At 3-1, the Panthers are off to a fine start to the season. It should go without saying, but the Panthers can ill afford a disappointing loss against Virginia this Saturday.
Pitt was in a similar situation last year, you might recall. The circumstances were slightly different as the Panthers suffered a loss to Iowa in their fourth game, but the team was also 3-1 and off to a solid start to the season at this point last year. Facing a beatable opponent at home in Akron, the Panthers looked poised to begin the season 4-1.
What happened next was a complete disaster and with a loss the following week to Virginia, the Panthers suddenly found themselves at 3-3. All of the wind had been taken out of the team's sails by that point and while Pitt did go on to beat Virginia Tech afterwards, the damage was done as the team floundered its way to another 6-6 season.
I made this point earlier in the year but this is another one of those games that Pitt cannot afford to lose if they want to continue to add to the momentum they have been building since the offseason. The Panthers had to defeat both Youngstown State and Akron this year, and they did. They really needed to beat either Iowa or Virginia Tech in my mind and they did that, too. Now comes yet another test for Narduzzi in his first season at the helm.
Beating Virginia is mandatory for the team's new head coach for any number of reasons.
For one thing, the Cavaliers currently reside at the bottom of the ACC. If Pitt has any hopes of winning the Coastal Division (which looks more possible with the recent struggles of presumed frontrunner, Georgia Tech, and with the win against Virginia Tech), they have to beat the lesser teams in the conference.
Along those lines, it's an ACC game. Losing this game wouldn't only be more disastrous than a loss against, say Notre Dame, because the Cavaliers aren't a great team, but also because it's a conference game.
Also, keep in mind this is Homecoming weekend. Alumni will be in town that aren't normally attending games. Recruits will be there. Fans encouraged by the team's 3-1 start will be there. Students will be there to see a Homecoming king/queen named. This is a huge opportunity to capitalize and give all of those groups of people reasons to continue to follow the program this year. That means better attendance going forward and more excitement around the team - both of which are important going forward.
Pitt also needs to pile up as many wins as they can simply because the schedule gets much more difficult from here on out. After this game, the Panthers travel to Georgia Tech. And with games remaining against Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Louisville, and Miami, it can be argued that the contest against Syracuse is the only one that looks like a clear-cut victory at this point.
Can Pitt still get to a bowl game with a loss this weekend? Sure. But the goal at this point isn't another 6-6 season - it's to get over .500 and even contend for a Division title, which makes this weekend's game against the Cavaliers a must win.