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Starkey: Pitt-Florida State? Sounds great

| Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 8:49 p.m.

Pitt could kick off its ACC era against a high-profile opponent in a prime-time, made-for-television ESPN special at Heinz Field.

Or it could open against Villanova.

Some people, apparently, would prefer Villanova.

Villanova?

I have nothing against Villanova. It's a wonderful school. But the only way I'd want to watch Villanova play football is if Rollie Massimino were roaming the sidelines and Ed Pinckney were playing linebacker.

Pitt's other choice — still pending — is Florida State.

In other words, there is no choice. Pitt is mired in a 30-year slump. The program is less visible than Lennay Kekua. Nobody talks about Pitt football. It desperately needs some buzz.

It has to open with Florida State if the opportunity presents itself.

The Panthers are scheduled to open with Villanova on Aug. 31, but the prospect of a Labor Day visit (two days later) from Florida State recently became viable. To their credit, athletic director Steve Pederson and coach Paul Chryst jumped all over it.

My understanding is that Pederson first was presented with the idea. He approved it but left the decision with Chryst, who immediately and enthusiastically endorsed it.

Unfortunately, some people didn't, judging from what I saw since the news broke Wednesday.

Usually, it's the coach who's paranoid, not the fans. Yet, I keep hearing these concerns: Pitt's not ready for that kind of challenge so soon. … They couldn't even beat Youngstown State in last year's opener. … Remember Wanny's first game, against Notre Dame? … They could get embarrassed on their home field!

Nothing but fear-based, negative thinking.

First of all, Florida State's on the schedule no matter what. It's conceivable Pitt could have played the Seminoles within weeks of the opener anyway.

Would you have felt better about that?

Secondly, it's not like the '85 Bears would be coming to town. Florida State is wildly talented, as usual, but also a team in transition. Jimbo Fisher will be breaking in a new quarterback, new coordinators, several other new coaches and lots of new guys on defense.

It might be best to get the Seminoles early, before all of that young, top-end talent gets accustomed to the college level.

Finally, what's wrong with six months of buzz surrounding the first game? It's a date everybody could circle. A carrot for Pitt's offseason program. An attractive game to market.

Pitt might even win. Florida State, under Fisher, has established an annual habit of losing a conference road game it has no business losing. Maybe this would be the one.

For Pitt, the potential program boost from a win dwarfs the potential deflation from a loss. This program has nothing left to lose, perception-wise. Rock bottom already happened, more than once. Pitt would earn praise merely for playing a respectable game.

Hey, nothing can be worse than losing to Youngstown State. That is how Pitt opened the Chryst era. Next came a bad loss at Cincinnati, but Pitt bounced back to beat Virginia Tech. That was a good sign — a sign that even a blowout loss to Florida State wouldn't psychologically crush Chryst's team.

Why would you want to root for a program that is afraid of challenges?

Pitt appears to be embracing this one.

Everyone else should, too.

Joe Starkey co-hosts a show 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 “The Fan.” His columns appear Thursdays and Sundays. Reach him at jraystarkey@gmail.com.

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