The Pittsburgh Panthers ended the 2017 season the right way, with a win against top conference opponent Miami. During this contest it seems that Pitt may have found their future at quarterback as well. Then freshman Kenny Pickett was thrown into the fire, and he came through. So much so that QBs Ben DiNucci and Connor MacVittie transferred out of town. For big time programs like Alabama and UGA, that may be common practice. However, for Pittsburgh this is quite a big deal. The Panthers will need a spark as they ranked 12th in the ACC in offense overall. Hopefully with an easier out of conference schedule, Pitt will be able to turn things around.
The success of the Pittsburgh offense rests solely on the shoulders of the big men up front. The offensive line looked average at best throughout the 2017 season. Graduate transfer Stefano Millin came from Kent State and he will look to contribute immediately. Stefano will be at the LT spot, and had great success there throughout his time at Kent State. Alex Bookser is at the other Tackle spot and was an All-ACC Honorable mention last season. However, with very little depth at the guard positions running the ball up the middle might not be so easy for the Panthers.
If OC Shawn Watson is able to find some stability among his offensive line, watch out for the Pitt RB stable. Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison are both extremely talented RBs and had spurts of greatness last season. Incoming freshman Mychale Salahuddin was a highly sought after recruit as well, giving them quite the depth at RB. Look for Salahuddin to get more snaps as the year goes on.
Pitt will have to replace speedster Jester Weah at the WR position, and Rafael Araujo-Lopes looks to be the man for that job. Rafael lead the team with 43 receptions on the year last season and consistent play at the QB position will benefit him greatly. Hopefully with Kenny Pickett at the helm, things will take a turn for the better.
Randy Bates is the new defensive coordinator in town and he inherits a defense that returns 7 starters. Even with all of these players returning, Bates will have his hands full revamping this defense around. Pitt was ranked 106th in the nation in pass defense and 97th in yards per game. They were also ranked 10th or worse in YPG and PPG in the ACC. With a young QB, this is not going to get the job done. With the defense line consisting of 3 seniors and 1 junior, Bates hopes that these experienced guys can step up. DE Dwayne Hendrix and DT Shane Roy were both starters on last year’s team. They are both hoping this defense can apply more pressure on the QB, as they only had 23 sacks on the year.
All three linebackers will be back, including leading tackler Oluwaseun Idowu. Idowu had 94 tackles in the 2017 season, 11.5 of which were TFLs. He also lead the team with 5 sacks on the year. With Elijah Zeise and Saleem Brightwell by his side, the ‘backers will be the strength of the Panther defense. The 3 of them combined for 216 tackles on the year.
The secondary looks to have the least returning starters, but fear not. RS freshman CB Paris Ford and junior S Damar Hamlin will both be stepping into starting rolls. The pair were both highly regarded recruits coming out of HS. Both decided to play for their hometown school of Pitt. If these 2 can live up to their expectations, this secondary could go from awful to more than serviceable.
After USC transfer Max Browne arrived last fall, expectations were at an all-time high for Head Coach Pat Narduzzi. Unfortunately things took a nose dive, and last season was one that Narduzzi hopes we all can forget. QB Kenny Pickett will look to lead this team, and he will only get better with time. Expect for him to make some mistakes as a youngster, but he proved he can get the job done with his win over top ranked Miami in last seasons finale. I don’t believe this is the year that Pitt makes a run for the ACC title, however we do have them projected as going bowling.