Set your alarm clock: Pitt/Ohio starts at 11 a.m., but it’s not the earliest kickoff in school history
For those Pitt fans troubled by the 11 a.m. start to Saturday’s game against Ohio, be glad you’re not an Alabama fan.
For Pitt, it’s a one-time event, but the Crimson Tide often start their games at 11 a.m. to accommodate TV networks that want noon (Eastern) kickoffs.
Pitt’s game is starting at 11 a.m. at Heinz Field as the opener to a quadruple-header on the ACC Network.
Is it a problem for the Panthers? Actually, no. It doesn’t even seem to register in their minds.
“We’re a morning practice team, so (setting) alarms are about the only thing,” coach Pat Narduzzi said.
“We prepare the same way, just an hour early, not a big deal,” linebacker Cam Bright said.
The game, in fact, isn’t even the earliest start for a Pitt game.
Forty years ago, Oct. 13, 1979, Pitt started its game against Cincinnati at 10 a.m. so it wouldn’t conflict with Game 4 of the World Series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles at Three Rivers Stadium. Those were the days when MLB played the World Series in the afternoon.
Pitt running back Wayne DiBartola said the start time was a bit disruptive but nothing that caused a major problem.
“That threw us for a little bit of a loop,” he said. “(Coach) Jackie Sherrill was a very routine guy. We had to get up (earlier), which was not a big deal. We got up at that time for training camp.”
But the pregame meal — always four hours before kickoff — had to be adjusted to 6 a.m.
The game was played with temperatures in the 40s, but it was colder than that prior to kickoff.
“There was frost on the field when we came out for warmups,” said kicker Chaz Palla, now a sports photographer for Trib Total Media.
The game started slowly and was scoreless after one quarter.
“Sort of like we were in a little bit of a fog,” DeBartola said.
But Pitt won 35-0 on the way to its first of three consecutive 11-1 seasons and a No. 7 ranking in the final Associated Press poll.
Freshman Dan Marino came off the bench to replace Rick Trocano and completed 11 of 16 passes and a touchdown. Randy McMillan ran for 119 yards. Cincinnati, which finished 2-9, earned only seven first downs.
DeBartola said there was no grumbling among players about the early start time.
“Jackie wouldn’t have tolerated it,” he said. “(He would say), ‘You get on the bus when I tell you to get on the bus.’ ”
“I don’t remember any kind of problem whatsoever,” said Alex Kramer, who was Sherrill’s administrative assistant.
But the crowd of 31,620 at Pitt Stadium was the smallest of the season.
It wasn’t the first time baseball’s postseason intruded on college football.
On Oct. 12, 1980, Houston and Texas A&M kicked off at 11:32 p.m. at the Astrodome. Workers needed time to reconfigure the field after Game 4 of the NLCS between the Astros and Philadelphia Phillies went to a 10th inning.
The most recent time Pitt started a game in the morning was Oct. 13, 2012, when the Panthers lost to Louisville, 45-35. Attendance was unaffected (42,432).
Pitt has played two other games with 11 a.m. start times:
• Thanksgiving Day, 1991, a 32-20 loss to Penn State at Pitt Stadium. Alex Van Pelt set a school record that day with 64 pass attempts.
• Dec. 4, 2004, a 43-14 victory at South Florida that was coach Walt Harris’ final regular-season game at Pitt. The game was supposed to be the season opener Sept. 6, but it was postponed by Hurricane Frances.
Morning kickoffs could become a more widely accepted part of college football in the near future. The Pac-12 is discussing the possibility of starting games at 9 a.m. (noon Eastern) to get greater TV exposure.
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .