Pitt's plan was solid. Move the Florida State game to the start of the season and play it in prime time on national television. Make a splash in its new league, the Atlantic Coast Conference. More significantly, make a splash in Pittsburgh, where it has been largely irrelevant for a long time.
The plan was brilliant, actually.
The problem was Pitt's execution.
As it does so often, it came up small on the big stage under the bright lights.
Florida State made sure the game was over by halftime. Led by wonderful redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston, it scored three second-quarter touchdowns to take an 18-point lead and went on to win, 41-13.
"Our guys competed, but we've got to be and do more than that," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said, sounding very much like Todd Graham before him and Dave Wannstedt and Walt Harris before that.
This sort of thing really has become a disturbing trend for Pitt, which has fought so hard for traction in this sports-crazed city. It's not enough to just play big games at Heinz Field. Pitt has to win some.
Sadly, it wins precious few.
Pitt is a pedestrian 52-27 at Heinz Field, which opened in 2001. That might not sound awful, but look at how many East Tennessee States, Ohios and Youngstown States have been on the schedule.
OK, Youngstown State is a bad example.
It beat the heck out of Pitt last season in the first game of the Chryst Era, maybe the worst loss in school history.
There have been so many other painful defeats on the Heinz Field lawn. South Florida stunned Pitt in the second game of 2001 when the stadium was brand new and full of so much promise. Texas A&M beat Pitt early in the 2002 season in front of a throbbing sellout crowd. Remember Pitt's amazing 13-9 win at West Virginia at the end of the 2007 season? Bowling Green killed that momentum by upsetting Pitt in the 2008 opener.
Need I go on?
What the heck.
Pitt blew a 21-point lead to lose to Cincinnati late in the 2009 season with the Big East Conference title on the line. It was blown out by Miami in 2010 in front of coach John Majors, the great Tony Dorsett and 450 other football alums. Later that season, it was embarrassed by rival West Virginia, again with Big East title implications.
Pitt fans probably should have expected a bad loss against Florida State.
This defeat felt a lot like the 42-21 loss to Notre Dame in the 2005 opener. Heinz Field buzzed that night because it was the first game under Wannstedt, a Pitt man through and through. But, as Wannstedt would say later, the outmatched Panthers were beaten the second the Notre Dame players stepped off the bus.
The excitement around the Florida State game was because of Pitt's move to the ACC. A new league. A fresh start. Blah. Blah. Blah ...
At least Pitt hung with Florida State for a quarter. It's a bit unfair to new Pitt quarterback Tom Savage to say the turning point was his interception on a first-down play from the Pitt 38 with the Panthers leading, 7-0, although it was a killer. Winston -- King Jameis, as he is known in Tallahassee -- merely took over and showed why he is considered the Next One in college football. His first-half work: 17 of 18 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. Just in case anyone failed to see his greatness, he completed a 42-yard pass to wide receiver Kenny Shaw on the first play of the third quarter. He finished 25 of 27 for 356 yards and four touchdowns, also adding a rushing touchdown.
Or ouch, depending on your perspective.
Chryst did a nice job keeping Pitt together after its loss to Youngstown State and then Cincinnati last season. Pitt crushed No. 13 Virginia Tech -- a rare impressive home win -- the next week and went on to finish 6-6 to get a bowl trip.
Chryst faces a similar challenge now.
"You look at the good things you did and say, 'This is what we've got to build on,' " he said. "You look at the mistakes and say, 'If we can eliminate these or at least minimize them, we'll have a better chance.' "
Pitt played 11 true freshmen by early in the second quarter. That either means its young players are very good or its older players aren't good enough. Most top football programs redshirt their better freshmen, as Florida State did with Winston.
Pitt freshman running back James Conner from Erie had his moments, running nine times for 34 yards. Freshman wide receiver Tyler Boyd from Clairton looked terrific with three runs on end-arounds for 54 yards and a nice 17-yard catch on the sideline.
Conner and Boyd give Chryst something to build on. They have a chance to become great players.
One day, maybe, they will help Pitt win a big game at Heinz Field.
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.