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Pitt announces football schedule; Old Dominion replaces Villanova

| Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:12 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Pitt running back Rushel Shell runs over Virginia Tech's Michael Cole during the fourth quarter Sept. 15, 2012, at Heinz Field.

Meetings, phone calls and back-and-forth emails too numerous to count finally brought Pitt and Florida State together to open the ACC season Labor Day night, Sept. 2, at Heinz Field.

The game could become the most anticipated home opener since 2005 against Notre Dame, former coach Dave Wannstedt's first game.

Now, it's time for the hard part — playing the game.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said coach Paul Chryst was “aggressively in favor” of opening against defending ACC champion Florida State.

“What we do with the opportunity, that's the challenge in front of us,” Chryst said of a game that will be televised at 8 p.m. on ESPN. “We have to make sure we play well.”

Pitt and the ACC released their football schedules Monday, and the Panthers have one of the most challenging in recent memory, with home games against Florida State, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Miami. Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are two of five road opponents.

Florida State (12-2 last season) is breaking in a new quarterback after E.J. Manuel exhausted his eligibility. Six assistants and four top defensive players are gone, but the Seminoles return another talented team.

“I am excited about going up against the best athletes in the country,” senior-to-be wide receiver Devin Street said. “Watching Florida State and Miami (growing up) is a big part of me wanting to play football.”

The ACC approached Pitt about the opener after Pederson had scheduled Villanova of the FCS for Aug. 31. Following weeks of negotiations, Pitt canceled that game with the promise of playing Villanova in 2016 or '17. Villanova was willing after it managed to replace Pitt with Boston College. Pederson said there were no buyouts.

Meanwhile, Pitt found a 12th game when Old Dominion, which led the FCS in scoring last season with an average of 45.2 points, decided to upgrade its schedule. Led by quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award last season as the top offensive player in FCS, ODU visits Heinz Field on Oct. 19.

Pederson said the schedule has become an attraction, with new customers making up 47 percent of season-ticket sales.

The schedule is also more traditional, with 10 Saturdays after several Wednesday and Friday night games in recent Big East seasons.

“I hope we never do that again in my lifetime,” Pederson said of Wednesday games. “We have normal college football.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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