Expectations for Pitt’s football team were pretty low from a national standpoint. The Panthers were basically viewed as a .500 team or possibly even slightly worse and a repeat of last year’s disappointing 5-7 record wasn’t completely out of the question. Forget ACC title game — making any sort of a bowl game would have been seen as an improvement.
Head coach Pat Narduzzi didn’t buy into that, though, boldly declaring Pitt would reach the ACC championship game this year at a preseason event. That seemed nice but unrealistic on some level and, five games into the year, looked downright ridiculous. Pitt was thrashed by rival Penn State in an ugly game, beaten by ACC doormat North Carolina, and then crushed by UCF. It was a brutal three-week stretch that had many questioning Narduzzi and at that point, any bowl game would have been a big achievement.
But then a funny thing happened. Pitt upset a solid Syracuse team and, after nearly shocking the world in a narrow loss against Notre Dame, rebounded for wins against Duke and Virginia. Now at 5-4, the expectations are clearly much higher.
Due to that overly challenging non-conference schedule, the Panthers are technically only a game above .500. But in the ACC where it matters most, Pitt has been nearly perfect at 4-1. And just as importantly, the team is getting help by playing in a relatively weak Coastal Division where teams are floundering badly. This weekend’s games were a perfect example of that.
Virginia Tech lost its second conference game, falling to Boston College. Miami lost its third ACC contest as they were beaten at home by Duke in a sloppy game. Those losses keep Pitt at the top of the Division and in the driver’s seat to win the Coastal.
Expectations change all the time and that’s where we’re at right now. Now, it’s not going to be enough for Pitt to simply reach a bowl game. With only three games left, expectations have shifted and now, it very much is about winning the Division. Anything less at this point, would be a disappointment.
The math for Pitt is somewhat clear. If they manage to win out they will take the Division. But they can still do that even with a loss, depending on who that loss comes to. There are a ton of scenarios still out there but next week’s game against Virginia Tech is arguably the big one. If Pitt wins that one and manages to defeat Wake Forest, that’s all she wrote, regardless of what happens in the Miami finale.
Heck, Pitt might be able to take the Coastal even with two losses if one of those is Wake Forest, depending on who they lose to and what happens in the other games along the way.
This thing isn’t over and the Panthers don’t have this wrapped up by any means. If any player is looking at the standings and thinking this is over, they’re not paying attention. All it could take is losses to Virginia Tech and Miami to send Pitt to the poorhouse and no one should be assuming that can’t happen. But after this weekend’s games, the Panthers are in the driver’s seat here and anything less than an ACC title game appearance would be a disappointment simply because of where they sit in the standings.
The expectations have changed and now is the time for this team to cash in.