AP ranking a sign of things to come for Pitt football


Narduzzi has lead Pitt into the top 25 college football teams of the NCAA. Meghan Sunners | Senior Staff Photographer

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

The Chicago Cubs are in the playoffs. Donald Trump is running for president. And Pitt football is ranked in the AP poll.

What a time to be alive.

Following a win on Saturday at Georgia Tech, head coach Pat Narduzzi and his Pitt Panthers garnered recognition in the Associated Press’ national poll, finding themselves at number 25.

While the Panthers were in the AP Top 25 poll as recently as preseason of 2010 — when they placed 15th — the five seasons in between have made that time span feel longer. Over those five seasons, Pitt seemed hopeless. It never looked like they could crack the top 25 teams in the country.

There was the coaching turnover — from Dave Wannstedt to Mike Haywood to Todd Graham to Paul Chryst — and during that 2010-2014 span it was probably easier for an outsider to name the Prime Minister of Belgium than it was to remember who was the head coach of the Panthers.

Their teams had talent but squandered it. Electrifying offensive talents littered the rosters, like running back Ray Graham, wide receiver Devin Street and even a year of rocket-armed quarterback Tom Savage. The Panthers also fielded one of the best collegiate defensive players of all time in defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

All of this still amounted to mediocrity. Over that five-year unranked span, Pitt football was the definition of an average team. Its record was 33-33, going 2-3 in lower-tier bowl games and never firmly establishing the program as anything, really.

It’s only been six games, but in his first year, Narduzzi has provided a jolt to a program that, at times, seemed listless. While the coach downplayed the significance of the ranking in his weekly press conference on Monday, the Pitt fanbase knows that that the little No. 25 appearing next to Pitt’s name on broadcast chyrons  means everything.

First, it means that Pitt may finally have found its coach. The constant shifting of staff —  while, besides Wannstedt, was mostly necessitated by departures — ­was detrimental to the program, and its recruiting. a locally-raised coach — Narduzzi is from nearby Youngstown, Ohio — that produces instant results is as rare a breed in college athletics as a Komodo dragon.

That ranking hints at what’s ahead for the Panthers. Narduzzi is thriving with a large portion of his roster fit for a previous coaching staff, as Paul Chryst recruited nearly all the players on the roster specifically for his offense and former defensive coordinator Matt House’s defense.

Narduzzi and his staff have made better use of these chess pieces than the Chyst regime that recruited them. Previously underused in Chryst’s offense, J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff have thrived, while nearly every defender has taken a significant step up in play since Narduzzi brought his defense to Heinz.

If Narduzzi can assemble a team of forced parts into a top 25 team, just imagine what he can do with recruits that are tailor-made for his scheme.

But the most important thing the “25” brings to Pitt football is fun. It’s fun to be ranked. It’s fun for the players, who will go out every week with a newly acquired target on their back. It’s fun for alumni, particularly the students who graduated last year without ever seeing a football team in the top 25.

Most of all, it’s fun for the campus. There’s a buzz on a college’s grounds when a sports team is good. There’s a palpable vivacity after a monumental win in athletics. As a ranked team, every win is monumental. There’s opportunity to keep the buzz going perpetually with success.

Eking into the top 25 has transfigured Pitt from the hunter to the hunted. The Panthers would likely lose their ranked distinction with a loss on Saturday to Syracuse. It’s a game that Pitt fans in years past would — and some still will — go into with the mindset of, “Pitt’s supposed to win, so they will lose.”

But with Narduzzi and company on the sidelines, there’s no logical reason to think that will happen. It’s time for Pitt fans to believe that the tiny number next to Pitt’s name can become a permanent fixture.

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