Pitt has Struggled Against FCS Opponents under Narduzzi

With Pitt opening a new campaign against an FCS opponent in Austin Peay State University, I can’t help but recall their recent history against these teams from the next rung down in the college football hierarchy. Last year, Pitt entered their annual FCS game riding high. They were only 2-2, but their losses were to two of the toughest teams on their schedule and they had just upset Central Florida in dramatic fashion. With the Colonial Athletic Association’s Delaware Blue Hens coming to visit, there was no reason to expect that Pitt wouldn’t be able to jump into the bulk of conference play with an easy dominating win against an overmatched foe. Unfortunately, as has seemingly become the case with Pitt, things were not so simple. The game was still scoreless after one quarter and the Panthers only led 10-7 at the half. Delaware even held the lead through the majority of the 2nd half after going up 14-10 early in the 3rd quarter. Pitt took a 17-14 lead with just over 10 minutes to go in the game and held on for the 3 point win. There were of course caveats regarding this closer than expected outcome. Pitt outgained the Blue Hens 443-170 and they were missing a number of players due to injuries, including starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. However, the fact of the matter is that these types of games have become all too common since Pat Narduzzi became Pitt’s Head Coach in 2015.

No game against an FCS opponent has exactly engendered much confidence during the Pat Narduzzi era. The most decisive win was a 33-7 victory over Albany to open the 2018 season. Even that game was frustrating as the Panthers ran up that score in the 1st half and then failed to put a single point on the board after halftime. It’s not easy to be satisfied with results like this when we can look and see our ACC and other Power 5 colleagues regularly winning these games by 40 or more points. Meanwhile, the average margin of victory since Pat Narduzzi took over as Head Coach is only 13 points. You could even make the argument that the true margin is 12 points as the 7 point win over Youngstown State in 2017 took place after overtime. If looking just at the figures from regulation, the average drops.

To be fair, Pitt has had issues with playing down to their competition against Non-major opponents under previous head coaches as well. To this day, Paul Chryst is the only head coach to actually suffer a defeat at the hands of an FCS opponent, when Youngstown State handled the Panthers easily in the 2012 season opener. Walt Harris had two close calls, beating Villanova by only 7 points in 1997 and needing to come from behind to beat Furman in Overtime in 2004. In Todd Graham’s lone season leading the program, the Panthers struggled to put away Maine, ultimately only winning that game by 6 points. 

Despite this history, no other coach has consistently underperformed against teams from the lower level. Other than Todd Graham’s one game sample size, no other coach has a lower average point differential against these teams. Even Paul Chryst led teams that trounced Gardner-Webb and Delaware by 45 and 62 points respectively. Dave Wannstedt’s closest call, a 38-16 win over New Hampshire was still only 4 points closer than Pat Narduzzi’s largest win. Of the 4 Pitt coaches that have faced FCS opponents at least 3 times, Pat Narduzzi’s 13 point average is the lowest. When comparing Narduzzi’s teams to those of his predecessors, the teams led by Pitt’s previous head coaches have had an average point differential 8 points better than his teams.