Take a quick look at the Pitt home schedule in 2012:
Youngstown State. Virginia Tech. Gardner-Webb. Louisville. Temple. Rutgers.
Is it any wonder attendance dipped 10 percent to a little over 41,000 fans?
You can now understand why Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson eagerly said, "Yes, please!" when ACC officials approached him about hosting the marquee Labor Day game against Florida State. Drop the on-the-field aspect of this matchup for a moment to truly understand why this contest is so huge for the Panthers as they join the ACC.
Since the league announced schedule pairings, Pitt has sold 4,000 new season tickets. In the past 24 hours, calls to the Pitt ticket office have been "over the top." The Panthers are expected to sell out the opener. That would be the first sellout at Heinz Field since the season finale against Cincinnati in 2009, a contest that determined the Big East championship.
Outside of former rival West Virginia, you would be hard-pressed to identify any recent Big East matchup that has generated as much buzz or as much interest not only in Pittsburgh but outside Pittsburgh.
That certainly did not happen last year, when fans criticized the Pitt home schedule for lacking any sort of meat, with two FCS opponents and uninspiring league games. Even the best of the Big East was not enough to draw interest. The Panthers hosted two ranked league teams -- No. 18 Louisville and No. 21 Rutgers. Attendance for the Cards' game: 42,432; for Rutgers: 38,786.
Virginia Tech, ranked No. 13 when the two teams played, drew the largest home attendance of the year at 48,032 -- more good news for Pitt as it transitions to the ACC.
There should be no such complaints this season. In addition to hosting Florida State, Pitt also hosts Notre Dame on Nov. 9 and former Big East rival Miami to close out the regular season. Virginia and North Carolina are also on the ACC home slate.
Quite frankly, this is the best Pitt home schedule since 2003, when the Panthers hosted Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Miami and Syracuse. That is the last time Pitt sold out of season tickets before the year started. As you know, Pitt is now in the same league as three of those teams.
Are the Panthers going to be overmatched against Florida State? Maybe. Recent history suggests the Panthers do play up to the level of competition (see: 2012, Virginia Tech upset, Rutgers upset, near Notre Dame upset). But this game goes beyond who wins and loses. Pitt has the college football spotlight to itself, against one of the marquee teams in the ACC, generating a buzz that has not been seen in the city in quite some time.
The schedule is tougher, but it's already a win for the Panthers.