Austin Peay Pittsburgh Football

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett throws a pass against Austin Peay on Saturday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

PITTSBURGH – A day after posting a lopsided 55-0 victory over Austin Peay, Pitt moved into The AP Poll at No. 25 when the rankings were revealed on Sunday afternoon.

It’s the Panthers’ first appearance in The AP Poll since Week 12 of 2018, when they were ranked No. 24 after defeating Wake Forest and clinching the ACC Coastal Division title.

Coach Pat Narduzzi says the ranking isn’t important.

“With less conferences out there, doesn’t matter,” Narduzzi said at his Monday press conference. “Less people playing. Matters less this year than a year ago.

“Our job is to go out and win football games on Saturdays.”

Due to the ACC’s reworking of the 2020 schedule, Pitt will face 10 conference opponents over the next 11 weeks, beginning Saturday when Syracuse visits the Panthers.

Narduzzi said that, in some respects, playing tougher opponents can help his players.

“As a matter of fact, I’d rather play the best,” Narduzzi said.

“It’s harder to get them ready for Austin Peay, Youngstown State, Delaware and Albany, but it won’t be hard to get them ready for Syracuse, Clemson, North Carolina, whoever else we get to play. Kind of a benefit.

“We don’t have to worry about them being mentally ready to go.”

The coach declined to say if any of the seven players who missed the Austin Peay game due to COVID-19 protocols would be available against the Orange this weekend, but said anyone who tests positive would enter a 10-day quarantine beginning the day they test positive.

The only player who has confirmed he missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols is Rashad Weaver. The senior defensive end tweeted before the game that he had conflicting test results between the companies Pitt uses for testing.

On Sundays and Wednesdays, Pitt is tested by BioReference Laboratories in New Jersey. On Fridays, the ACC utilizes MAKO Medical in North Carolina to test all teams in the conference.

It was another setback for Weaver, who missed all of the 2019 season due to a torn ACL.

“I think anybody that’s not playing, whether it’s an injury or some other reason, they’re all eager to come back,” Narduzzi said regarding Weaver. “You just got to wait your time. They all know what has to go. They know the process. Everybody’s eager. Got to do what you got to do.”

Narduzzi was equally as tight-lipped regarding Habakkuk Baldonado’s status for Syracuse. The sophomore defensive end was carted off the field during the Austin Peay game after suffering an undisclosed injury. The only update Narduzzi offered was that Baldonado is day-to-day.

Pitt will again be playing in front of an empty Heinz Field this week, and likely for the entirety of the season. Playing in front of no fans against Austin Peay made for an eerie scene, but Narduzzi thought his players handled it well.

“One of the keys to victory, I said before the game, was to create our own energy. We are the energy. I say that every week. Doesn’t matter whether you’re on the road or at home, we got to always create our own energy,” Narduzzi said.

 “I think there’s some guys out there that will be contagious. Paris Ford, always so energetic,” the coach continued. “If the offense or defense does something big, we want to get everybody like Paris. He’s that energy that is contagious.

“We want everybody to catch that.”

AMANDA FILIPCIC-GODSEY is a freelance writer in Pittsburgh. She covers University of Pittsburgh football and basketball for CNHI Pa. newspapers. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaFGodsey.

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