Head coach: Pat Narduzzi
2014 Record: 6-7; 4-4 ACC
2014 Bowl: 35-34 L to Houston at Armed Forces Bowl
2015 Returning Starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Odds to win 2016 CFB Championship: +70000
Odds to win 2015 ACC Title: +3000
Regular Season Wins: Over 6 (-130); Under 6 (+100)
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The Pittsburgh Panthers may have muddled to a six win season last year, but it featured ACC player of the year James Connor beating out Jameis Winston, and it returns him along with WR Tyler Boyd to field a strong offensive unit in 2015.
James Connor rushed for 1,765 yards last year at 5.9 yards per carry and set an ACC record with 26 TDs. Tyler Boyd became the first player in conference history to amass more than 1,000 receiving yards in both his freshman and sophomore seasons. He had 1,261 yards on 78 catches for a 16.2 yard per catch average, and he could win the Heisman this year. He said simply, “We’re here to try to win a championship.”
Junior QB Chad Voytik is what could potentially make this club improve the most. He struggled the first half of last season but turned it around dramatically over the course of the season. He averaged nearly 200 yards while completing 64.5 percent of his passes over his final six games, leading the offense to 35 points per game over that span. He’s talented enough to put this cast together and make it an offensive squad to be feared.
Defensively, the Panthers will have a first year coordinator in Josh Conklin, who does in from Florida International where he employed an attacking defense there. He said he wants his defense to be “opportunistic,” which is a call for a squad that lacks a lot of star power. It lost its top two tacklers from last year and has a lot of question marks at most positions.
Third-year MLB Matt Galambos is going to have to be a leader to a lot of unproven players. OT Adam Bisnowaty joined Connor and Boyd on the Preseason All-ACC team selected July 23rd.
OLB Bam Bradley had 36 tackles (4 for loss), two sacks and an INT last year and he’s flanked by Nicholas Grigsby on the opposite side. Grigsby had three sacks a year ago and he’s capable of making some big plays. He’ll like playing for Conklin, in other words.
Fourth-year starter LaFayette Pitts is the best in the secondary and S Reggie Mitchell returns after leading the team with seven pass breakups last season. At DE the Panthers will turn to sophomore Rori Blair who had five sacks last year and may help this unit attack as it will continually seek to. There’s enough playmakers to make Conklin’s scheme work, but he’s relying on a lot of inexperienced options learning the NCAA game quickly.
Kicker Chris Blewitt hit 16 of 21 FG last year (76 percent), but really has the odds working against him with his name (sorry, that was too easy). Sophomore punter Ryan Winslow averaged 40.1 yards per punt last season on 50 attempts.
Boyd ranked No. 1 in kickoff returns and No. 2 in punt returns (ACC) and he’s going to handle those duties again obviously which gives Pitt one of its better strengths as a team. If he continually puts them in good field position it could help the club eke out an extra victory or two in conference play this season.
There really just has not been enough continuity or consistency in this troubled program which has gone through five coaches in seven years.
The fan base is tired of the mediocre seasons and bleak outlooks, and this year is really no different with 5dimes oddsmakers setting the O/U at just 6 wins. Pat Narduzzi is in his first season after having been defensive coordinator at Michigan State, and the Spartans were the only FBS team to rank in the top-10 in total and rushing defense in the last four seasons.
Pitt will have a long way to go to reach that type of excellence, but the team is y young and he can mold it. It features 81 underclassmen and 15 returning starters, which is the foundation for building something substantial in a couple years. The Panthers have two top shelf talents in Connor and Boyd, but are going to have to hope the rest of the team rallies around its two stars to do much more than plod around .500 again.
Prediction: 6 wins