PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 22: The new University of Pittsburgh head football coach, Paul Chryst, talks to reporters during a press conference on December 22, 2011 at the University of Pittsburgh Panthers South Side training facility in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
When Pitt's schedule with eight home games was released in 2011, it was hoped that it would equal a large amount of wins. That didn't happen, obviously, as first year coach Todd Graham, led the Panthers to their first losing season since 2007.
Pitt doesn't have as many home games in 2012, but the recently released schedule is still pretty favorable. For that reason, Pitt could be back to playing winning football this year.
For starters, Pitt will feast on two FCS (Division I-AA) programs in Gardner-Webb and Youngstown State. To make things even easier, neither program is even an elite one at that level. Youngstown State hasn't had more than six wins in the past four seasons and Gardner-Webb hasn't had a winning season since 2009. Both games should be relatively easy victories for the Panthers. Pitt will also square off against Notre Dame and Virginia Tech in the non-conference, but a game against Buffalo should equal another victory.
Then there's the Big East portion of the schedule. With West Virginia now out of the conference and Cincinnati losing a significant number of offensive threats, the conference is even a bit weaker than usual. The Panthers have road games against South Florida, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Syracuse. Home contests will be played against Louisville, Temple, and Rutgers. Pitt almost certainly will not go undefeated in the Big East portion of the schedule, but I challenge you to pick a game that Pitt has no chance of winning out of those seven. Pitt should, at the very least find three wins out of those games and get to six total victories without breaking much of a sweat.
Two more things of note stick out about the schedule. First, Pitt must travel to Cincinnati in only the second game of the season. Playing a conference game that early is never a great thing and to do it on the road is even more difficult. Pitt has the talent to beat the Bearcats, but a loss in that game isn't out of the question. The Panthers' schedule is also somewhat backloaded with three road games in their last four contests.
At first glance, though, the Panthers could quite easily end up at 6-2 heading into November. That would be a great thing for the program and hopefully build some momentum among the fan base for that final stretch.
Best case scenario is probably that the Panthers win those games, split one against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, and find three more conference victories to get to ten wins. I think that's unlikely, though, and tentatively would slot the Panthers at eight wins heading into the season. While that wouldn't qualify as a great season, it wouldn't be all that bad in Paul Chryst's first season at the helm.
For more on Pitt's schedule and the football program, check out SB Nation blog, Cardiac Hill.