On the Panthers: Who can separate themselves in ACC Coastal Division?
October 13, 2016 12:00 AM
Pitt is embroiled in a five-team race for the ACC Coastal division crown, but Brian O'Neill (70), shown here during spring practice says he and his teammates can only focus on their next opponent, Virginia.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pitt still has a chance to win the ACC’s Coastal Division.
Problem is, so do Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia. That makes five teams still within realistic reach of the division title as Pitt (4-2, 1-1 ACC) seeks a road win at Virginia (2-3, 1-0) Saturday to keep the championship dream fire burning.
“I think we know that if we don’t win this week, we’re probably not going to be up there in terms of the next couple weeks,” offensive lineman Brian O’Neill said. “So there’s nothing really more to be said than the fact that we have to beat Virginia. They’re a Coastal team. We’re in the thick of a pretty big race right now in the Coastal. We’re all aware of that.”
The Panthers were able to draw to 1-1 in the ACC after defeating Georgia Tech Saturday, 37-34. But it gets harder.
After facing the Cavaliers, Pitt has an off week, then the toughest stretch of the season follows with three consecutive games against ranked opponents: No. 17 Virginia Tech, No. 16 Miami and No. 3 Clemson.
“We don’t look ahead,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “The only game that’s important is the next one. Georgia Tech was a huge game. To start off 0-2 in division conference [would not have been good]. We really haven’t talked about it as a staff or team. If you start to look ahead, or even think about it? Ahead doesn’t matter. What we’re doing today, that’s really the only focus.”
O’Neill agreed, saying he and his teammates won’t look past the Cavaliers, who are coming off a bye week: “You can’t look past Virginia though. We don’t win this game, it means nothing. We have to beat this team. We’re looking forward to this opportunity.”
Separation is likely to occur in the coming weeks.
The Hokies are the only Coastal Division team without a loss and are clearly in the driver’s seat. They beat Boston College (49-0) Sept. 17 and North Carolina last week (34-3), and could improve to 3-0 this week with Syracuse (2-4, 0-2 Atlantic Division) on tap.
Hokies coach Justin Fuente said he tries to strike a balance between discussing factors that have led to success, while not getting carried away with it.
“[We] talk about the reasons we have had success the couple weeks, because of the way we practiced, the way we prepared, ultimately leading to us playing well enough to win a few games in a row. And also talk about how fleeting that is,” Fuente said. “There’s a long season ahead of us. We can take pride in winning a couple games, there’s nothing wrong with that. But you’ve go to move past those things and get ready for the next one. [The players have] done a good job of listening to that message and acting on it so far. But each week is a test.”
Virginia Tech has Miami, Pitt and Virginia left on its schedule. The Tar Heels (2-1 ACC) and Hurricanes (1-1) each have a conference loss and play each other this weekend.
“We’re looking forward to getting back out on the field after a disappointing loss last week,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “There’s a significant difference in last year’s team and this year’s team. [Coach Mark Richt] has definitely stamped his imprint on this football team. … He’s got them playing hard.”
Georgia Tech (3-3, 1-3) and Duke (3-3, 0-2) are not mathematically out of the division race, but with two and three conference losses already, their chances of factoring in are slim.
Of course, it’s always possible tiebreaker scenarios factor in, depending on how the remainder of the season plays out. But like Pitt football practices, it’s probably wise to not get ahead of things.
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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