2019 College Football Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Big South Tournament

Pittsburgh Panthers

Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi

2018 Record: 7-7, 6-2 Conference

Bowl: 13-14 Loss to Stanford at Sun Bowl

O/U 6 wins (O -120; U -110)

Make 4 Team Playoff: +40000

The Pittsburgh Panthers had itself about as good a .500 season as could be managed in 2018. It won its first ACC Coastal Division crown, and it even cracked an AP Ranking during the season. That sets the bar higher for this year, ostensibly anyway. NCAA football oddsmakers at Bovada set the over/under at six wins, a notch lower than its successful campaign a year ago. A lot of that is probably because the Panthers have to replace two 1,000-yard rushers while also losing four offensive linemen and 12 starters overall. Quarterback Kenny Pickett will be back, though, and that is a start for this team as it integrates its new faces.


Pat Narduzzi fired offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and replaced him with UMass head coach Mark Whipple. Watson saw his team score just 26 points over the final three games of the season, which basically sealed his fate. Whipple is best known for once mentoring Ben Roethisberger while with the Steelers, and the hope is that he can work his magic with Pickett. In Pickett’s final three games last year, he threw for 274 yards and zero touchdowns. He still finished the year with 1,969 yards, 12 TDs, six INTs, and a 58.1 percentage completion ratio. But with the top two running backs departed, he must up that production a lot in 2019. Whipple is excited to have more chances to throw the ball, and senior Maurice Ffrench finished with 35 catches for 515 yards and six TDs last year. Taysir Mack enters his junior year and had 25 catches last year wit ha 22.3 yard-per-catch average.

The best backfield option this year will be junior AJ Davis, who rushed for 134 yards on 32 carries in 2018. Sophomore Todd Sibley Jr. also will be important to the running back group. Mychale Salahuddin heads the 2018 recruiting group, and he and V’Lique Carter should both get their touches as the season wears on. Carter had 202 yards last year, including a 137-yard, two-touchdown game against Duke. Narduzzi vows that the running group will do its job.

On the OL, Michigan graduate transfer Nolan Ulizio will start along with center Jimmy Morrissey. The rest of the unit, though, is very inexperienced and will have to take their lead.


The Panthers had mixed successes last year as a defensive unit. It held Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest to 48 points collectively late in the season, and over its final six games it held opponents to 323 total yards over that span. Damar Hamlin and Dane Jackson both made Honorable Mention All-ACC, and that pair will keep the secondary strong. Hamlin had 90 tackles and two interceptions last year. Jackson had 14 pass breakups and four forced fumbles. Junior CB Jason Pinnock had two interceptions last year, and along with sophomore safety Paris Ford, they will fill out the secondary with sufficient talent.

The linebacking group lost three players that combined for 171 tackles and 20.5 for loss. Elias Reynolds enters his junior season and started seven games last year in the middle, and he will be among the best of the new starters. He had 49 tackles last year, with a dozen of those coming against Duke. Phil Campbell III, Saleem Brightwell, Chase Pine, and Cam Bright will round out the group and share time at the remaining positions.

Rashad Weaver returns on the end, after recording 6.5 sacks last year. He also had 14 tackles for loss. Keyshawn Camp had 18 QB pressures last year and two sacks in seven games, but he must be healthier on the end opposite of Weaver.

Special Teams

The special teams return all key players. Alex Kessman has hit 24 career field goals and punter Kirk Christodoulou had 19 punts inside the 20-yard line. Ffrench had two kickoff returns for TD, and he will handle both punt and kick returns.

Final Word

The Panthers have not finished in the top-25 at the end of a season in 10 years, and it last recorded a 10-win season in 2009. Narduzzi is hoping to end those droughts. Pittsburgh is now made up entirely of his own recruits, and that should bode well long-term. Pitt will need to develop these talents a good bit, and Narduzzi is hoping to accelerate that to prevent regression from last season.

Prediction: 7 wins (over)

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