nobody previously expected Pitt to win an ACC Championship, the door is being left open from those who were projected to be at the top of the conference before the season started.  So every ACC team is now thinking, why not us?

Toss out the WMU loss where Narduzzi admitted to being outcoached and unprepared.  The Panthers shook off the loss with a 77-7 trouncing of New Hampshire this past weekend. Although New Hampshire is a far inferior team, I think it was a statement for the Panthers to go out and win by 70 points following such a disappointing defeat.  The players and coaches had recognized they let the fans down against WMU and needed to show that loss was a fluke. 

Also, Pitt is still 0-0 in conference games this season.  That makes this weekend’s upcoming game at Georgia Tech that much more important.  As other ACC teams are dropping in the standings, Pitt still has yet to log a conference game.  Georgia Tech just showed they have the ability to beat good teams.  If Pitt were to beat Georgia Tech this weekend in Atlanta, season expectations will be renewed. 

Conclusion

With the top contenders leaving the conference door open, why not Pitt?  Why couldn’t the Pitt Panthers win the ACC conference? Since 10 wins is not the only goal anymore I’m considering Pitt 0-0.  When an ACC championship is impossible as it has been the last several years, nonconference games matter.  But now, only conference games matter because I have a new goal for this team: an ACC championship.

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