Pittsburgh Football in the ACC: How Do the Panthers Stack Up?

John BaranowskiCorrespondent IApril 4, 2013

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Jarred Holley #18 of the Pittsburgh Panthers celebrates after an intereception against the Virginia Tech Hokies during the game on September 15, 2012 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

You probably have heard the investment disclaimer, “Past performance may not be indicative of future results.” When it comes to the University of Pittsburgh football team’s move this year into the Atlantic Coast Conference from the Big East Conference, Pitt fans certainly hope that’s the case.

For much of the past three decades, Pitt’s football team has not played up to expectations.

Moving from the Big East to the ACC certainly doesn’t bode well for Pitt’s fortunes, as the ACC is a step up in terms of quality of play. Since 2004, the ACC has had three or more teams finish ranked in the top 25 seven times, the Big East only twice.

When conference powers Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC in 2004, Pitt and West Virginia were expected to rule the conference. Since then, West Virginia has finished tied for first or won the conference five times, and Pitt only twice. Newcomers to the conference Cincinnati and Louisville have finished tied for first or won the conference outright four and three times respectively.

Pitt will be in the Coastal Division of the ACC. Let’s look at Pitt’s Coastal Division foes and how Pitt has fared against ACC teams in recent years.

Pitt’s most formidable foes from the Coastal Division will be Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. When Miami and Virginia Tech were Pitt’s Big East brethren, Pitt was a combined 5-17 against them and only 1-10 versus Miami. Despite the Hurricanes’ decline from their glory days, Pitt still lost its last meeting against a 7-6 Miami team, 31-3, in 2010 at Heinz Field.

Despite tremendous distractions to the program from NCAA violations and possible sanctions, Miami head coach Al Golden kept the team together and guided the Canes to a 7-5 record in 2012 after going 6-6 in his first season there in 2011.

Pitt defeated Virginia Tech in 2012 by a score of 35-17 and has won the last four matchups against the Hokies dating back to 2001. Pitt’s 31-28 win in 2003 over No. 5-ranked Virginia Tech is considered by many as Pitt’s finest moment since moving to Heinz Field.

After eight straight 10-win or better seasons, Frank Beamer’s squad slipped to 7-6 last season, and 2012 marked the first time the Hokies didn’t finish first or second in the Coastal Division since they started playing in the ACC.

Both Virginia Tech and Miami had a good recruiting class this year and both would appear to contend again for the Coastal Division title.

Pitt last played Georgia Tech and Duke in 1976, and Pitt fans know the outcomes of games that splendid season.

The Yellow Jackets finished 7-7 in 2012 and tied for first in the Coastal Division under head coach Paul Johnson. Facing Navy the week before playing Georgia Tech this year will help the Panthers prepare for the Yellow Jackets' triple-option offense.  

Last season Duke, won six games for the first time since 1994, which was the last time the Blue Devils had a winning record. Head coach David Cutcliffe might be doing more with less than nearly any other coach in the country. Despite Cutcliffe’s fine work, a win is expected for the foreseeable future every time Pitt plays Duke.

In 2009, Pitt defeated North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Virginia last faced Pitt in 2007, with Pitt losing 44-14. However, the Panthers did win 38-13 against the Cavaliers in 2006. 

In the past five seasons, the Tar Heels have won eight games each season, with the exception being in 2011 when they won seven contests. North Carolina is led by second-year head coach Larry Fedora.

Mike London’s Virginia Cavaliers regressed last year to a 4-8 record in his third season as head coach after going 8-5 in 2011. The Cavaliers enter 2013 with new offensive, defensive and special teams coordinators. Another disappointing season may cause additional coaching changes in Charlottesville.

Victories annually over North Carolina and Virginia are imperative if the Panthers have any hopes for a Coastal Division title.

Pitt will annually play Syracuse as their primary crossover opponent from the Atlantic Division.

Syracuse, which was an annual foe for the Panthers in the Big East, had an 11-9 series edge against Pitt in Big East play. However, even with a 14-13 loss to the Orange last year, Pitt has won nine of the past 11 meetings. One would think that trend should continue in the Panthers' favor.

Syracuse, which had begun the climb back to respectability under head coach Doug Marrone, has a new head coach in Scott Shafer. Shafer was the Orange’s defensive coordinator the past four seasons and takes over for Marrone, who left to coach the Buffalo Bills.

Pitt will also annually play a rotating crossover opponent from the Atlantic Division. In 2012, that opponent is none other than Florida State.

The last time Pitt played Florida State was in 1983, and the Seminoles wouldn’t begin play in the ACC until 1992. The last time Pitt faced Clemson was in the 1977 Gator Bowl, so nothing can be ascertained from recent meetings against the Seminoles and Tigers.

However, what is known is both Clemson and Florida State will be ranked in the top 20 in preseason polls this year. Facing Florida State in this year’s season opener will be Pitt’s toughest opening game opponent since Notre Dame defeated Dave Wannstedt in his Pitt coaching debut in 2005.

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles back in the national picture after winning the Orange Bowl and finishing with a 12-2 record in 2012.

In the last two seasons, Clemson has won 21 games under head coach Dabo Swinney. Clemson has been challenging to Florida State for Atlantic Division supremacy, finishing tied for first or winning it outright three of the past four seasons.

Pitt last played Boston College in 2004, and while the Golden Eagles were in the Big East they had a 7-5 series edge against the Panthers. Former Temple head coach Steve Addazio takes over a team that went 2-10 in 2012 and has a major rebuilding project in front of him.

In 2009, Pitt played North Carolina State and lost, 38-31.

Dave Doeren is in his first year as head coach at North Carolina State after leading Northern Illinois to a 23-4 record the past two seasons and a BCS bowl game last year. In the past two seasons, the Wolfpack are 17-9. Future matchups against Pitt should be very interesting as ex-Badger coordinators will face one another. Doeren coached at Wisconsin from 2006 to 2010 and was co-defensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007 before being named defensive coordinator in his final three years there. 

Pitt has never played Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons have slipped since 2008, posting four consecutive losing seasons. Like Duke, anything other than a win will be a disappointment against Wake Forest. Only Beamer has been a head coach at an ACC school longer than Jim Grobe at Wake Forest.

Louisville will join the ACC in 2014, replacing Maryland as the Terrapins head to the Big Ten. Pitt has a 4-4 record against the Cardinals since they joined the Big East, and last year the Cardinals won the Big East conference and upset Florida in the Sugar Bowl. Head coach Charlie Strong has brought Louisville back to the level of success they experienced under Bobby Petrino. 

Louisville replacing Maryland in the ACC will strengthen the quality of play and will be a welcome addition for ACC fans if for no other reason than sparing them from those ugly Maryland football uniforms.

Pitt managed to win only one Big East title in 20 years of play. If the past 30 years serve as a barometer to measure Pitt’s future success in the ACC, Pitt’s football fortunes appear similar at best.


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