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August 30, 2013

External doubts provide extra motivation

Devin Street is chasing records at Pitt, but Florida State's defensive backs aren't impressed.

Street, a redshirt senior receiver for the Panthers, will likely finish the 2013 season as Pitt's all-time leading receiver and has an outside shot at recording more career receiving yardage than any player in school history. But as Seminoles defenders like junior safety Karlos Williams have prepared for Monday night's season opener against the Panthers, they seem to have been rather nonplussed by what they've seen.

"He's a big, athletic guy," Williams said in quotes that appeared on Tallahassee.com. "He loves to get the ball. He loves to compete. Compared to our receivers, he's not a Rashad Greene, he's not a Kenny Shaw, he's not a Kelvin Benjamin. But he's their playmaker.

"We watched film on him. He's not a great receiver, but he's a productive guy. He's the go-to guy for Pitt. And we're going to have to go out there and stop him."

"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion," Street said Thursday. "Karlos is, just from watching film, he's a great player. But everyone's entitled to their own opinion. I can't do about it; he just went public with it. I just have to go out there and play my game and show how productive I am on Monday night.

"[Florida State's defensive backs are] fast, and a couple are physical. Karlos is physical. Lamarcus Joyner is a great defensive back. They fly around, but sometimes they get lost in coverage; they have holes in their defense. They're a great team, but it's football; football is football."

Street will likely face a lot of matchups with Joyner, a converted safety who moved to cornerback this season (as a show of respect, Joyner earned 11 votes as a preseason all-ACC safety in addition to the votes that put him on the all-conference team as a corner). Joyner stands 5'8", which is a bit smaller than Street, who is listed at 6'4".

"I go against guys like that every day," Joyner said, according to Tallahassee.com. "In (6'5" FSU receiver) Kelvin Benjamin, we've got a guy that's much bigger. So I see that kind of stuff in practice. ... (Street is) not one of the fastest guys I've ever seen, but definitely has good hands. And a great route-runner. Big, physical guy. So he's got what it takes to get the job done."

Street had some thoughts on Joyner, as well.

"He plays fast, physical, but with corner, you need a little bit of technique," Street said. "Just from watching film, I think we can attack him in different ways, just from how he plays and his technique. Sometimes at corner you have to be patient and I see he's a little aggressive. But he's a great player; he flies around and he plays the game fast. So that's how you have to play, but I think he'll do well at corner."

Of course, questions about Pitt's chances against Florida State aren't limited to the Seminoles' defensive backfield. As of Thursday night, 92% of players in Yahoo!'s college football pick 'em game had taken the Seminoles on the betting line of minus-10.5 points, and ScoresandOdds.com listed upwards of 90% of the public betting that way.

College football expert Phil Steele also picked Florida State in his Week One predictions on ESPN.com, going so far as to say the Seminoles would win by a score of 31-17. And as national picks roll out heading into the weekend, Florida State is likely to be the most popular choice.

Street knows that will be the case, and he knows what it feels like to be in that position. Last season Pitt hosted then-No. 13 Virginia Tech in mid-September; the Hokies were heavily favored, but the Panthers controlled the game from the start and won 35-17. Then, in late October, Pitt went to South Bend to face Notre Dame and took the fourth-ranked Irish to triple-overtime before finally bowing out.

It won't be easy to put up a similar fight Monday night. The Seminoles won the ACC championship and the Orange Bowl en route to a 12-2 record and a final ranking of No. 10 in the nation. Florida State opens this season at No. 11, but the team lost 11 players from the 2012 team to the NFL Draft, and Street thinks that will have an impact on what the Seminoles look like this year.

"They're defending ACC champions, but watching the film, I don't think they're the same team as last year," Street said. "But they're definitely a great team; don't get me wrong on that.

"They lost Xavier Rhodes as a first-round draft pick and EJ Manuel was the number-one quarterback taken. Those are two big leaders on each side of the ball and I think they're great, but if we go out there and play our game, I think we'll be okay."

The experiences against Florida State and Notre Dame are still fresh in Pitt's collective memory, and Street thinks they are indicative of the Panthers' chances in the 2013 opener.

"It's happened in previous years. Virginia Tech, no one gave us a chance. And Notre Dame, even though we didn't come out on top, we proved we can keep up with those teams. That's the same thing we're doing now.

"We're a scrappy team. We're going to go out there, give it all we got, and we can definitely get after Florida State."

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