College sports in 2020 and 2021 figure to be unlike anything the modern NCAA has seen before. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students and fans at Pitt and across the country will miss out on the usually standard opportunity to cheer on their favorite teams in person, while athletes will be subject to new rules and regulations that are already altering their daily lives.
For much of the summer, there was uncertainty as to whether collegiate teams would be able to play their seasons at all. Professional leagues were never much of a question, but college sports were engulfed by an ominous shadow of doubt.
Once students gradually returned to campus and the calendar moved closer and closer to September, it became clear that the show would go on, just in a much more strictly regulated manner.
Pitt didn’t release some fall athletic schedules until recently. Now that those plans are out and the teams are finally ready to launch into their seasons, here is a rundown of some of this season’s biggest dates.
Sept. 19: Football vs. Syracuse
After Saturday’s resounding 55-0 season-opening beatdown of Austin Peay, Pitt is set for its conference opener against Syracuse. Pitt figures to be in the hunt to appear in the conference championship once again this season, and getting off to a hot start against ACC opponents would be a giant step toward meeting that goal.
Sept. 25-26: Volleyball @ Syracuse
Pitt volleyball aims to continue to establish itself as a conference and national powerhouse in 2020. The Panthers were recently selected as the favorite in the ACC Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll for the third consecutive season.
Like Pitt football, volleyball is set to open its conference slate against the Orange. The defending conference champions begin their season on Sept. 25 at Syracuse with back-to-back matches.
Pitt is heavily favored to repeat as ACC champions, but a compressed season means the margin for error is slim. Under normal circumstances, one loss here or there would not be detrimental. But in 2020, Pitt will need to come out of the gates firing on all cylinders to ensure that this short season finishes no differently than its three most recent.
Oct. 15: Women’s soccer vs. Florida State
Pitt women’s soccer is limited to conference-only opponents and is set to enjoy a busier schedule than the men’s team. The toughest matchup of the season figures to be nationally ranked Florida State, which finished 8-2 in conference in 2019. The Seminoles visit Pittsburgh on Oct. 15. Last season, Pitt went 0-1 against FSU.
Pitt is already 2-0 on the season after sweeping Appalachian State over the weekend by a combined score of 11-1.
Oct. 16: Men’s soccer vs. Virginia
Following matches against five conference opponents, Pitt will be in the full swing of things by mid-October. Then the schedule will shift from Saturday to Friday games, starting with a monumental challenge against preseason ACC North Division favorite Virginia on Oct. 16.
UVA placed first in the ACC Coastal Division last season and went on to capture the conference championship.
Oct. 24: Football vs. Notre Dame
Pitt will host national brand Notre Dame on Oct. 24 for one of its toughest home games of the season. The Irish — who are perennially ranked in the national top 25 — temporarily joined the ACC as part of scheduling modifications due to COVID-19.
This bulks up the schedule for many ACC teams but does not impact Pitt, as Notre Dame was scheduled to visit Heinz Field this season anyway. This matchup will serve as a test to see how the Panthers fare against national-title-contending competition and provide insight into how close head coach Pat Narduzzi’s program is to the elites of the sport.
Nov. 15-22: ACC Men’s soccer tournament
Fresh off a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2019, Pitt will look to use the conference tournament to establish itself as a legitimate ACC power. The UVA match in October should provide the Panthers with a good idea of where they stand heading into the tournament.
Nov. 28: Football @ Clemson
Pitt will host six-time defending conference champion Clemson four weeks later, on Nov. 28, in another high-profile meeting. The Panthers are fortunate that Notre Dame is traveling to Pittsburgh this year, but Pitt will have to face Clemson on the road. Although the usual home-field advantage is minimized this season because of a lack of fans, being out of comfort while playing arguably the country’s top team should put Pitt in an even more difficult position.
The Panthers, originally scheduled to play the Tigers in 2021 for the first time since 2016, will get a chance at the conference-favorite a year early with the ACC’s revised schedule. Pitt hopes that this matchup is a preview of the conference championship, which is set to take place just one week later. Clemson is the favorite to win the ACC for the fifth straight year.