33 days until the ACC: Lone setback to FSU derails potential 1980 national championship
Pitt and Florida State have met 8 times on the football field and while none of those games came against the great Seminole teams of the 1990s, there still is some history between the two sides. The series began in 1971 where Pitt was in the midst of a 3-8 season. Fresh off a shellacking by Penn State the previous week, the Panthers traveled down to Tallahassee in the season finale to play Florida State. The result was the same - the Seminoles beat down Pitt 31-13.
The most notable games between the two sides came in the early 1980s, when Jackie Sherrill and Foge Fazio matched up against the Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden. But perhaps none had as much an impact as the 1980 game between the Panthers and the Seminoles. Pitt was ranked 3rd in the country prior to the game while Florida State, fresh off an upset win at then-#3 Nebraska, was 11th.This was a Panther team that was loaded, with Hugh Green in the midst of a Heisman runner-up season and Dan Marino in his second season as Pitt quarterback. Recently inducted Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson and Russ Grimm also were on this team. In all, 12 Pitt players would be drafted in the 1981 NFL Draft, 11 in the first five rounds.
But this team, full of NFL talent and arguably one of the best ever in the history of college football, couldn't stop themselves in Tallahassee. The Panthers turned the ball over 7 times, including 3 picks by Marino. Meanwhile, one of the top defenses in the country gave up 36 points, over 160 rushing yards, and 290 total yards. They came into the game allowing just 5 points, 31 yards on the ground, and 177 total yards. And on top of that, FSU got quite a game out of their special teams, where kicker Bill Capece kicked 5 field goals and punter Rohn Stark kept Pitt pinned deep in their own territory. The Panthers ultimately lost the game 36-22, in their only loss on the season.
Georgia went on to win the national championship that season, while Pitt whipped South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. And while the Panthers would avenge that loss to the Noles over the next three seasons, the win still ranks among the best in Florida State history. And it serves as a reminder to Pitt fans as to what could have been. Much like the loss to Penn State in 1981, the loss at Florida State kept Pitt from winning its 2nd national championship in five years, a feat that would have put Pitt as the program of the early 1980s.
But now, the Panthers may get to return the favor on Labor Day. Florida State enters the season with hopes of a national championship of their own. How sweet would it be to shock the Noles and knock them out the title race?