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The big 2014 Pitt football preview: Potential, power, and peril

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

The starting 22 for Paul Chryst's third Pitt team could be full of youth and upside. But just about every Pitt unit could get decimated by injuries or attrition. Regardless, the potential is high and will only get higher in 2015.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. A four-year job

In Johnny Majors' fourth year at the University of Pittsburgh, the Panthers went 12-0 and won the national title. In Jackie Sherrill's fourth year, they went 11-1 and finished second. In Walt Harris' fourth year of rebuilding after Majors' second, less successful tenure, Pitt won seven games for the first time in 11 years. In Dave Wannstedt's fourth year, Pitt improved from 5-7 to 9-4.

If you're going to succeed to any certain degree at Pitt, success is probably going to come by Year 4. That, of course, goes for most jobs -- if you're not headed toward big things, you might not even get a fourth year.

Year 4 currently stands as a benchmark for Pitt in a couple of different ways. First, the simple fact that Paul Chryst is within a year of Year 4 is a heartening sign of stability for a program that had none for a while. After Wannstedt was dumped in 2010, Pitt hired Mike Haywood to replace him. Then, when Haywood was arrested for alleged domestic violence (for which he was not convicted), Todd Graham took over, then left for Arizona State after 12 games. Paul Chryst took over a set of personnel that, including interims, had been led by five coaches in the last 15 games. Stability can be huge for a program, and no team had less of it than Pitt in 2010-11.

But that's officially in the past. And as the Panthers head toward Year 3 under Chryst, it's beginning to look like whatever ceiling this program has under Chryst, it will see it clearly in 2015.

That's not to say Pitt can't be pretty good in 2014. The Panthers have a couple of the most intriguing sophomore skill position players in the country (receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner), an offensive line that gets plumped up by some blue-chippers, a defensive line that still features some exciting pieces (despite the loss of Aaron Donald), and a nice set of play-making linebackers.

The Panthers will have an outside chance of being the best team in the ACC's Coastal division. But this team will still be a work in progress, and most of the reasons for optimism in 2014 will return in 2015.

Simply reaching Year 4 will be a happy sign of stability, progress, and potential for Paul Chryst at Pitt. But we should probably pay attention to the Panthers in Year 3, too, just in case.

2013 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 8-5 | Final F/+ Rk: 54
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L 5-gm Adj. Avg.
2-Sep Florida State 1 13-41 L 42.6 - 33.5 W
14-Sep New Mexico 110 49-27 W 45.7 - 13.8 W
21-Sep at Duke 41 58-55 W 41.1 - 40.9 W
28-Sep Virginia 79 14-3 W 4.7 - 10.2 L
12-Oct at Virginia Tech 27 9-19 L 22.4 - 23.1 L 7.0
19-Oct Old Dominion N/A 35-24 W 22.2 - 24.0 L 4.8
26-Oct at Navy 58 21-24 L 26.3 - 25.2 W -1.3
2-Nov at Georgia Tech 34 10-21 L 18.2 - 26.8 L -3.1
9-Nov Notre Dame 26 28-21 W 30.0 - 28.7 W -1.7
16-Nov North Carolina 38 27-34 L 24.0 - 22.3 W -1.2
23-Nov at Syracuse 75 17-16 W 19.2 - 21.5 L -1.3
29-Nov Miami 36 31-41 L 37.9 - 33.5 W -0.7
26-Dec vs. Bowling Green 47 30-27 W 46.9 - 14.1 W 7.6
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ +0.6% 58 +5.4% 37 -2.4% 103
Points Per Game 26.3 80 27.2 70
Adj. Points Per Game 29.3 57 24.4 33

2. Dramatic swings abound

Pittsburgh had pretty awful turnovers luck in 2013 (minus-3.2 points per game) but still went 4-2 in games decided by one possession. The Panthers spent two-thirds of the season looking like a genuine top-30 or so team but finished 54th in the F/+ rankings. They beat eventual division champion Duke on the road, took down Notre Dame at home, lost to Navy, and fell to both North Carolina and Miami at home. They allowed 24 or fewer points in three losses, allowed 27 or more in three wins, and won two games scoring 17 or fewer.

Pitt didn't make a lot of sense, in other words. But things become a little clearer if you think of the Panthers as three different teams in 2013.

  • Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Pitt 43.1, Opponent 29.4 (plus-13.7)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 21.9, Pitt 18.8 (minus-3.1)
  • Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): Pitt 31.6, Opponent 24.0 (plus-7.6)

The first version of Pitt had a surprisingly strong offense, thanks mostly to the out-of-nowhere emergence of freshman receiver Tyler Boyd. (Boyd was a very highly touted recruit, yes, so his making a contribution wasn't a surprise. His leading the team with 85 catches and 1,174 yards, on the other hand, was shocking. True freshmen don't do that.) The Panthers averaged a healthier-than-everybody-else 5.4 yards per play against Florida State, then put up 1,125 yards and 107 points against New Mexico and Duke. The defense was struggling, but with that offense Pitt could win any number of shootouts.

The second version of Pitt suddenly realized it couldn't really run the ball very well and started to see passing lanes getting clogged up by defenses that also realized Pitt couldn't really run the ball. The offense that averaged 5.4 per play against FSU averaged 5.2 against Navy, 3.9 against Georgia Tech, 3.8 against Virginia Tech and 3.0 against Virginia. The line was unsettled, the running back corps was unsettled, and the offense was simply poor. The defense, meanwhile, improved dramatically, and less than a month after winning a game 58-55, Pitt lost games by 19-9 and 21-10 margins.

The third version of Pitt was basically a combination of the other two, slightly above average on offense with an improving running game and slightly above average on defense with a wrecking-crew defensive line. Pitt averaged 7.2 yards per play against Miami and Bowling Green and finished on an offensive high note, while the defense did well down the stretch against everybody but Miami. (Well, and Notre Dame, which averaged 7.2 yards per play and managed to score only 21 points.)

Which one was the most accurate depiction of Pitt? All of them, really. Teams with young star power tend to be volatile, and teams with mistake-prone offensive lines and shaky running backs tend to have lower ceilings than others in their conference. Pitt finished 54th in the F/+ rankings but rarely played at that level -- it was either top 40 or bottom 60 for the Panthers most of the way.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.09 92 IsoPPP+ 101.7 51
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.7% 61 Succ. Rt. + 100.8 58
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 29.1 55 Def. FP+ 101.4 41
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 39 Redzone S&P+ 93.6 85
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 14.9 ACTUAL 17 +2.1
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 98 65 59 61
RUSHING 103 68 73 82
PASSING 61 61 42 44
Standard Downs 56 56 47
Passing Downs 71 58 74
Q1 Rk 64 1st Down Rk 48
Q2 Rk 51 2nd Down Rk 66
Q3 Rk 36 3rd Down Rk 47
Q4 Rk 60

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Tom Savage 238 389 2958 21 9 61.2% 43 10.0% 6.0
Chad Voytik 6'1, 210 So. 4 stars (5.9) 6 11 116 0 0 54.5% 0 0.0% 10.5
Trey Anderson 6'0, 195 Sr. 2 stars (5.1)







Adam Bertke 6'6, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)







3. Don't get hurt, Chad

Considering he hadn't taken meaningful college snaps since 2010, Tom Savage acquitted himself pretty well. And it's a good thing he did, because there was basically one other option: redshirt freshman Chad Voytik. Savage (forgive me) savaged UNM and Duke at the beginning of the season (combined: 36-for-50 for 660 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions), then followed up with two stinkers (combined against Virginia and Virginia Tech: 26-for-59 for 378 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions). He steadied out after those first five games -- rarely great, rarely awful -- and that was fine. He also got hurt and gave way to Voytik in the Little Caesar's Bowl against BGSU, which introduced a nice segueway to 2014, especially considering Voytik looked good: 5-for-9, 108 yards.

Voytik's got a nice pedigree. He was a four-star recruit -- the No. 109 prospect in the 2012 class according to Rivals -- and chose Pitt over offers from Clemson, Louisville, Mississippi State, Penn State, and other majors. There's plenty of reason to think he could replicate Savage's numbers this coming year, and for all we know he might exceed them.

And if he gets hurt, all bets are off. The only options on the roster are career reserve Trey Anderson and incoming freshman Adam Bertke. Granted, this receiving corps might even be able to make me look competent at times, but if Pitt has any grand plans for a division title run, Voytik will probably need to stay healthy and upright all year.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Isaac Bennett RB 5'11, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 171 798 7 4.7 3.4 44.4%
James Conner RB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.7) 146 799 8 5.5 5.2 41.1%
Tom Savage QB 33 160 3 4.8 1.7 54.5%
Rachid Ibrahim RB 6'1, 185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 27 136 0 5.0 6.2 33.3%
Tyler Boyd WR 6'2, 185 So. 4 stars (5.9) 11 108 1 9.8 8.8 63.6%
Jaymar Parrish FB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 4 10 0 2.5 0.5 25.0%
Chris James RB 5'11, 210 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)





Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Tyler Boyd WR 6'2, 185 So. 4 stars (5.9) 119 85 1174 71.4% 31.4% 60.9% 9.9 196 10.0 160.5
Devin Street WR 89 51 854 57.3% 23.5% 44.6% 9.6 198 8.8 116.7
Manasseh Garner TE 6'2, 230 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 52 33 391 63.5% 13.7% 46.3% 7.5 -12 6.1 53.4
J.P. Holtz TE 6'4, 245 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 36 23 209 63.9% 9.5% 63.3% 5.8 -71 6.7 28.6
Kevin Weatherspoon WR 5'10, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 21 14 155 66.7% 5.5% 23.8% 7.4 -12 7.5 21.2
Isaac Bennett RB 5'11, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 16 10 58 62.5% 4.2% 50.0% 3.6 -65 4.3 7.9
Jaymar Parrish FB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 10 7 40 70.0% 2.6% 80.0% 4.0 -41 3.5 5.5
Rachid Ibrahim RB 6'1, 185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 9 9 88 100.0% 2.4% 37.5% 9.8 -1 9.2 12.0
Chris Wuestner WR 6'2, 205 So. NR 8 1 13 12.5% 2.1% 100.0% 1.6 -24 3.6 1.8
Scott Orndoff TE 6'5, 255 So. 3 stars (5.7) 8 6 50 75.0% 2.1% 71.4% 6.3 -17 7.4 6.8
Ed Tinker WR 6 1 9 16.7% 1.6% 100.0% 1.5 -21 1.3 1.2
James Conner RB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.7) 4 3 33 75.0% 1.1% 100.0% 8.3 -1 4.6 4.5
Ronald Jones WR 5'8, 170 Sr. 2 stars (5.4)
Dontez Ford WR 6'2, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3)
Zach Challingsworth WR 6'2, 185 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tony Harper FB 6'4, 200 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Adonis Jennings WR 6'3, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Elijah Zeise WR 6'2, 195 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)

4. What a sophomore class

First things first: for those watching Pitt for the first time in the Little Caesar's Bowl, James Conner wasn't always THAT. He wasn't always a 26-carry, 229-yard back capable of stiff-arming some defenders and juking others. In Pitt's previous nine games, he had averaged better than 4.0 yards per carry just once (19 for 102 against UNC, 39 for 115 against the other eight teams). Still, his season full-work was strong for a true freshman, and Tyler Boyd's was beyond strong. Throw in running back Rachid Ibrahim, and you've got a trio of sophomores who could lead this offense in 2014 and beyond.

Injuries struck both Conner and senior Isaac Bennett this spring, and receiver Ronald Jones had to move into the backfield briefly just to give the team enough backs. But it appears neither injury was serious, and both players will be ready for the fall.

Conner's spring injury initially looked pretty serious, which clearly illustrated Pitt's biggest problem on offense. Other than the tight end position, which boasts Manasseh Garner (who could very well end up at wideout, too), J.P. Holtz, and rising sophomore Scott Orndoff (another sophomore!), the biggest issue is simply one of numbers. If the top layer of talent gets injured, there are almost no proven entities below -- not for quarterback, running back, or receiver, and really not for the line either. Good health means good offense. Mediocre health could mean bad offense. Freshmen like four-star running back Chris James could be ready for early stardom, but you never want to count on that. You don't tend to get a Tyler Boyd in every class.

(Meanwhile, there has long been talk of moving Conner to defense, perhaps defensive end. That could be a position of need, but removing him from the running back position will only make sense if James is a ready-made star.)

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 96.6 3.01 3.03 43.5% 71.4% 18.8% 62.0 10.5% 10.0%
Rank 83 55 84 20 45 59 119 121 104
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Matt Rotheram RG 6'6, 340 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 26
Cory King LG 23
Artie Rowell C 6'2, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13
T.J. Clemmings RT 6'6, 305 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 13
Juantez Hollins LT 10
Ryan Schlieper LG 8
Adam Bisnowaty LT 6'6, 300 So. 4 stars (5.8) 8
Dorian Johnson LG 6'5, 290 So. 5 stars (6.1) 2
Shane Johnson C 6'5, 330 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0
Gabe Roberts LG 6'5, 305 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
John Guy RT 6'7, 285 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0
Jaryd Jones-Smith LT 6'7, 295 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Aaron Reese RT 6'5, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)
Carson Baker RG 6'5, 280 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4)
Mike Grimm OL 6'6, 325 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)
Alex Bookser OL 6'6, 295 Fr. 4 stars (5.8)

5. The line has to (and should) improve

Chryst's days as Wisconsin's offensive coordinator made a lasting impression on me, evidently. I just can't fathom Chryst leading an offense with a bad line.

Those days made a lasting impression on recruits, too -- there are four former four- or five-star recruits among the freshman or sophomore class up front; the line is easily Pitt's most blue-chip unit from a recruiting standpoint. But the performance wasn't there last season. Tackle Adam Bisnowaty got hurt, five-star freshman Dorian Johnson wasn't quite ready for a full load, and Pitt's line stats (83rd in Adj. Line Yards, 119th in Adj. Sack Rate) were rather abysmal.

Three players with a combined 41 career starts have departed, which is never clear sign for improvement. Still, five more players with starting experience (62 starts) return. Bisnowaty was held out for spring but is expected to be fine this fall, and Johnson should be just about up to speed. Plus, Bisnowaty's absence allowed for the emergence of another youngster, Jaryd Jones-Smith. The ceiling for this unit is high, but as we learned last fall, the floor is equally low. Improvement here, combined with good health for Conner, could mean a punishing, exhausting running game (and play-action potential for receivers who could be great in play-action).

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.20 89 IsoPPP+ 98.9 64
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.6% 36 Succ. Rt. + 116.2 13
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 30.4 66 Off. FP+ 103.5 23
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.2 72 Redzone S&P+ 121.6 10
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.2 ACTUAL 16.0 -6.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 33 20 13 20
RUSHING 44 15 17 12
PASSING 44 30 26 65
Standard Downs 19 16 44
Passing Downs 29 20 91
Q1 Rk 21 1st Down Rk 22
Q2 Rk 35 2nd Down Rk 17
Q3 Rk 18 3rd Down Rk 46
Q4 Rk 32

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 120.2 2.92 2.28 38.1% 77.4% 22.2% 113 3.4% 9.6%
Rank 10 60 4 48 107 25 35 96 17
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Aaron Donald DT 13 51.0 7.5% 28.5 11.0 0 3 4 0
Tyrone Ezell NT 13 26.0 3.8% 3.0 2.0 0 2 0 0
Darryl Render DT 6'2, 285 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 18.0 2.6% 2.5 0.5 0 3 0 0
Ejuan Price DE 6'0, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 6 17.5 2.6% 4.0 1.0 0 1 0 0
David Durham DE 6'1, 255 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 13 16.5 2.4% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shakir Soto DE 6'3, 255 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 16.5 2.4% 4.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Bryan Murphy DE


10 12.5 1.8% 6.5 4.0 0 0 0 0
Khaynin Mosley-Smith
(2012)
NT 6'0, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 13 6.5 0.9% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devin Cook DE 6'4, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 3 2.0 0.3% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
LaQuentin Smith NT 6'2, 275 Sr. 3 stars (5.5)
Tyrique Jarrett NT 6'3, 340 So. 3 stars (5.5)
Luke Maclean DE 6'5, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7)
Justin Moody DT 6'3, 265 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Mike Herndon DT 6'4, 320 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)
Connor Dintino DT 6'3, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)







6. Good news and bad news

The good news: Pitt returns four of its top six regulars from a line that helped Pitt rank 10th in Adj. Line Yards and 35th in Adj. Sack Rate. This includes a sophomore end (Shakir Soto) who showed solid potential last year and a nimble, interesting defensive tackle (Darryl Render). Plus, the tackle position gets supplemented by the return of Khaynin Mosley-Smith from a yearlong suspension and the potential introduction of enormous Tyrique Jarrett (sophomore) and Mike Herndon (freshman) into the rotation.

The bad news: The top four returnees combined for 11.0 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last fall. Aaron Donald had 28.5 and 11.0, respectively, by himself. He had 44 percent of Pitt's sacks, 34 percent of Pitt's QB hurries, and 40 percent of Pitt's forced fumbles. Plus, he probably helped with those aforementioned 17.5 TFLs from everybody else -- when you've got to triple-team one lineman, that tends to open up opportunities for others. (Case in point: the entire Little Caesar's Bowl, in which Pitt had 12 TFLs, a lot of which came from the attention paid to Donald.) Plus, nose tackle Tyrone Ezell, great in the bowl game, is also gone.

This line goes from one of the most proven in the country to one with a lot of potential. That's a downgrade.

7. Pitt could be pushed around even with Donald

Donald, Ezell, and a solid set of linebackers helped to prevent offenses from many big plays on the ground, but if you stayed on schedule, you could push the Panthers around in short-yardage situations. Pitt ranked 25th in Stuff Rate (run stops behind the line) but just 107th in Power Success Rate. Their quickness made up for a lack of overall size most of the time, but not always. (On the list of problems to have, this is a tolerable one. But it's still an issue.)

With the size of the replacements in the middle, it's possible that this becomes a better line in terms of standing up to blocks and a much worse line in terms of carving into the backfield.

With help, the linebackers should be just fine, though. Anthony Gonzalez is strong in coverage, and Todd Thomas and Nicholas Grigsby turned into a lovely pair of weakside linebackers against run (Thomas had six non-sack tackles for loss) and pass (Grigsby had three sacks).

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Anthony Gonzalez SAM 6'3, 225 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 66.5 9.8% 3.5 0.0 1 5 0 0
Todd Thomas WILL 6'2, 230 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 13 60.0 8.8% 6.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Shane Gordon MLB 11 45.5 6.7% 3.5 0.0 1 1 0 0
Matt Galambos MLB 6'2, 215 So. 3 stars (5.6) 13 28.5 4.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Nicholas Grigsby WILL 6'1, 220 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 12 20.5 3.0% 4.0 3.0 0 0 0 0
Bam Bradley SAM 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.6) 11 7.0 1.0% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Mike Caprara MLB 6'0, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Jamal Davis II LB 6'2, 200 Fr. 3 stars (5.6)







Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jason Hendricks SS 13 70.0 10.3% 4 0 1 6 1 0
Ray Vinopal FS 5'10, 200 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 13 68.5 10.1% 3 1.5 3 6 2 0
Lafayette Pitts CB 5'11, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 13 38.5 5.7% 3 0 0 4 0 0
K'Waun Williams CB 13 33.0 4.8% 4 0 2 7 0 0
Titus Howard CB 6'1, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 11 17.5 2.6% 0.5 0 0 2 0 0
Terrish Webb SS 5'11, 170 So. 2 stars (5.3) 13 16.0 2.3% 0 0 0 1 0 1
Trenton Coles CB 6'3, 175 So. 3 stars (5.5) 11 8.5 1.2% 0 0 0 0 1 0
Ryan Lewis FS 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.5) 13 7.0 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0
Reggie Mitchell SS 6'0, 185 So. 2 stars (5.4)
Jalen Williams DB 6'2, 180 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)
Phillipie Motley DB 5'10, 170 Fr. 3 stars (5.5)







8. Thin in the back

There are basically three proven linebackers, one to two proven tackles, and maybe three proven defensive ends (if we stretch the definition of "proven" pretty far). But in terms of pure depth issues, the cornerback position wins the prize at the moment. Pitt had basically three scholarship corners this spring. Lafayette Pitts is an absolute keeper, and the other two -- Titus Howard and Trenton Coles -- held their own at times during their respective freshman seasons. But the secondary as a whole allowed too many big pass plays (11 of 40+ yards, 83rd in the country). Press coverage should be a strength, but pressing isn't quite as effective if you get beaten deep too much.

With Pitts and Ray Vinopal both returning and Howard potentially making a sophomore leap this spring, the starting four in the secondary could be strong. But after those four, it's a complete mystery. That's not incredibly encouraging considering the likely regression up front.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Matt Yoklic 70 43.0 9 20 19 55.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Chris Blewitt 5'9, 170 So. 67 60.0 12 1 17.9%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Chris Blewitt 5'9, 170 So. 40-41 9-12 75.0% 5-6 83.3%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tyler Boyd KR 6'2, 185 So. 19 22.4 0
Lafayette Pitts KR 5'11, 195 Jr. 19 23.1 0
Kevin Weatherspoon PR 5'10, 175 Sr. 12 8.2 0
Tyler Boyd PR 6'2, 185 So. 3 23.0 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 103
Field Goal Efficiency 59
Punt Return Efficiency 116
Kick Return Efficiency 88
Punt Efficiency 117
Kickoff Efficiency 11
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 89

9. A confusing special teams units

A couple of big returns gave Pitt strong (and skewed) punt return averages with pretty awful efficiency. Some bombs by punter Matt Yoklic gave Pitt strong (and skewed) punt averages with pretty awful efficiency. Chris Blewitt almost never kicked touchbacks, but Pitt covered well and produced strong efficiency numbers despite shaky averages. This was a nothing-as-it-seems unit. And with everybody back, it could be that way again. Boyd certainly has potential as a return man, and Blewitt making five of six field goals longer than 40 yards hints at strong potential as well. But Pitt was terribly inconsistent.

2014 Schedule & Projection Factors

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Delaware NR
5-Sep at Boston College 69
13-Sep at Florida International 122
20-Sep Iowa 34
27-Sep Akron 111
4-Oct at Virginia 62
16-Oct Virginia Tech 19
25-Oct Georgia Tech 44
1-Nov Duke 56
15-Nov at North Carolina 35
22-Nov Syracuse 67
29-Nov at Miami 30
Five-Year F/+ Rk 10.2% (32)
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 40
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -1 / 7.2
TO Luck/Game -3.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 13 (7, 6)

10. A top-40 team goes 9-3

Name Pitt's top 10 players. You're definitely including Tyler Boyd (sophomore). You're probably including James Conner (sophomore), Shakir Soto (sophomore), and Lafayette Pitts (junior). There are some key seniors, sure -- Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez, Ray Vinopal, guard Matt Rotherham. But if some high-ceiling youngsters blossom, you could also add players like Chad Voytik (sophomore), Adam Bisnowaty (sophomore), Dorian Johnson (sophomore), Rachid Ibrahim (sophomore), Ejuan Price (junior), Matt Galambos (sophomore), or Titus Howard (sophomore) to this top 10 list.

You get what I'm after here. Most of Pitt's best players are still super-young, which will likely makes for another rather volatile, up-and-down season. But wow, could the ceiling be high when Chryst enters Year 4 in 2015. He's put together a high-caliber roster, and despite going young last year, he produced a 7-6 record with some late blossoming.

I like where Pitt is headed, but we probably shouldn't spend too much time focusing on 2015. If Pitt can improve to just a top-40 level in 2014, the Panthers could win a lot of games. They miss Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville from the opposite division, and they get Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Duke at home. One has to figure that trips to UNC and Miami (not to mention BC early on) will preclude a serious division title run, but those trips don't come until late in the year. If the Panthers are indeed at a top-40 level, they could legitimately be about 7-2 or 8-1 when they head to Chapel Hill on November 15.

Of course, there's nothing saying the pieces will come together consistently enough to produce that top 40 rating. But it's on the table, so I'll shut up about 2015 until a future date.

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