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2018

Pitt Panthers

College Football

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Pittsburgh failed to reach a bowl game in 2017, its first time since 2007. The Panthers managed just five wins with losses to Syracuse and UNC standing out even though they beat Miami in the finale. Pat Narduzzi had a solid first two years, but wasn’t expected to take a step back in his third season. Maybe the best news going into 2018 is that Narduzzi has already labeled Kenny Pickett the starting quarterback. That still doesn’t instill much confidence in bookmakers as the Panthers aren’t expected to compete in the ACC Coastal division, projected to finish with Virginia near the bottom (odds at 5Dimes Sportsbook).

No matter how Pickett plays, it should be better than what Ben DiNucci and Max Browne did last season. Pickett attempted only 66 passes last year, but did lead the win over Miami. Most of the skill players return for Pitt, but the line lost three of its starters and that could lead to some early struggles. Darrin Hall (628 yards, 9 TDs) and Qadree Ollison (398 yards) will again see the majority of carries with the hope being they can surpass 3.9 yards per carry as a team, although it won’t be easy with a new line. There isn’t much help at receiver unless Rafael Araujo-Lopes (43 receptions, 531 yards) and Maurice Ffrench (272 yards) turn a corner. If Pickett is to have a successful season, a receiver on the outside needs to help him.

The defense continues to be an issue under Narduzzi even though there was improvement last year with 26.6 points per game allowed. Most of that talent is back outside of a couple guys in the secondary, while the coaching staff is vastly different with Randy Bates coming over to be coordinator after 12 years as the linebackers coach for Northwestern. He has some pieces to attack with Rashad Weaver and Dewayne Hendrix expected to be disruptors up front, while linebacker Quintin Wirginis was hyped in the spring to have a breakout campaign. The secondary is often in the biggest spotlight in Narduzzi’s defense and that could be the case again if it struggles. Cornerback Dane Jackson has the experience and is expected to keep the group afloat.

It would be a major disappointment if Pitt doesn’t reach a bowl game again and it’s a wonder if Narduzzi would find himself on the hot seat. But that’s a long way away even though this team may be fighting for six wins all season. The unfortunate thing for the Panthers is a brutal non-conference schedule that involves trips to UCF and Notre Dame, but also the home game against Penn State. If they only get one win out of those, that means they need to grab five in the ACC. To reach six wins, winning at home as a favorite will be important with road games at UNC, Virginia and Wake Forest also being there for the taking. A lot of the season will depend on what Pickett can do, but if the defense improves with what’s expected to be a stout front seven, that could lead to another key upset or two, similar to the win over the Hurricanes last year. 

 

2018 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Schedule

Sept. 1 vs. Albany 

Sept. 8 vs. Penn State

Sept. 15 vs. Georgia Tech

Sept. 22 at North Carolina

Sept. 29 at UCF

Oct. 6 vs. Syracuse

Oct. 13 at Notre Dame

Oct. 27 vs. Duke

Nov. 2 at Virginia

Nov. 10 vs. Virginia Tech

Nov. 17 at Wake Forest

Nov. 24 at Miami

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