Florida State at Pitt
Where: Acrisure Stadium (68,400), Pittsburgh
Records: Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC); Pitt (2-6, 1-3 ACC)
Ranking: Florida State is No. 4
Coaches: Pat Narduzzi is 64-47 in his ninth year at Pitt, 64-47 overall. Mike Norvell is 26-16 in his fourth year at Florida State, 64-31 overall.
Previous meeting: Pitt 41, Florida State 17 in 2020
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, play-by-play; Louis Riddick, analysis; Quint Kessenich, sideline reporter)
Radio: 93.7 FM. (Bill Hillgrove, play-by-play; Pat Bostick, analysis; Larry Richert, sideline reporter, Doreen Dickerson, sideline reporter). SiriusXM Channel 380. Online: 937thefan.radio.com
Notes: Pitt is coming off a 58-7 loss at Notre Dame. Florida State is coming off a 41-16 win at Wake Forest. … Norvell was an assistant coach at Pitt in 2011. … Florida State last played in Pittsburgh in 2013, the year the Seminoles won the national championship. … Pitt last beat a Top 4 team at home on Nov. 24, 2017, when new quarterback Kenny Pickett led the Panthers to a 24-14 loss at 10-0 No. 2 Miami.
Line: Florida State is a 21.5-point favorite
Prediction: Florida State, 41-13
Prediction record: 5-3
– Steve Flynn
By Will Graves
PITTSBURGH — Patrick Payton remembers one of the first questions after arriving in Tallahassee in 2021. The answer, more.
“They asked me, ‘What do you want to win at Florida State?'” the redshirt sophomore defensive end said. “And I said, ‘I’m just trying to be a part of bringing Florida State back.’
The fourth-ranked Seminoles are almost there.
Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) can clinch a berth in the ACC Championship Game for the first time in nine years with a win over struggling Pittsburgh (2-6, 1-3) on Saturday. The Seminoles were also fourth in the original College Football Playoff rankings, though Payton doesn’t pay much attention to that part of the equation.
“It doesn’t matter who’s ranked right now, because whoever’s ranked … right now can lose,” Payton said.
That’s something Florida State hasn’t done in over a year. The Seminoles have won 14 straight since a three-game skid midway through the 2022 season briefly blunted the momentum coach Mike Norvell had been building since his arrival in December 2019.
Florida State is rolling now and seems to be getting better as the weeks go by. After early scares from Boston College and Clemson, the Seminoles have found their groove. Each of their last four wins has been by at least 18 points, including last week’s clinical 41-16 demolition of Wake Forest.
“Our guys, they’re doing a great job of owning up to (the) mistakes that were made (early in the year),” Norvell said. “It’s something we’ve stuck to over the years and when you get to November, that’s where you want to be playing your best ball.”
If Florida State can pull it off, the Seminoles will be in position to make the CFP for the first time since they were ousted by Oregon in the semifinals of the inaugural CFP in 2014.
One of college football’s undisputed superpowers had fallen on hard times, including four straight losing seasons from 2018-21. But those days seem to be over. Behind senior quarterback Jordan Travis and a defense that appears to be gaining momentum, the rush has returned to Florida State under Norvell.
“That’s why I came,” said Jeremiah Byers, a redshirt junior offensive lineman who transferred from UTEP last winter. “I knew this team was special from last year and I just wanted to come be a part of something that’s family oriented, that cares about kids and wants to win.”
Pitt finds itself on the other end of the spectrum just two years away from an ACC title. The Panthers are off to their worst start since coach Pat Narduzzi arrived in December 2014 and fell apart in the second half of a 58-7 loss to No. 12 Notre Dame last week.
Narduzzi drew criticism from both inside and outside the program for questioning the talent level of the lineup after the game. He apologized to his players the next day, stressing to the kids he recruited that he still protects them and that “my boys are my boys.”
How the Panthers fare against the Seminoles may be an indicator of whether Narduzzi still has the room’s attention. Last week aside, Pitt has made a habit of playing against ranked opponents during Narduzzi’s tenure, including an upset of Louisville on Oct. 14.
Now comes the toughest test for the Panthers in more ways than one.
Travis enters Saturday with two touchdown passes to tie Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston for second on the school’s all-time list. Winston threw for 65 touchdowns for the Seminoles in 2013-14. Travis has 63 over the course of his long career and has scored multiple touchdowns in 15 straight games.
“The man doesn’t make mistakes,” Narduzzi said of Travis. “And he’s confident. The man also plays hard. He gets the run, he looks like a quarterback, just the emotion. He plays with emotion and passion.”
GLUING THE VEILLEUX
While Travis was a fixture in Tallahassee, Pitt saw something of a revolving door at quarterback after Kenny Pickett’s breakout season in 2021.
Kedon Slovis ceded to Nick Patty ceded to Phil Yurkovec ceded to Christian Veile. A sophomore transfer from Penn State, Vailew will make his fourth straight start after taking over for an ineffective Jurkovec. Veilleux threw four interceptions against the Irish last Saturday, part of what has become a steep learning curve.
“He’s an incredible leader and puts a lot of time and effort into his preparation,” offensive coordinator Pete Cignetti said. “When he chose to come here in January, it was about the journey. He knew he had three years of eligibility and it wasn’t about where he was in January, but where he wanted to go within those three years.