Week 1 of the 2013 college football season will conclude Monday night with the ACC’s first conference matchup of the season as newcomer Pittsburgh will host the ACC’s defending champion, Florida State. Monday’s matchup will be the first meeting between the schools in 30 years.
The Seminoles will be giving Pittsburgh its ACC christening as they did for Miami in 2004 and Boston College in 2005 in the first conference game for each of those schools as a member of the ACC. Florida State is coming off of its first ACC title since 2005 and its first BCS bowl victory since being crowned 1999 National Champions. Florida State’s 12 victories a season ago also tied a school-record.
Despite losing a school-record 11 players to the NFL Draft, the Seminoles enter 2013 ranked 11th and 12th respectively in the human polls. Getting the start under center on Monday will be redshirt freshman, Jameis Winston, who also stars for Florida State’s baseball team. Winston was given the nod over sophomore Jacob Coker and will be the first freshman to start opening day for the ‘Noles since Drew Weatherford beat Miami, also on Labor Day, in 2005. Winston replaces 16th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, E.J. Manuel. Manuel finished his Florida State career with a 25-6 record as a starter.
Winston will be behind a veteran offensive line and will surrounded by a lot of offensive firepower. The tailback tandem of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. could very well be the best in the ACC and perhaps one of the better duos in the country. FSU also returns its two leading receivers from a season ago in junior Rashad Greene and senior Kenny Shaw. Greene has led Florida State in receiving in each of his two years on campus and many believe that Greene could be the first Seminole to record 1,000 yards receiving since Anquan Boldin did so in 2002.
Defensively, the Seminoles are deep and talented as well. First-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt is likely to play a lot of bodies as Florida State looks to win its fourth straight opener. Cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones, both seniors, each have the talent to be All-Americans this season and the same is perhaps true for junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
The Pittsburgh Panthers finished 6-7 a season ago, concluding the season with a loss to Ole Miss in the Compass Bowl. 2012 for Pittsburgh was the final year in the Big East and the first for head coach Paul Chryst. Pittsburgh is hopeful that this season will be the first winning campaign since 2010.
While the Seminoles will be starting a freshman at quarterback, Pittsburgh will be starting a senior in transfer Tom Savage. Despite being a fifth-year senior, Savage has not thrown a collegiate pass since 2010 when he was a sophomore at Rutgers. Savage is a pocket passer and will be replacing a four-year starter in Tino Sunseri.
With last year’s leading rusher, Ray Graham, and last year’s leading receiver, tight end Mike Shanahan both gone, the Panthers’ offense will rely heavily on senior wide receiver Devin Street. Street finished with 73 receptions for 975 yards and five touchdowns a season ago and was named second team All-Big East.
The strength of Pittsburgh however, is on the other side of the ball. Up front, the Panthers have one of the best interiors in the conference in defensive tackles Tyrone Ezell and Aaron Donald. Both are seniors and the duo should make it very difficult for Florida State to find much running room in the middle. Donald led the Panthers a season ago with 18.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Donald is also a preseason All-American and in 2011 as a sophomore, Donald finished second in the Big East with 11 sacks.
For the Panthers to pull the upset, they will need to put Florida State’s freshman quarterback in obvious passing downs, be able to generate pressure and probably force turnovers. The Seminoles must protect the football if they hope to avoid being upset and the offensive line will need to give Winston time to get the ball to Florida State’s many playmakers.
Also of note for Monday night, the two teams will wear a special helmet sticker to raise awareness for Fanconi Anemia, a rare blood disease carried by Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher’s son Ethan. Pittsburgh will also retire the number of Arizona Cardinals’ All-Pro and former Panthers’ wide receiver, Larry Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald was an All-American for Pittsburgh in 2003 and finished second in the Heisman voting that year behind Oklahoma’s Jason White.