Pitt’s football players say they don’t care what others think.
They shrug their shoulders and say things such as this from senior fullback George Aston: “Even after we win, they’ll probably still find a way to discredit us.”
They even have an acronym for their mindset: “FEBU,” explained senior defensive tackle Shane Roy. It stands for “Forget Everyone But Us.”
That’s the armor Pitt will carry into Bank of America Stadium on Saturday night in Charlotte, N.C., to meet No. 2 Clemson with the ACC championship as the prize.
Pitt won the Coastal Division, but it’s one of only four ACC schools with no one named to the all-conference first team. Clemson has five players on the first team and a total of 21 — almost all of their starters — named to either the first, second or third teams or given honorable mention.
• Three of its four defensive linemen made the first team.
• Four of its five offensive linemen were named to the first or second teams.
• Clemson running back Travis Etienne and end Clelin Ferrell are the ACC offensive and defensive players of the year.
Pitt has 12 players recognized, but half of them were given only honorable mention.
“We’re like the no-name Pittsburgh football team,” coach Pat Narduzzi said, trying to sound like it doesn’t matter. “We just have a bunch of guys. They got a lot of them. We don’t have many of them.”
Then, he adds this zinger: “We’re in the championship game. We must have done it with smoke and mirrors, I guess.”
The disrespect for Pitt (7-5) extends, of course, to the betting line that lists Clemson (12-0) as a 27½-point favorite. If it’s any consolation to Pitt fans, Clemson is only 2-8 against the spread in its past 10 games when favored by three or more touchdowns.
Truth be told, the ACC Coastal has lost to the Atlantic champion in the title game throughout most of this decade. Either Clemson or Florida State has won the past seven championships (four by Clemson, including the past three). A different school — all but Virginia — has won the past six Coastal championships, but the Atlantic hasn’t lost the title game since Virginia Tech defeated Florida State, 44-33, in 2010.
Another lopsided statistical oddity: There are 14 football teams in the ACC, which has staged this game 13 times. Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech have won 11 of the championships. Wake Forest (2006) and Georgia Tech (‘09) won the other two, but Georgia Tech had its title vacated because of a violation of NCAA rules.
Locked behind closed doors in their meetings and practice sessions all week, Pitt’s players don’t bother themselves with such details.
“It’s all about us,” Aston said. “I know most of the games this year people have us not winning. We really are used to it and really don’t care what anybody else says or thinks.
“Obviously, the media and other people don’t really respect us. We’re fine with that.”
Aston is correct, of course. Sam Chase, who writes about sports betting for SI.com, said of this game, “Each team benefitted from a weak ACC this season, but Pittsburgh sticks out as a team that probably should not be playing for a major conference title.”
Narduzzi said he embraces the concept of his team toiling in anonymity and emerging, suddenly, in front of a national audience under the conference’s brightest lights.
“It’s kind of what we’ve been and who we are, I guess,” he said. “I’m just an average dude. I’m like the no-name head coach.”
Aston isn’t losing any sleep over what others think of his team.
“If people credit us and give us respect, cool. If they don’t even better,” he said. “It’s about how we feel.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at [email protected] or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.