SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The Notre Dame-Pittsburgh rivalry may not come with a cool nickname or a cherished trophy, as so many in college football do.
So when the 14th-ranked Fighting Irish host the Panthers in their first matchup in three years, they'll be playing for the biggest prize of all — bragging rights.
“When you put the tape on and watch those shiny gold helmets, they fly around,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. "They look good. They’re probably as good-looking a team as you are going to walk out on game day and see.”
It's not a good combination for the Panthers (2-5), who are facing Notre Dame (6-2) for the first time since 2020. They've lost four of five and Fanduel Sportsbook lists Pitts as a 20 1/2-point underdog.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, returns from a bye week after reclaiming the Jeweled Shillelagh by upsetting another rival, Southern California.
Irish quarterback Sam Hartman faced the Panthers two years ago when he was still at Wake Forest, but Hartman has been noticeably more efficient in Notre Dame’s pro-style offense. He's completing a career-best 64.5% of his throws with 1,838 yards, 18 touchdowns and three interceptions.
“He’s huddling up and taking snaps under center,” Narduzzi said. “If he’s going to play in the NFL, it’s going to be in that type of offense, not what they are doing at Wake Forest. I think he’s probably enjoying it. I think it’s every childhood kid’s dream to play in the National Football League, and he’s going to have an opportunity.”
The Irish cannot afford to overlook the Panthers if they intend to scramble back into the playoff mix, though. And coach Marcus Freeman could get his players' attention by simply pointing to the teams' contests against Louisville in back-to-back weeks.
Just one week after Notre Dame suffered its worst loss of the season to the Cardinals, Pitt ended Louisville's unbeaten season with a 38-21 victory. The Cardinals went into that game ranked No. 14.
Not enough? The Panthers have a top 25 defense, and it's enough to make Freeman anxious.
“It's a team I see that has continuously gotten better,” Freeman said. “That’s what I’ve seen especially in these last two weeks. This team has gotten better from what they were at the beginning of the year. We have to understand the challenge that will be presented on Saturday.”
BREAKING IN VEILLEUX
Hartman was supposed to face former Notre Dame quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who transferred to Pitt after three seasons at Boston College (2020-22) and two in South Bend (2018-19).
But Narduzzi benched Jurkovec after the Panthers started 1-4, which included 17-point losses to North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Redshirt sophomore Christian Veilleux replaced Jurkovec, going 1-1 while completing 56.3% of passes with 502 yards, four TDs and zero interceptions.
“He’s done a good job going through his progressions and knowing where to go based on the coverage,” Narduzzi said. “That’s the name of the game. ‘Look, OK, they have that and boom.’ He’s able to come back to his second or third read, and he’s done a nice job.”
Jurkovec is one of three former Irish players now at Pitt. The others are running back C’Bo Flemister and linebacker Shayne Simon.
Flemister played at Notre Dame from 2018-21 and is the Panthers top rusher (68 carriers, 282 yards, two TDs). Simon also starts and shares the team lead in sacks (three). He also has 27 tackles and left South Bend after the 2021 season when Freeman was still the defensive coordinator.
“I definitely have a feeling they’re going to be a team ready to come at us because they have three of our old players,” Irish defensive end Nana Osafo-Mensah said. “C’Bo’s been having a hell of a season.”
Several ACC teams have given Hartman trouble regardless of where he's played. North Carolina State picked off Hartman six times in ACC play and had two strip-sacks earlier this season. Hartman had six turnovers against Louisville last season and five against the Cardinals this year.
Pitt has faced Hartman once, picking him off four times in a 45-21 victory.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
Get alerts on the latest AP Top 25 poll throughout the season. Sign up here
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football