So, Villanova. Look, I'm not going to play Joe Paterno here and declare this to be one of Pitt's toughest opponents on the schedule. It's not. The team knows it, the fans know it, and surely, Villanova knows it. This is a game that, should the Panthers show up to play, they should not only win, but also win comfortably.
Should and will, obviously, are two different things.
Early non-conference games are often cupcakes - or at least they're supposed to be that. But that hasn't always turned out to be the case. Power 5 teams have struggled, and even suffered defeat, to weaker teams early in the year. Yeah, go ahead and count Pitt among those schools that have had some issues.
- In 2003 as a top ten team, they lost to Toledo.
- In 2004, Pitt needed overtime to defeat Furman.
- In 2005, they took it a step further and lost to Ohio.
- In 2008, after starting the season ranked, they lost to Bowling Green in the opener.
- In 2011, they defeated Maine by only six.
- In 2012, the Panthers lost by two touchdowns to Youngstown State in Paul Chryst's debut.
- In 2014, Pitt lost to Akron.
Even last year, the team only defeated Youngstown State by eight.
Suffice to say, early-season non-conference games haven't always been kind to the team. And all of those games (save for Ohio and Toledo), by the way, came at Heinz Field. Playing at home hasn't kept the team immune to bad losses so anyone looking for a gimme because of that this weekend is misguided.
One thing that was impressive last year was that the Panthers didn't have the type of pitfall under Pat Narduzzi as they have in prior years. Sure, it would have been nice to win one of the final two games. But overall, the Panthers' losses came to very good teams.
This year's schedule has plenty of tough teams on it. The Panthers really can't afford to drop winnable games if they want to have a successful year so, it goes without saying, that they can't come out and lay an egg here. Penn State looms in the background, but Pitt needs to remain focused this weekend.
Now, I expect the Panthers' coaches to have drilled that point home more than enough in training camp and they should have their ducks in a row. And with the return of, there's no reason for them to come out flat and uninspired. But if they needed a friendly reminder to come out swinging, well, this checklist should be enough.