Unlike most opponents on Pitt's schedule this season -- the Panthers' first in the Atlantic Coast Conference -- Virginia Tech won't be an unfamiliar opponent for Paul Chryst and company this Saturday.
The Hokies and Panthers used to play regularly as members of the Big East, and last year Pitt upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech to give Chryst his first win as the team's head coach.
Still, Chryst isn't banking on last year's win having too much of an impact on the game Saturday.
"You can use last year as a reference point, but you've got to focus on this year," Chryst said.
In that game, a 35-17 Pitt win, the Panthers picked off Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas three times, and jumped out to a 21-3 halftime lead.
Thomas is back for Virginia Tech, and while he has thrown six interceptions this season, he hasn't turned the ball over in the past two games, both wins against Georgia Tech and North Carolina.
Thomas also has 130 rushing yards with three touchdowns this season.
The Hokies changed offensive coordinators in the offseason, hiring former Auburn coordinator Scott Loeffler to take the reins.
"I think they're a little bit different," Chryst said. "Clearly, [Thomas] is a guy that can hurt you running the ball as well as throwing."
Another key difference is that this year's game will be at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, rather than Heinz Field. For many of Pitt's young players, it will be their first time playing in a hostile road environment.
"You practice with [noise] and try to mimic it," Chryst said. "That's the beautiful thing about experience. We're going to have to opportunity to go earn some experience."
One of the benefits of Pitt's open date last weekend was that it gave some of the banged up Panthers a chance to get healthy.
Chryst said quarterback Tom Savage has been cleared to return to practice after getting a mild concussion in Pitt's 14-3 win Sept. 28 against Virginia. Linebackers Shane Gordon and Bryan Murphy, both starters who missed that game, are still questionable, although Chryst sounded optimistic.
"We're pretty healthy heading into the game," Chryst said. "We're as healthy as we've been."
If the Panthers (3-1, 2-1 ACC) pull off the upset this weekend, they will insert themselves right into the thick of the race for the ACC Coastal Division title.
The Hokies (5-1, 2-0) and Miami (5-0, 1-0) are the only undefeated squads in the division. The Panthers will play the Hurricanes in what will likely be a cold-weather game Nov. 29 at Heinz Field.
This week's ESPN.com ACC Power Rankings has the Panthers at fifth, behind only Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech.
"I think they're confident," Chryst said of his team. "I think they're gaining confidence. I think they like being around each other."
The ACC announced Monday that Pitt's Oct. 19 home game against Old Dominion will kick off at 7 p.m. and be broadcast locally on Root Sports. It is Pitt's second night game of the season after opening the season on Labor Day against Florida State.
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 7, 2013 8:00 PM