Ranking "just a number" to Pitt

Pitt's first ranking in five years is just a sign of progress, but Pat Narduzzi sees his team as more than a number.

Pat Narduzzi arrived in Pittsburgh tasked to find a way to elevate the Pitt football program beyond its four consecutive 6-6 regular-season finishes.

Six games into his tenure, the first-year head coach has the Panthers 5-1 and ranked for the first time in five years. An early sign of success, sure, but Narduzzi cares more about the record put together by his team and not the number others may put next to Pitt’s name.

“It’s just a number,” Narduzzi said. “We’re more than a number.”

He sees the team’s 5-1 mid-season mark as a more appropriate indicator of the team’s success, especially having played four of six games on the road.

“We’ve got goals and we’ve got places we want to go and our kids know that,” Narduzzi said. “If they look at the 25 and they walk out there, write it on their wristband ‘oh, we’re No. 25,’ I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Pitt’s No. 25 ranking in the recent poll marks the first since the Panthers were ranked No. 15 in the 2010 preseason under Dave Wannstedt. They dropped out of the Top 25 after a loss to Utah in the season-opener.

Now, behind one of the nation’s top defensive units and most accurate passers in Nate Peterman, the Panthers are atop the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal division at 3-0 and in the national spotlight once again.

Narduzzi and his staff don’t take much pride in the ranking, but know the importance of the achievement to his players considering the Panthers didn’t receive a single in the previous AP poll.

“The great thing is they were nowhere on the radar,” Narduzzi said. “They weren’t even a blip a week ago. We talk about earning respect and we do that every week and our kids earned it.”

Peterman ranks 13th in the nation with a 66.7 completion percentage through six games. He completed 14 of 21 attempts for 162 yards and a career-high three touchdowns in Pitt’s 31-28 win against Georgia Tech Saturday.

A transfer from Tennessee, Peterman wrestled the starting job from incumbent Chad Voytik last month and sees the program’s first ranking as more of a stepping stone.

“It’s encouraging for sure,” Peterman said. “I think even after the Virginia Tech game, that was big when coach Narduzzi told us they don’t give out midseason awards and there’s no championship in the middle of the season.”

At the season’s midpoint, rather than scuffling for a .500 record like Pitt teams of the last four seasons, the Panthers’ loftier goals remain in play. A spot in the Top 25 is an affirmation of progress, but not the end of the process.

As Pitt begins the second half of its season, Narduzzi doesn’t expect his players’ approach to waver even if they aren’t the “no-name” unit they were in August.

“I think that’s who they are,” Narduzzi said. “I think that’s what we’ve coached in this room and I don’t think we’ll be any different.”

Saturday at Syracuse, the Panthers can reach a the six-win mark in October. Rather than the November plateau it marked in recent years, it appears to be a foothold en route to the summit of what Pitt wants to achieve in 2015.

“The apple or whatever food is right in front of you,” Peterman said. “You’ve just got to go out and grab it.”

Notes
  • Kicker Chris Blewitt is the latest Pitt player to earn ACC weekly recognition. His game-winning 56-yard kick in Atlanta helped him earn ACC Specialist of the Week honors, and also set a program record by eclipsing David Merrick's 54-yard make against Texas in 1994. 
  • Starting safeties Jordan Whitehead (head) and Terrish Webb were removed from Pitt's win at Georgia Tech Saturday but Pat Narduzzi said he expects both to be ready for this weekend at Syracuse. As far as limitations in practice go, Narduzzi said "we'll see."
  • Peterman was sacked just once against Georgia Tech and said Monday: "I don’t think I’ve ever had this good of pass protection in my life."
  • Tyler Boyd became Pitt's all-time leading pass-catcher Saturday, now with 204 receptions halfway through his junior season. What has the experience of playing with Boyd been like for Peterman? "It’s been amazing. Anytime you’ve got a guy that talented out there it makes it very easy for you as a quarterback."
  • On the subject of his quarterback, when asked about the importance of playcalling and the offense, Narduzzi's thoughts seemed pointed toward a nearby institution and its use of a quarterback expected in the first round of next year's NFL Draft: "You can have a talented quarterback but a bad playcaller and make him look bad. We’ve seen that around the country, some closer than others."

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