I've been looking forward to football pretty heavily the past few weeks for some reason. And Saturday, the Panthers' season officially begins.
Pitt starts the year off with a game against a familiar foe in Youngstown State. This will be the third time in the past six years that Panthers and Penguins will have met in the opener and neither of the past two have been all that easy for Pitt.
Pitt famously lost the 2012 game, which was the first contest for then new head coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were not only defeated, but beaten with ease in an ugly 31-17 loss. Pitt met Youngstown State again in 2015, Pat Narduzzi's debut. But while the Panthers won 45-37, Youngstown State never went away and kept the game close. James Conner also suffered a season-ending MCL injury in that game. So you'll excuse me if I'm not real thrilled of another prospect of playing the Penguins.
It's also not about what Pitt has historically done against Youngstown State that causes some concern. Pitt goes into this game with a flurry of other issues. First, the team tries to recover after losing five players to the NFL Draft this past year. Among the replacements is the Pitt debut of quarterback Max Browne as the Panthers must move on from Nathan Peterman.
The Panthers are also dealing with several personnel issues heading into the game. They dismissed defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni back in April and then fellow projected starter on the defensive line, Rori Blair, over the summer. In addition to those losses, Pitt will also be without several suspended players, including Jordan Whitehead, Alex Bookser, and Quintin Wirginis. Bookser and Whitehead are starters and Wirginis was expected to be in the mix. On top of that, we also don't know how healthy the team is and there are a few health issues floating around as well.
Finally, the elephant in the room is that the Panthers play a huge game with interstate rival Penn State the following weekend. I feel pretty strongly that the team shouldn't be looking past Youngstown State but you can't help but think that some players will have their eyes on that game against the Nittany Lions.
Pitt gets the game at home and I suspect they'll have enough to win. Win comfortably? We'll see.