Pitt has had Wahoos' attention for months

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 SPORTS) -- The ACC released its 2019 football schedule back in mid-January. Virginia's opening opponent has had the Cavaliers' attention ever since.

"Any time you open up with a conference game there's a heightened urgency, because it's like, right off the bat, this is going for the conference," UVA senior cornerback Bryce Hall said. "And being in the position where last year, we were so close, and Pitt was the team that stood against us in that process."

UVA's visit to Heinz Field on Saturday night to face Pitt will mark the program's first season opener against an ACC opponent since 2003. It also pits the Cavaliers -- the preseason pick to win the Coastal Division this fall -- against last year's division champion.

The Wahoos were ranked nationally for the first time in seven years -- and on top of the Coastal Division standings -- when the Panthers came into Scott Stadium and beat the Cavaliers 23-13 early last November. Pitt finished the season 6-2 in conference play; UVA finished 4-4.

"From summer workouts to camp, everything had to be sharp," said UVA senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. "Opening up with Pitt, we have to start fast and then carry that throughout the season. So we don't have time to meander into it."

UVA has yet to win at Heinz Field in three previous visits since Pitt joined the ACC in 2013. The Cavaliers are 1-5 overall against the Panthers as conference opponents. Bronco Mendenhall is winless in three games against the Panthers, while Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is 4-0 in the series.

Pitt hasn't lost a season opener since the Panther's inaugural game as an ACC member, a 41-13 loss to eventual national champion Florida State in 2013. UVA's last opening loss came in Mendenhall's first game as head coach, a 37-20 Richmond win at Scott Stadium in 2016.

Mendenhall believes both coaches will learn a lot about their teams on Saturday night. That adds one more degree of intrigue to opening against a division opponent.

"There are knowns. That doesn't mean that when you put your knowns against the opponent knowns and that goes together, there's a combustible force in there and sometimes that puts out unknowns," Mendenhall said. "When you put a conference game into that setting, that is just, man. That's fuel to the fire."