Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi
2015 Record: 8-5
2015 Bowl: 44-28 Loss to Navy at Military Bowl
2016 Returning Starters: 8 Offense, 7 Defense
Odds to win 2017 Championship Game: +65000
Odds to win 2016 ACC Championship: +2500
Regular Season over/under: 7 wins
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Nate Peterman took over the starting QB job in Week 3 and after that defeat to Iowa, the Pittsburgh Panthers proceeded to reel off four consecutive victories. Peterman is a strong drop back passer capable of thriving in OC Matt Canada’s power-based offense. Peterman threw for 2,287 yards last season at a 61.7 percent completion clip, and he had 20 TDs with just eight INTs. Unfortunately for Peterman, his top two passing targets from a season ago are gone.
The offense may change a good bit because of it, too.
Pitt will likely much more heavily utilize its backfield this season, and junior James Conner will be the biggest beneficiary of that.
There is also a great deal of depth behind him, with sophomore Qudree Ollison having rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 TDs en route to being the ACC offensive rookie of the year.
Even with that standout freshman season, he may be No. 3 on the depth chart. Conner was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year. And 6’0” 240 pound fullback George Aston will see his fair share of touches too.
This is the year Pitt really puts it on the ground, which was something they did a good bit last year too while rushing for 148.5 yards a game (No. 40 in nation). Expect that figure to rise considerably, while the 214.7 yards of passing may fall off equally as precipitously.
The OL returns four starters and Adam Bisnowaty is one of the best LTs in the ACC. Pitt returns enough depth at all skill positions that this should be a good offensive season for the Panthers. If Conner can return to the form he had prior to his cancer, the Panthers could be the surprise winners of the Coastal Division. UNC is a better team, but stranger things have happened.
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The defense will benefit from a highly prized recruiting class that has some playmakers in it. Pat Narduzzi may bring the talent along slowly, but the added depth will be a huge plus from day one. There was intense competition for the ‘star’ linebacker position in spring with two safeties vying for the job. At MLB Matt Galambos will be entering his senior season and will start along with Mike Caprara and Oluwassun Idowu.
In the secondary, CB Avonte Maddox led the team with three INTs last season and 15 passes defended. SS sophomore Jordan Whitehead is one of the best defensive playmakers on the team and will start with Tarriah Webb playing FS.
The front should be strong with all-conference senior Ejuan Price leading a unit that includes fellow senior Tyrique Jarrett as a returning starter.
Chris Blewitt hit 8 of 10 from inside the 40 yard line last year, but he was good for only 6 of 12 beyond it. Ryan Winslow averaged 41.1 yards per punt.
Pitt opens the season Sept. 3 at home against Villanova and will host Penn State in Week 2. The Panthers face Oklahoma State in Week 3 before beginning conference play Sept. 24 at North Carolina.
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Pitt should be improved this season, but the Panthers do have an especially tough schedule with Penn State and Oklahoma in non-conference games and a game against Atlantic Division Clemson. The Panthers are just so stacked at RB and have depth across the board, which should bode well for them.
While there is no improvement in wins from last season, the team will be stronger against its stiffer schedule. The weakest spots are at LB and on the DL, but Narduzzi will probably find a way to make it into a near strength by season’s end.
Prediction: 8 wins
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