Pittsburgh finished with the same amount of wins in 2016 as in 2015, but last season was arguably more successful given the wins over Penn State and Clemson. While the Panthers lost to Northwestern in their bowl Game, none of their losses were bad with all of them coming by seven points or less. In Pat Narduzzi’s third season, Pitt is finally looking to break the barrier and reach the 10-win mark.
The offense kind of came out of nowhere to be one of the best in the country scoring 40.9 points per Game last season. While they probably won’t reach those levels again with a new QB and RB, they should be plenty good. Max Browne is set to take over at quarterback after coming over from USC and he has the tools to work with in Jester Weah (870 yards, 10 TDs) and do-it-all Quadree Henderson. The rest of the offense is a bit more in question with two offensive linemen gone on the left side, while the running Game arguably can’t be as good without James Conner. Henderson will take some of that load off after garnering 10.5 yards per carry on 60 totes, but Chawntez Moss and Darrin Hall are expected to be the top backs. Browne probably won’t match Nathan Peterman’s 27 TDs, but 20 should be on the table at a minimum in this offense.
To fully turn this team around, the defense needs to get back to average after allowing 35.6 points a year ago. Narduzzi is known for defense, but that didn’t really show up last season, getting torched for 343 passing yards per Game. With another year in this attack-heavy scheme, the hope is that the secondary comes around between safety Jordan Whitehead and corner Avonte Maddox. Both are talented players, but neither proved much after getting gashed last season. The line has to replace some sack masters while linebacker will be mostly new, so there are questions once again with this unit. Oluwaseun Idowu and Quintin Wirginis give some experience at LB, but it’s not a guarantee that can turn around a defense that has Four returning starters.
While Pittsburgh has a nice ACC Schedule, it also has to travel to Penn State and host OK State in back-to-back weeks of non-Conference play. Before you know it, the Panthers could have a losing record before Conference play begins. But drawing Syracuse and NC State out of the Atlantic division could be a huge help, while also welcoming UNC and Miami. If the secondary can gain another level and the offense doesn’t completely fall off, Pittsburgh should be in the running for a Coastal title, as long as Browne isn’t a huge downgrade. Winning their first two ACC Games (at GT, at Cuse) will be extremely important and in the realm of possibility.
Pitt has +2500 odds (at 5Dimes Sportsbook) to win the ACC and that’s mostly due to Schedule because having a new QB and the defense they played last season, wouldn’t give them those odds. That puts the Panthers in third place in the Coastal, slightly behind both Miami and Virginia Tech and ahead of Georgia Tech. Taking down Miami in the finale would be huge, but that early road Game at Georgia Tech will be just as important. Given the non-Conference slate, eight wins are on the table again, if not more, and that’s coming before a bowl appearance.
2017 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Schedule
Sept. 2 vs. Youngstown State
Sept. 9 at Penn State
Sept. 16 vs. Oklahoma State
Sept. 23 at Georgia Tech
Sept. 30 vs. Rice
Oct. 7 at Syracuse
Oct. 14 vs. NC State
Oct. 21 at Duke
Oct. 28 vs. Virginia
Nov. 9 vs. North Carolina
Nov. 18 at Virginia Tech
Nov. 24 vs. Miami