Pitt fans have plenty of reasons to be excited for 2010. Dave Wannstedt has the team flying high after 19 wins over the past two seasons, and recruiting that was already solid has only gotten better. The team has some of the best players in the country at their respective positions in RB Dion Lewis, WR Jonathan Baldwin, and DE Greg Romeus. Optimism is at its highest, raising questions about whether Pitt can win 11 games, or more, this season.
Such enthusiasms should be tempered. There's a lot to look forward to, but the team has too many hurdles to contend for a national championship or even a one-loss season.
For starters, there's the opener against Utah. The Utes are an amazing 25-5 at home over the past five seasons. Some will point to the perceived level of competition Utah faces in a non-BCS conference, but over that five-year span, the Utes have defeated BCS-Conference teams Louisville, Oregon State, UCLA, and Arizona. Utah also defeated top 15 TCU and BYU teams during that stretch and won all five of its bowl games (against Alabama, Georgia Tech, Cal, Navy, and Tulsa).
If Pitt can get by Utah, that would be a huge achievement. But the season still provides more potential problems than a dieter faces at Golden Corral.
After Utah, Pitt gets 13th-ranked Miami at home on a Thursday night. True, the game is at home, but Miami could win the ACC this year and will be a formidable foe.
Two weeks later, the Panthers travel to Notre Dame. I don't care that the Irish have been down lately. It's still Notre Dame. And if Pitt manages to get through its first four games unscathed, new Irish coach and former Cincinnati ringleader Brian Kelly will be licking his chops at the prospect of taking down an unbeaten Pitt team for his first signature win. Also, even against a 6-6 Notre Dame team last year, the Panthers still only pulled out a five-point win at home. Playing the Irish on the road should be harder, even without the likes of Jimmy Claussen and Golden Tate. Kelly knows the Panthers inside and out and that will make the game that much more difficult.
By the way, have I mentioned that the conference season will just be getting started after that? Pitt will face tough tests in the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, at Connecticut, and then in a final date on the road against defending conference champion Cincinnati.
Finally, don't underestimate Pitt's penchant for losing when they shouldn't. Last season it was NC State, in 2008 it was Bowling Green, and in 2007 it was ... well, take your pick. Pitt always seems to cough a game away that they have no business losing and who's to say 2010 won't be any different?
This may be Wannstedt's best team yet and Pitt has a great chance to win the conference and get to a BCS game. Another ten-win season isn't out of the question, but I think Pitt's breakout undefeated or one-loss season will have to wait. This year's schedule is too difficult.