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1. Wanted: an exorcist
Ignore the name on the helmet for a moment.
When a team brings a new coach aboard, it's a good time to look at the roster instead of the previous season's results. Sure, Pitt's results last year weren't horrendous -- the Panthers improved slightly for the third straight year under Paul Chryst, beat BC, Virginia Tech, and Miami, and were held back by a 1-5 record in one-possession games -- but the season-ending 6-7 belies what Chryst was returning in 2015.
So here are some components:
- A former four-star quarterback who completed 61 percent of his passes with a 16-to-7 TD-to-INT ratio last year as a sophomore.
- Perhaps the country's most efficient big running back.
- One of the nation's best wide receivers, targeted more frequently than Amari Cooper but still averaging more than 10 yards per target.
- An offensive line that returns six players with starting experience (62 career starts), including a former five-star coming into his own.
- One of the country's most underrated offensive coordinators, someone who crafted a top-10 (according to Off. S&P+) offense around two receivers at Tennessee in 2012, then a run-heavy top-15 offense at Arkansas two years later.
- A front seven that returns six players who had at least four tackles for loss.
- A secondary that returns six of its top seven, including a ball-hawking safety and an aggressive senior cornerback.
- One of the country's best defensive minds at head coach, along with a defensive coordinator that improved FIU's defense by 46 spots in Def. S&P+ last fall.
Ignore the name on the helmet, and you could talk yourself into that team, yes? But that helmet's hard to ignore.
A close-game record evens out over time; at least, it's supposed to. One lucky or unlucky year hints at an optical illusion, a team that isn't what it seems. The real team is exposed soon enough. But while I gave up on talking about curses long ago -- which, as a Missouri fan, is a big deal -- Pitt's got a case.
Call it the Curse of Johnny Majors. In the last 18 seasons, since Majors retired and Walt Harris took over, Pitt has had a winning record in one-possession games just five times and has been at least two games under .500 in such games nine times. In this nearly two-decade sample, the Panthers are 35-53 in these contests, a 0.397 win percentage.
In three years under Chryst, Pitt ranked in the F/+ top 50 three times and boasted a strong offense (24th in 2014) and defenses (26th in 2012, 32nd in 2013). But they went 5-10 in one-score games and managed an 18-20 record overall.
Last year was a master class. Against Iowa, Pitt led by 10 points at halftime, outgained the Hawkeyes by 124 yards, and lost. Against Duke, the Panthers allowed a fourth-quarter kick return score, missed a 26-yard field goal at the end of regulation, and lost in double-overtime. Against UNC, Pitt led by 14 in the second quarter, outgained the Tar Heels, and took the lead with three minutes left, then gave up the game-winner in the final minute. In the Armed Forces Bowl, after Chryst had already left for Wisconsin, Pitt led by 25 points with 11 minutes left, but Houston recovered back-to-back onside kicks, scored three times in three minutes, and won.
The Panthers have managed to attend 13 bowls and share two conference titles in these 18 years. If these demons that have taken over Heinz Field ever relinquish their powers, Pitt could easily become an annual ACC Coastal contender.
And if you're looking to slay demons, it makes sense to hire the guy who helped to slay Michigan State's.
Sixteen years ago, Nick Saban left East Lansing for Baton Rouge, starting a seven-year period of frustration and the "Sparty, No!" meme. Under Bobby Williams and John L. Smith, the Spartans put a lot of individual talent on the field, dropped hints of excellent play, and went 38-45. From 2002-06, they went 4-14 in games decided by one possession. Nobody snatched disappointment from the jaws of hope as frequently as early-aughts Sparty.
Dantonio's Spartans have gone through ups and downs based on which way the close-game winds have blown; they went 6-12 in one-possession games from 2007-09, then went 8-1 in 2010-11 before settling into a nice 7-6 groove since.
But after going 22-17 in his first three years, Dantonio's gone 53-14 since, and that's including a 7-6 campaign in 2012.
It took Narduzzi and his boss Dantonio a while to get rolling, but "Sparty, No!" has been slain. Can Narduzzi do it again?
2014 Schedule & Results
|Record: 6-7 | Adj. Record: 9-4 | Final F/+ Rk: 43|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Percentile
|5-Sep||at Boston College||36||30-20||W||82%||21.6||92%|
|13-Sep||at Florida International||96||42-25||W||74%||14.7||96%|
|15-Nov||at North Carolina||70||35-40||L||49%||-0.5||67%|
|Points Per Game||31.8||46||26.3||60|
2. One heck of a midseason funk
Pitt was drastically unlucky, but the Panthers were also below-average for a good percentage of the year. We can talk about curses all we want, but curses had nothing to do with Pitt forgetting losing by 11 points at home to Akron.
- Average Percentile Performance (first 3 games): 85% (record: 3-0)
- Average Percentile Performance (next 7 games): 45% (record: 1-6)
- Average Percentile Performance (last 2 games): 91% (record: 2-0)
Ignoring the bowl game, Pitt's first three and final two games showed a team capable of powerful offense and stout run defense. The Panthers held BC, Syracuse, and Miami to an average of 4.1 yards per carry, pounded early with Conner (first three games: 81 carries, 544 yards), and threw over opponents late. The Pitt in this sample was balanced and dangerous.
The Pitt of the middle seven games was dreadful on defense and inconsistent throwing; Georgia Tech, Duke, and UNC combined to average 49 points per game and 7.3 yards per play. Akron and Virginia were able to corral Conner, quarterback Chad Voytik wasn't ready, and the defense suffered enough breakdowns for close losses. And a strong performance against Virginia Tech was followed by three consecutive duds.
There was no single injury that could explain Pitt's inconsistency, but youth played a role. Pitt started sophomores at quarterback, running back, and receiver and started three freshmen/sophomores on the offensive line. And while the front seven was pretty experienced, the secondary was littered with freshmen and sophomores.
That there was no single cause might be a good thing, with new coaching blood taking over. But while it's easy to see a high ceiling, mid-2014 serves as a reminder of a low floor, too.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||51.7%||2||Succ. Rt. +||131.8||4|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||26.4||4||Def. FP+||107.0||10|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||42||Redzone S&P+||134.7||2|
|Q1 Rk||31||1st Down Rk||14|
|Q2 Rk||11||2nd Down Rk||35|
|Q3 Rk||12||3rd Down Rk||12|
3. Jim Chaney and adaptability
Chaney is one of my favorite coordinators. He was Joe Tiller's coordinator during Purdue's renaissance (1997-05), and he spent three years as an NFL assistant (2006-08). He helped to blur the lines between pro-style and spread in four years as Tennessee's O.C., and he has solid results; he improved the Vols from 108th in Off. S&P+ to 27th in 2009, and with an experienced line and two solid receivers, his last Tennessee defense ranked 10th.
Bret Bielema hired him at Arkansas, and after some first-year struggles, he was pulling the strings for a devastating Hog offense that ranked 15th in Off. S&P+.
Chaney does what his personnel dictates. He has succeeded with average quarterbacks (he had a top-30 offense with Jonathan Crompton and a top-15 offense with Brandon Allen), he runs the ball when he's got good backs, and he gets receivers open, even in power sets.
And while receiver depth is a serious concern for Pitt, Chaney inherits stars at running back and receiver, a quarterback with a high ceiling, and a strong, experienced offensive line. Pitt improved to 24th in Off. S&P+ last year, and I would be surprised if the Panthers weren't in the top 25 again this year.
Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Chad Voytik||6'1, 205||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9177||176||287||2233||16||7||61.3%||20||6.5%||6.8|
|Adam Bertke||6'6, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8514|
|Jaquaun Davidson||6'2, 170||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8451|
|James Conner||RB||6'2, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8370||298||1765||26||5.9||4.9||46.0%||4||3|
|Chad Voytik||QB||6'1, 205||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9177||88||610||3||6.9||5.9||53.4%||7||4|
|Chris James||RB||5'11, 210||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8884||87||437||4||5.0||3.0||43.7%||1||0|
|Rachid Ibrahim||RB||6'1, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8001||33||263||0||8.0||5.9||60.6%||0||0|
|Tyler Boyd||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9392||12||63||0||5.3||3.4||58.3%||3||1|
|Jaymar Parrish||TE||6'2, 270||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8245|
|Qadree Ollison||RB||6'2, 215||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8498|
|Darrin Hall||RB||5'11, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8974|
4. Absurd rush efficiency
Before I gush too much, I should point out that the right side of the offensive line is getting overhauled. The Panthers must replace two all-conference linemen -- three-year starting guard Matt Rotheram and two-year starting tackle T.J. Clemmings -- and there's no guarantee that they can match last year, in which Conner rushed for at least 120 yards seven times and Pitt ranked third in Success Rate+.
But it's hard to worry, isn't it? Conner wore down at the end of the year (last three games: 48 carries, 203 yards), but he's had an offseason to recover, and he's got three exciting battery mates in efficient sophomore Chris James, explosive junior Rachid Ibrahim, and four-star freshman Darrin Hall.
And while Chaney offenses don't tend to feature mobile quarterbacks, Voytik rushed about seven times per game last year (not including sacks) and gained nearly seven yards per carry. He picks his moments well.
And while Pitt's line will be less experienced, the upside is obvious. Former five-star guard Dorian Johnson is coming into his own and lines up next to a former four-star in Adam Bisnowaty. There are a couple of other former four-stars in the mix, and sophomores like Alex Officer and Jaryd Jones-Smith got quite a bit of playing time. The line won't be as big as the one Chaney had at Arkansas, but it should be big enough: the 14 linemen listed below average 6'5, 313. And they're blocking for a 250-pounder. They'll lean on you just fine.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Targets||Catches||Yards||Catch Rate||Target
|Tyler Boyd||WR||6'2, 190||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9392||122||78||1261||63.9%||41.5%||52.5%||10.3||317||10.4||197.1|
|J.P. Holtz||TE||6'4, 245||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8848||26||21||199||80.8%||8.8%||69.2%||7.7||-45||7.4||31.1|
|Rachid Ibrahim||RB||6'1, 185||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8001||14||11||73||78.6%||4.8%||42.9%||5.2||-55||4.9||11.4|
|Dontez Ford||WR||6'2, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8007||8||3||50||37.5%||2.7%||25.0%||6.3||9||9.2||7.8|
|James Conner||RB||6'2, 250||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8370||7||5||70||71.4%||2.4%||100.0%||10.0||11||N/A||10.9|
|Scott Orndoff||HB||6'5, 260||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8584||7||4||24||57.1%||2.4%||85.7%||3.4||-25||4.3||3.8|
|Jester Weah||WR||6'3, 205||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8191||3||0||0||0.0%||1.0%||66.7%||0.0||-4||0.0||0.0|
|Chris Wuestner||WR||6'2, 205||Jr.||NR||NR||1||1||8||100.0%||0.3%||100.0%||8.0||-3||N/A||1.2|
|Zach Challingsworth||WR||6'2, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8185|
|Tony Harper||TE||6'4, 220||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8173|
|Devon Edwards||TE||6'4, 260||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8113|
|Elijah Zeise||WR||6'2, 195||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8437|
|Quadree Henderson||WR||5'8, 170||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8590|
5. Wanted: a No. 2
Chaney still has a puzzle to solve in the passing game, but there's reason for optimism. For starters, Voytik improved drastically.
- Chad Voytik (first 7 games): 59% completion rate, 11.1 yards/completion, 3.8% INT rate
- Chad Voytik (last 6 games): 65% completion rate, 14.5 yards/completion, 0.8% INT rate
After some early-season miscues, Voytik and star receiver Tyler Boyd clicked; Boyd averaged seven catches and 125 yards per game during Voytik's six-game surge. Assuming Boyd faces no lengthy punishment for his recent DUI charge, Voytik-to-Boyd will be one of the ACC's best connections.
After that, though? Who knows? Tight end J.P. Holtz is a decent option, but the next four after Boyd are gone. The No. 2 returning WR is Dontez Ford, who caught three passes.
And while Chryst recruited well at a lot of positions, the ratings here are less than amazing. Jester Weah and Zach Challingsworth, low-three-star sophomores with zero combined catches, filled in the second-string on the two-deep this spring. Chaney, who is not averse to dumping the ball to running backs, will have to get creative in finding weapons for Voytik.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||Career Starts||Honors/Notes|
|Matt Rotheram||RG||39||2014 2nd All-ACC|
|T.J. Clemmings||RT||26||2014 1st All-ACC|
|Adam Bisnowaty||LT||6'6, 305||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8954||19|
|Dorian Johnson||LG||6'5, 300||Jr.||5 stars (6.1)||0.9772||15|
|Artie Rowell||C||6'2, 315||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8073||15|
|Alex Officer||C||6'4, 335||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8404||10|
|Jaryd Jones-Smith||RT||6'7, 335||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8277||2|
|Gabe Roberts||C||6'5, 305||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7793||1|
|John Guy||LT||6'7, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||NR||0|
|Alex Bookser||RG||6'6, 295||So.||4 stars (5.8)||0.9223||0|
|Aaron Reese||RT||6'5, 310||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8239||0|
|Carson Baker||LG||6'5, 330||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7854||0|
|Mike Grimm||OL||6'6, 325||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8721|
|Mike Herndon||RG||6'4, 320||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.7907|
|Alex Paulina||OL||6'3, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8600|
|Tony Pilato||OL||6'5, 315||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8457|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||41.3%||67||Succ. Rt. +||98.1||76|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||32.5||23||Off. FP+||104.0||25|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||5.0||120||Redzone S&P+||92.2||95|
|Q1 Rk||69||1st Down Rk||71|
|Q2 Rk||73||2nd Down Rk||117|
|Q3 Rk||76||3rd Down Rk||46|
6. Risk vs. reward
How Narduzzi's defense works
How Narduzzi's defense works
Narduzzi's Michigan State defenses were fascinating; the Spartans were willing to sacrifice the occasional big play for turnovers and three-and-outs. They attacked what offenses did best and dared college quarterbacks to make throws college quarterbacks can't usually make. The strategy was analytical, and the personnel was mean.
Pitt's defense could use plenty of analytical meanness. The Panthers were passive on standard downs (but still figured out ways to allow big plays) and pushovers near the goal line. Late-game fades suggested they didn't have much depth.
A defensive drop-off was to be expected; the Panthers had to replace not only all-world tackle Aaron Donald, but nose tackle Tyrone Ezell and injured end Ejuan Price. They fell from 10th to 52nd in Adj. Line Yards, from 35th to 103rd in Adj. Sack Rate, and from 32nd to 65th in overall Def. S&P+.
Still, whether it's understandable, a stout front is essential for what Narduzzi wants to accomplish. Can a more experienced unit improve enough to balance risk and reward?
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Darryl Render||DT||6'2, 275||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8468||12||25.0||4.0%||6.0||2.0||0||4||1||0|
|Shakir Soto||DE||6'3, 270||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8473||13||23.0||3.7%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Khaynin Mosley-Smith||NT||6'0, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8482||13||22.5||3.6%||2.0||0.0||0||3||0||0|
|Ejuan Price (2013)||DE||6'0, 255||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.9000||6||17.5||2.6%||4.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Rori Blair||DE||6'4, 230||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8200||12||12.5||2.0%||5.5||5.0||0||2||0||0|
|Justin Moody||DT||6'3, 280||So.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8528||13||7.5||1.2%||1.0||1.0||0||2||0||0|
|Tyrique Jarrett||NT||6'3, 335||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8617||8||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jeremiah Taleni||DT||6'2, 295||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8120||6||2.0||0.3%||1.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Reggie Green||DE||6'2, 225||So.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8380|
|Connor Dintino||DT||6'3, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8356|
|Shane Roy||DE||6'4, 245||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8407|
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Matt Galambos||WILL||6'2, 245||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8315||13||57.5||9.3%||4.5||0.0||1||1||0||0|
|Bam Bradley||SAM||6'2, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8728||13||29.5||4.8%||4.0||2.0||1||1||0||0|
|Nicholas Grigsby||MLB||6'1, 220||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8671||13||24.5||4.0%||4.0||3.0||0||0||2||0|
|Mike Caprara||SLB||6'0, 225||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7000||3||4.5||0.7%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Quintin Wirginis||WILL||6'2, 220||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8005||12||4.0||0.6%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jameel Poteat||MLB||5'10, 210||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0.8976|
|Jamal Davis II||LB||6'2, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8432|
|Anthony McKee||LB||6'2, 200||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8863|
|Saleem Brightwell||LB||6'0, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)||0.8550|
7. Whole vs. sum of parts
Looking at individual pieces, you can craft a pretty good front seven. Darryl Render is a quick, if movable, defensive tackle who combined six TFLs with four break-ups. Equally movable end Rori Blair showed potential as a pass-rush specialist -- five of his 12.5 tackles were sacks. Khaynin Mosley-Smith is a bowling ball who gets his hands up on passes. Former four-star linebacker Nicholas Grigsby has had blitzing success, and Matt Galambos was pretty disruptive against the run.
But only Mosley-Smith and Galambos are particularly big for their positions. And even with this group, plus since-departed linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, Pitt's defense was below average. And again, while there are former star recruits elsewhere, there's really no such thing on the line.
This might be the perfect time for a new coaching staff. This wasn't an awful defense, but it wasn't good enough. And the staff has a record of fast improvement; in his first year as Michigan State's coordinator, Narduzzi's defense improved from 86th in Def. S&P+ to 50th. And after a single-year reset in 2013, in which his defense fell from 78th to 107th, new D.C. Josh Conklin's FIU defense improved all the way to 61st, four spots ahead of Pitt.
|Rivals||247 Comp.||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Reggie Mitchell||SS||6'0, 185||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.8144||13||53.0||8.5%||3||1||0||7||2||0|
|Lafayette Pitts||CB||5'11, 195||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.9289||13||35.5||5.7%||1||0||2||6||0||0|
|Avonte Maddox||CB||5'9, 165||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8377||13||29.0||4.7%||0||0||0||3||0||0|
|Terrish Webb||SS||5'11, 180||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8061||9||28.5||4.6%||1||0||2||1||0||0|
|Pat Amara||FS||6'2, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8269||10||14.0||2.3%||1||0||1||1||0||0|
|Ryan Lewis||CB||6'0, 195||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8022||12||8.5||1.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jevonte Pitts||SS||5'11, 205||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.7000|
|Jalen Williams||DB||6'2, 180||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8351|
|Phillipie Motley||DB||5'10, 170||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8410|
|Dennis Briggs||CB||5'10, 195||RSFr.||2 stars (5.3)||0.8085|
|Malik Henderson||CB||6'0, 175||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)||0.8433|
|Jordan Whitehead||S||5'11, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)||0.9494|
|Jay Stocker||S||6'2, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)||0.8656|
8. The secondary should take to NarduzziBall
The break-don't-bend defense that Narduzzi patented in East Lansing asks a lot of every position. The line has to be disruptive enough for the linebackers to swallow up any running game, and the cornerbacks have to be stout because the safeties are too close to the line of scrimmage to clean up messes.
There's no guarantee that an iffy pass rush will improve, and that alone could result in too much work for the secondary. But if the front seven is competent, the secondary should make plays. Lafayette Pitts is a solid No. 1 corner, and while Avonte Maddox was overwhelmed at times as a freshman, he's a scrapper. Reggie Mitchell fits the template of a Narduzzi safety: decent at ball-hawking, great near the line.
Depth could be an issue -- after these three and safety Terrish Webb is a sea of unknowns -- but as long as the starting four is on the field, the secondary should be the least of Narduzzi's concerns.
|Ryan Winslow||6'5, 210||So.||50||40.1||4||18||21||78.0%|
|Chris Blewitt||5'9, 185||Jr.||78||62.6||37||4||47.4%|
|Chris Blewitt||5'9, 185||Jr.||50-51||9-11||81.8%||7-10||70.0%|
|Tyler Boyd||KR||6'2, 190||Jr.||16||27.6||0|
|Avonte Maddox||KR||5'9, 165||So.||11||19.9||0|
|Tyler Boyd||PR||6'2, 190||Jr.||16||10.1||0|
|Special Teams F/+||61|
|Field Goal Efficiency||42|
|Punt Return Efficiency||82|
|Kick Return Efficiency||60|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||98|
9. Making your breakdowns count
If you remember two things from Pitt's 2014, they're probably a) the missed chip-shot that cost the Panthers the Duke game, and b) the two onside kicks Houston recovered late in the bowl.
Your logical conclusion, then, would be that the Pitt special teams unit was terrible. Not true! It was almost perfectly mediocre, ranking between 42nd and 82nd in all five primary categories above.
Chris Blewitt made nine of his other 10 field goals inside of 40 yards. Plus, Ryan Winslow is a wonderful finesse punter -- nearly half of his punts were downed inside the 20 -- and while Boyd's punt returns are inconsistent, they're occasionally explosive.
There's plenty to like about this unit; there's also nothing to like too much. But wow, talk about making your miscues count.
2015 Schedule & Projection Factors
|Date||Opponent||Proj. S&P+ Rk|
|3-Oct||at Virginia Tech||26|
|17-Oct||at Georgia Tech||19|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||14.3% (39)|
|2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk||42 / 46|
|2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin*||-5 / 0.0|
|2014 TO Luck/Game||-1.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (8, 7)|
|2014 Second-order wins (difference)||8.3 (-2.3)|
10. With just a little good fortune...
I know, I know. Saying "If Pitt gets just a little bit of good luck ..." is the college football version of saying "If this country would just adopt a high-speed rail system ..." or "If we could just get Andre and Big Boi in the studio again one time ..." We can pretend it's a possibility, but we've been given too much contrary evidence to believe it will happen.
But if Pitt can break even in the luck department, the Panthers could be dangerous enough to keep an eye on. A top-35 team could win nine or 10 games against this schedule, but with four home opponents projected between 28th and 46th and three road opponents between 26th and 57th, the Panthers will need to hop up to have a good year.
They can do it. Their quarterback had a late-season breakout, and if their No. 1 receiver is in uniform, he is one of the country's best. They have an efficient run game and a secondary that should hold its own, even against a decent set of quarterbacks. If Narduzzi and Conklin can make something of the front seven, this team won't have any devastating weaknesses.
And from the coaching staff to the players on the field, Pitt has more exciting components than a majority of the ACC. The program made what seems like a great coaching hire, and he has players to work with. We'll see if that is enough to overcome the rain cloud that has followed the Panthers for two decades.