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Pat Narduzzi embraces Pitt’s difficult schedule | TribLIVE.com
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Pat Narduzzi embraces Pitt’s difficult schedule

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, September 27, 2018 1:03 p.m
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Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi has some issues to fix before his team faces Central Florida on Saturday.

It would be easier and save a lot of time to just list the teams left on Pitt’s schedule that aren’t getting votes in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Hello, Virginia and Wake Forest.

The other six are ranked, from No. 8 Notre Dame to Syracuse, which has enough love and voting points (25) from a few of the 61 pollsters to check in at No. 36 after beating suddenly sorry Florida State, 30-7.

Pitt starts running through the gauntlet Saturday at No. 13 Central Florida, which carries the longest active winning streak in the nation (16) and was given the designation this week of “reigning national champion” by Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi. Twice.

“They have it up on their stadium,” he said of lettering — 2017 NATIONAL CHAMPIONS — unveiled at Spectrum Stadium during this year’s spring game.

Narduzzi, of course, is jumping on the bandwagon revved up by Central Florida and its fans after the Knights finished 13-0 last season and defeated Auburn, which beat national title game participants Alabama and Georgia. The logic works for the Knights.

During its winning streak, Central Florida has scored 105 touchdowns, an average of 6.5 per game. So Pitt (2-2), which allowed a total of 89 points in its two losses, will be tested.

Look for Pitt to substitute constantly, especially on defense. The temperature in Orlando, Fla., is expected to reach 92 on Saturday, with 68 percent humidity.

But that’s just the beginning of a rough stretch for the Panthers.

Pitt’s next four opponents are undefeated. Syracuse, Notre Dame and No. 22 Duke are each 4-0. Later, Pitt plays No. 16 Miami (3-1) and Virginia Tech (2-1), which just lost to Old Dominion, but has 55 voting points to sit at No. 28.

To his credit, Narduzzi does not publicly cry about his schedule. He knows it’s unbecoming of a coach who loves competition and, besides, it reeks of sour grapes.

Still, ESPN has ranked Pitt’s nonconference schedule (Albany, Penn State, Central Florida and Notre Dame) as the most difficult in the nation.

Last year was no picnic, either, with Penn State, Oklahoma State and ACC foe Miami.

In fact, the Central Florida date is the Panthers’ second in six games in which they are meeting a team riding the nation’s longest winning streak. Miami had won 15 in a row and was ranked No. 2 before losing to Pitt on Nov. 24, 2017.

“I think you embrace whatever you have,” Narduzzi said. “Do I want to go play every top 10 team in the country and do it that way? I’d probably say no. That’s the schedule that was delivered to us.”

Pitt has defeated a No. 2-ranked team in each of the past two seasons (eventual national champion Clemson in 2016). Quarterback Kenny Pickett led the Miami upset.

“There’s no better feeling than going in there and beating a team nobody expects you to beat,” he said.

Yet Narduzzi doesn’t plan to speak to his team about past triumphs.

“We really didn’t talk about (Clemson) much, or even at all (before the Miami game),” he said.

New year, new team, new challenge.

“Our kids like to compete, compete against the best,” he said “We competed for 30 minutes against (No. 9) Penn State.

“To me, that’s what you play for. That’s what I coach for. We can go play Bloomsburg and Edinboro, but I don’t think I’d have a whole lot of fun doing that.”

Fun is where you find it, apparently. Just last month, Narduzzi said he wouldn’t mind playing Duquesne or Robert Morris.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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