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The Panthers' most important game for 2013? The answer may surprise you.

Jonathan Daniel

Pitt has plenty of marquee games on the 2013 football schedule, but which is the most important? ESPN looked at that topic and came up with Virginia Tech - a worthy choice.

From my vantage point, you can look at it any number of ways. Biggest game? No question, that's Florida State. Teams like Notre Dame, Miami, or the Hokies may finish ahead of the Seminoles by the end of the season, but FSU is not only Pitt's season opener, but it's also the program's first game as a member of the ACC and a home game on Labor Day with national coverage.

But when it comes to the most important game, I'm going off the board here: Georgia Tech.

Hear me out, I'm not ready for Crazytown just yet. Despite a team loaded with question marks, Pitt has a fighter's chance at starting off the season 5-2. Games during that stretch include likely losses against Florida State and Virginia Tech, but Pitt also has very winnable contests against Duke, Virginia, Navy, Old Dominion, and New Mexico. After that, it gets interesting.

Next up is that game against the Yellow Jackets and it could mean the difference between a successful year or another disappointment. If Pitt follows my scenario and goes on to win that game on the road, suddenly they're 6-2 and have only one loss in the division. A loss, though, could mean a 5-3 record with heavyweights Notre Dame and Miami still looming on the schedule. And don't count out 2012 eight-win North Carolina and Syracuse, who actually beat Pitt last year. The Panthers then could be fighting for bowl eligibility.

The win against Georgia Tech does a couple of things. It gets Pitt to a respectable six wins in their first ACC year with a difficult schedule. It also pushes them to bowl eligibility with four games left. Just as North Carolina and Syracuse could beat Pitt, those are also teams the Panthers can realistically defeat. With six wins and some confidence heading into those games, I like their chances. And after that - who knows? Pitt coulda-woulda-shoulda beat Notre Dame last season and a home game against Miami in perhaps a cold-weather contest in the series finale? Okay, so I still like the Canes there, but ... sports.

Of course, this could get derailed. A poor start makes the Georgia Tech game less meaningless, but if I'm picking one game right now to circle, it's that one. It certainly won't be an easy one, especially on the road. But if Pitt finds a way to win, their season could take a turn for the better.

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