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Wahoo Road Guide: Pittsburgh Panthers

Cardiac Hill gives U.Va. fans the 4-1-1 on visiting the 4-1-2

Pitt doing mean things to Logan Thomas. We like them already.
Pitt doing mean things to Logan Thomas. We like them already.
Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

As of today, the ACC is a 14-team-plus-Notre-Dame-sort-of conference. Pittsburgh and Syracuse (and Notre Dame, sort of) joined the conference, expanding the ACC footprint into Pennsylvania and New York (and Indiana, sort of).

New faces means an opportunity for new friends. At the very least, new faces means new places to visit. This fall, our Hoos only go on the road four times: to Pittsburgh, to College Park, to Chapel Hill, and to Coral Gables. The final three are all fairly familiar territory for Cavalier fans. Which brings us back around to those new faces.

Cardiac Hill, SB Nation's Pitt blog, was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about how to do Pittsburgh the right way. Read on, and take his wisdom to heart.

Coming into the ACC means reconnecting with some of Pitt's former Big East rivals: Virginia Tech, BC, and Miami. How do y'all feel about making the move, and which rivalry are you most looking forward to reviving?

Pitt fans are, for the most part, pumped about joining the ACC. It's a good fit for academics and sports, offers a great deal of stability, and also allows Pitt to connect with some old rivals. For me, out of the three teams, it's got to be Virginia Tech. Pitt has a great track record against the Hokies' football program with some big wins over them. Miami is the big name, but the Panthers haven't fared nearly as well against them. For whatever reason, Pitt has given Virginia Tech fits over the years.

In June, every fan base seems to see their team as simultaneously finishing 12-0 and 0-12. From what you've written, it sounds like there's a lot of uncertainty about the 2013 Pitt Panthers. What are you hoping for, and what are you expecting? Who's going to fill Tino Sunseri's shoes?

We probably end up saying this quite a bit, but I truly believe this is one of the years with the most question marks surrounding the team. Pitt lost their projected starter at running back, Rushel Shell, to a transfer to UCLA. Shell was a true freshman last year, a local kid, and one of the top running back recruits in the nation - so his loss hurts quite a bit. The offensive and defensive lines are units with a ton of question marks and there's not a lot of quality depth. Pitt is also breaking in a new kicker with the loss of Kevin Harper. Then there's the loss of Tino Sunseri, who started to put things together last year and played reasonably well overall. At quarterback, the job will most likely go to senior transfer Tom Savage, who comes to Pitt from Arizona. Redshirt freshman Chad Voytik is in the mix and had a strong spring game, but at this point, the job looks like Savage's to lose.

I think Pitt's ceiling this year would be eight wins, but realistically, the team is probably more in the 6-7 category. The Panthers had some terrible struggles last year early on, but settled down and actually played pretty well against the better teams on their schedule. They had Notre Dame beaten before falling apart late, played respectively against a very good Louisville team, and beat up on a nine-win Rutgers team. The Panthers have a challenging schedule, but they could be competitive in some of their tougher games. Still, there are far too many questions to expect Pitt to have a great year.

How would you recommend visitors get to Pittsburgh? Drive up 81 and brave the Turnpike? Is it worth flying, or is the airport too inconvenient to mess with?

I'd almost always prefer to fly anywhere, so I'm the wrong person to ask. But I've been on the Turnpike plenty of times and it's generally pretty reliable. Pittsburgh's airport is an international one and has any number of flights going anywhere.

Any tips on areas of the city—or of neighboring burgs—to seek out or avoid? What's going to be the best place for families traveling together, or for younger fans looking to get out and enjoy the nightlife?

Pitt's stadium, Heinz Field, is actually in a pretty convenient location on the north shore/north side. Development has sprung up a bit and just outside the stadium are any number of bars/restaurants. The tailgating scene and restaurants in that area are pretty amenable to both families and younger fans (though families should keep in mind that some of the establishments can get ungodly loud on game days). Wandering away from the stadium, you can go two directions - into the northside neighborhood or across the bridges into downtown. The northside neighborhood isn't a great one and there's not much to see there, anyway, so that's an area to avoid. I park on the street there (as many others do), though, and have never had any issues, so that should be noted. Downtown is not a hotspot by any means and most people tend to avoid it altogether, but there are a good number of restaurants/bars there, too.

For the adventurous, you can travel into the strip district, which is only about five minutes from downtown. You can't realistically walk there from the stadium unless you're training for a marathon or something, but it's a short drive away. You'll find Pittsburgh's vast collection of ethnic foods and more restaurants/bars. For nightlife close by, there's Station Square and the southside - both accessible just across one of our many bridges.

From what I remember of the area around the school, there was a lot to do. What are the most recommended hotspots?

The stadium is about 15-20 minutes from Pitt's campus in Oakland and because of the traffic/parking congestion, most of the non-students avoid it altogether on game days. But if you find yourself up for a mini road trip, there are plenty of bars/restaurants right on campus. You'll find anything you want there. For a casual restaurant/bar scene, maybe Hemingway's or Fuel and Fuddle. A nicer/not as college-type restaurant would be something like the Porch at Schenley's. There are also several typical college bars like Peter's Pub or great dives like Gene's. If you're looking for pizza, I've got to suggest Sorrento's - one of my all-time favorites. And of course, the Oakland 'establishment' is 'The O' - the Original Hot Dog Shop. Food isn't great in my opinion and it's not a place one 'hangs out', but grab some fries if you get a chance. I'll say this, though - I've not lived in Oakland in about ten years and only go maybe a couple of times a year. So my sense of things may be a bit off.

What's going to be the best place to grab a bite before/after the game? Somewhere to catch up and/or follow other games around the country, that's also going to have some good eats and a decent beer selection?

You can find that at several places in the strip, south side, or the restaurants around the stadium. A 'sports bar' scene right near the stadium would be Jerome Bettis' restaurant. And while I've not been to the north shore location, a place right there with great food and that brews its own beer is Rivertowne. Get a soft pretzel there and a fried fish sandwich there, and you're set.

What's up with the fries on sandwiches? Has whoever invented that been given a Nobel Prize yet?

Beats me. I've been here since coming to college about 15 years ago still haven't gotten it figured out yet. Tried it once and hated it (though, to be fair, I'm extremely picky), so I stay away from Primanti's.

Bottom line: both Virginia and Pitt have some QB questions that are tempering otherwise high hopes for this year. Home-field advantage seems to have played a big part in the recent series between us, with y'all holding serve at Heinz Field in 2006 and us returning the favor at Scott Stadium in 2007. What do you see happening on September 28?

I'd like to look at Virginia's track record over the past five years and say that it's a game the Panthers should win, but Cavaliers fans can look at Pitt's track record over the past couple of years and say it's a winnable game for them as well. At home, I'd give Pitt the edge, but at this point in the year, there's little basis for that pick. One thing I will say is that Pitt's secondary should be very good this year, so if Virginia's passing game is suspect, that could be an advantage for the Panthers.