It's not quite David versus Goliath, or for that matter, Buster Douglas versus Mike Tyson, but when Pitt hosts Florida State on September 2nd, the Seminoles will be the toughest opening game opponent for Pitt since Notre Dame in 2005. Pitt fans certainly remember that game, the college head coaching debuts for Dave Wannstedt and Charlie Weis, in which the Irish steamrolled the Panthers 42-21.
Some Pitt fans are already lamenting the fact that Pitt opens up with a football power rather than a traditional directional cupcake. They would rather Pitt not open the season against a team loaded with talent like the Seminoles without any game experience and continuity to face a national power like Florida State. That is a losing mindset and a defeatist attitude as the same lack of game experience and execution exists for Florida State as well.
There may not be a better time to face a more talented opponent than the opening game of the season before Florida State's offense is firing on all cylinders and efficiently executing after weeks of game experience.
Appalachian State shocked the college football world in 2007 by going to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and beating the fifth-ranked Wolverines 34-32 in the opening game for both teams. Many coaches will tell you that a team improves the most from the first game to the second game of the season. Any other week in the season and that historic upset likely doesn't take place, but in the season opener when a team's timing and execution for the first time faces an opponent at game speed, anything can happen.
Is it better to open the season against a patsy in front of a smaller crowd that will lose interest by the third quarter or play against a football power in front of sold-out Heinz Field on national television? Anyone think Pitt's players had a hard time getting excited to play Youngstown State in last season's opener? Getting pumped up to play Florida State in front of a national television audience should not be a problem.
Pitt will have the emotional advantage in front of what should be a sold-out Heinz Field; however, emotion can only take one so far. Pitt could be outclassed by Florida State's speed and talent, but the longer Pitt can keep the game close, the pressure will increase on Florida State
The game may come down to which quarterback, Pitt's Tom Savage or Florida State's Jameis Winston, manages the game better and makes fewer costly mistakes. Savage will be making his first start for Pitt after making stops at Rutgers and Arizona and Winston will be making his first collegiate start. Savage's last start was in 2010.
Should Pitt beat Florida State, Pitt will send a message to the ACC and all of college football that Pitt is capable of defeating every opponent on its schedule including a road contest against Virginia Tech on October 12th and a November 9th match-up against Notre Dame at Heinz Field.
Before the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic hockey team took the ice to face the heavily favored Soviet Union team, head coach Herb Brooks told his players, "Great moments are born from great opportunity." On September 2nd, the Pittsburgh Panthers will have a great opportunity.