In a lot of ways, Pitt’s season opener this year couldn’t be more different from how the Panthers started last season.
Instead of nationally ranked (and eventual national champion) Florida State coming to town for a prime-time kickoff on ESPN, Pitt will kick off against Division I-AA opponent Delaware in a game that won’t even be on local TV (only online on ESPN3). That’s just fine with Panthers coach Paul Chryst as long as the result of the game changes, too.
Chryst is 0-2 in season openers as Pitt’s head coach, falling to the Seminoles last year and suffering an ignominious loss to Youngstown State in his debut two years ago.
Chryst, obviously, said he’d much prefer a 1-0 start than an 0-1 start this season.
“I think it’s really important for the group,” he said. “[My record in openers] doesn’t bother me any. That’s not to say you’re fine with losing and all that; 1-0 is better start than 0-1, no doubt. That’s the goal.”
A big part of earning that first win will be the Panthers’ ability to not looking past the Blue Hens like they may have against Youngstown State two years ago.
Players have taken different approaches. When defensive tackle Darryl Render was asked what he took from that game, he pretended like he didn’t even remember.
Safety Ray Vinopal, who started that game two years ago, said that, as a captain, he has tried to keep the focus moving forward.
“I’ve heard a few comments in the locker room here and there [about the Youngstown State game], and I make sure everyone knows to squash it right now,” Vinopal said. “They have good players, they have good coaches, they’ve won football game. You’ve got to show up and win the game on the day you’re playing it. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past.”
The Blue Hens will be led by redshirt senior quarterback Trent Hurley, a Greensburg Central Catholic graduate, who ranked eighth in Division I-AA in passing efficiency last year. As a team, Delaware ranked 31st in scoring offense (32.8 points per game).
“You don’t quite know with the first game what the different wrinkles will be, so you just try to prepare as best as possible,” Chryst said. “I feel good with all the film we have in all three phrases, but you also talk to your kids and say that you are going to see some things that you haven’t seen on film and you have to be able to adjust to it and play.”
“Just playing” is what Pitt players are most excited about. Regardless of opponent or stage, they’re just ready to go up against someone other than their teammates.
“If you didn’t tell them, they’d think that they were on prime time,” Chryst said. “It’s a big game for us.”
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG.