The Pittsburgh Panthers make their debut in the ACC with a primetime Labor Day game against last year’s conference champions, the Florida State Seminoles. While they will likely struggle offensively against a very talented Seminoles defense, they can pull off the upset if their defense plays well.
The Noles will be breaking in a new starter at quarterback in redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, and the home crowd should make it difficult for the rookie signal caller. While there is considerable hype surrounding Winston, the environment at Pittsburgh will be unlike anything he has faced in his life. There will certainly be butterflies for the freshman, and the longer the game stays close, the more pressure he will feel.
The Panthers can expect Florida State to try and establish the run game to help Winston early on. If Pittsburgh can stop the run and force Winston to beat them through the air, that is their best chance to pull off the upset. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a force on the inside and could be disruptive for the Seminoles’ offensive line. At the second level, Todd Thomas and Shane Gordon are stout against the run as well. They’ll get a good look at running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. right off the bat.
Of course, if they stack the box to take away the run game, that leaves the secondary in lots of man to man situations. Rashad Greene is one of the best wide receivers in the conference and could be a match-up problem. The same can be said for the 6-foot-6 235 pound Kelvin Benjamin who is a mismatch in any one-on-one situation. Panthers free safety Jason Hendricks will need to roam the middle of the field to help out as the corners are left on an island.
It won’t be an easy task for the Panthers, but they have to make Winston beat them. If they allow Wilder Jr. and Freeman to get going in the run game, Winston will crush them with play action and bootlegs. Winston could very well be the most talented player on the Seminoles offense, but he still has to prove it at the collegiate level.
However, it won’t take long for Pittsburgh or the rest of the country to figure out what kind of player really is.