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Things went immediately to plan for Pittsburgh in Pat Narduzzi's first year at the helm. The Panthers added two wins to their total and finished alone in second place in the ACC's Coastal division. While they lost to Navy in the Military Bowl, it was still a respectable season that saw Pitt battle with the better teams in the conference and even give Notre Dame a run for its money.
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Nathan Peterman is back under center after getting control of the starting job early in the 2015 season. Peterman did well for the most part (61.5% completion, 20 TDs, 8 INTs), but will be working with a new offensive coordinator (Matt Canada from NC State), without top receiver Tyler Boyd, who had 91 receptions a year ago. It'll be impossible to replace Boyd and someone else needs to step up, whether it's Dontez Ford (505 yards), tight end Scott Orndoff (5 TDs) or someone else.
But to boost the offense, Pittsburgh has one of the best and deepest backfields in the ACC to work with. James Conner is expected to be ready by the fall and build on his 1,765-yard season in 2014. Even if he isn't fully healthy, Qadree Ollison (1,121 yards, 11 TDs) stepped up last year and he'll be back to form a dominant duo. Everything looks good for the line as well. Already a top unit a year ago, the line returns four starters and should be even better, producing plenty of yards for its running backs.
Defense was somewhat spotty last year for Pittsburgh, but Narduzzi is expected to improve that unit in his second season. The Panthers have a few spots to fill, but have plenty of talent with Ejuan Price at end to go with linebackers Mike Caprara and Matt Galambos. The secondary is looking good as well with only one starter gone to go with safety Jordan Whitehead, who is the reigning ACC rookie of the year.
This group will get a good test early on with a trip to Oklahoma State coming in just their third game. Following that, the Panthers have to travel to North Carolina, who is expected to have one of the better offenses in the country yet again. But outside of that stretch and another road back-to-back at Miami and Clemson, everything is pretty straightforward. Pittsburgh won eight games last year and competed with the better teams on the schedule. With an improved quarterback and more experienced defense, there's no reason this team can't reach eight wins and push for a better bowl, especially if they upset a team like Miami on the road.
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2016 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Schedule
Sept. 3 vs. Villanova
Sept. 10 vs. Penn State
Sept. 17 at Oklahoma State
Sept. 24 at North Carolina
Oct. 1 vs. Marshall
Oct. 8 vs. Georgia Tech
Oct. 15 at Virginia
Oct. 27 vs. Virginia Tech
Nov. 5 at Miami (FL)
Nov. 12 at Clemson
Nov. 19 vs. Duke
Nov. 26 vs. Syracuse
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