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ESPN analyst Davis breaks down Pitt's chances vs. No. 11 Florida State

| Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
PItt quarterback Tom Savage throws during practice Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, on the South Side.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
PItt quarterback Tom Savage throws during practice Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013, on the South Side.

Florida State is Florida State, which means Pitt isn't facing a typical season-opening opponent Monday night at Heinz Field. FSU is No. 11 in the AP Top 25 preseason poll after finishing 10th last year and 17th in 2010.

Playing the first ACC game in school history at home should help Pitt compete against the Seminoles, ESPN broadcaster Rece Davis said. ThePanthers, an 11-point underdog, are coming off back-to-back 6-7 seasons and seeking their first winning campaign in three years.

“I actually think that Florida State will have a tough time, particularly running the ball,” said Davis, who, with David Pollack and Jesse Palmer, will call the 8 p.m. game. “Pitt's going to be physical and tough. It will be a challenge for Florida State's offense in the early going.

“You get into the fourth quarter and give yourself a chance, sometimes crazy things happen,” Davis added. “You don't have to be the best team in the country. You just have to be the best team in the stadium that night.”

Pressed to make a prediction, Davis picked FSU to win.

“I think Pitt's going to hang in there and make it a tough game. But I would probably be less than forthright if I told you that Pitt will win,” Davis said. “I think Florida State is being a little undervalued nationally. I have Florida State picked to win the ACC, and I'm not going to be surprised if they play in the national championship game. From talking to Florida State's players, I definitely think Pitt has their full attention. And I don't know how well Pitt's offense is going to move the ball.”

Regarding Pitt's offense, Davis is eager to watch senior quarterback Tom Savage, who reinvented himself following success early in his career at Rutgers. Two schools later, Savage will direct the Panthers' offense.

“I remember when Savage came out of high school how highly regarded he was,” Davis said, “what kind of tools he has in terms of being able to throw. (Pitt coach) Paul Chryst has always done a marvelous job of putting his quarterback in position to build confidence.”

Davis believes FSU's superior team speed will be a determining factor. While the Panthers always have faced opponents with fast players, the ACC in general — and FSU in particular — offers new challenges.

“It's not that there weren't skill players in the old Big East,” Davis said. “I just think they're going to see more of them on a more consistent basis, week in and week out, in the ACC.”

Davis appreciates how Chryst is building Pitt's program in his image. Citing how Chryst handled the cases of Rushel Shell, Tra'Von Chapman and Ronald Jones, Davis believes Chryst's hard-line approach with those players enhances the rebuilding process.

“When you are a coach establishing your program, there is no one player that can be more important than you establishing that you are running the show,” Davis said. “Not to be some tough, dictator-type. But your need to establish boundaries, set the tone for who's in charge. I think Paul is the kind of guy who will adhere to his standards, who will not compromise. The program in the long run will be much better for it.”

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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