We can debate Pitt's chances of winning against Florida State in their Labor Day game for days. One thing most of us can agree on is that for the Panthers to win, they'll need to get to redshirt quarterback Jameis Winston.
Winston is a highly-touted quarterback from the Seminoles' 2012 class. Okay, so that's understating it a bit. Winston had a gaggle of offers from nearly every top program in the country including FSU, Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU, Florida, Ohio State, Oklahoma, and others. Rivals rated him a five-star recruit, the top dual-threat quarterback in the country, and the No. 10 prospect overall.
I'd feel a lot better about Pitt's chances to rattle Winston if he were a true freshman. A year of practice time and being around a team isn't actual game experience, but it definitely has helped prepare him. Still, though, Winston enters without having played in any games and that will work to Pitt's advantage. As Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said recently, there is a learning curve for him.
He'll get his first crack at beating a Division I defense on Monday, but it will be in a night game over a holiday weekend. As I mentioned in the opening preview, Heinz Field is rarely packed but it will be on Labor Day. That place will be bonkers and it's going to be the first time Winston's faced that kind of atmosphere in a game. There's simply no guarantee things will go off without a hitch for the freshman.
Pitt needs to make plays on defense, similar to what they did in harassing Virginia Tech's talented quarterback, Logan Thomas last year in an upset win. The good news is that the defense should be capable of that. The secondary returns three of its four starters from last season and will have a chance to be elite. Heck, they were nearly that last season when they ranked 20th in the nation in passing yards allowed, giving up fewer than 200 per contest. The team was 26th in interceptions with 15 and I expect the unit to be even better in 2013.
The key, as I mentioned before, will be containing Winston. The front four needs to not only get pressure on him, but the linebackers need to be alert and not allow him to eat up large chunks of yards with his legs. That was an issue for Pitt last year as that unit often seemed out of position in giving up pass plays.
If the Panthers are going to win, keeping Winston in check will be the key.