2015 Pittsburgh Football Predictions: T-5th ACC Coastal (2014 record: 6-7)
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (1st year)
ACC Champion Odds: +3000
National Championship Odds: +70,000
Season Win Totals Over-Under Odds: Over 6 (-125), Under 6 (-115)
New Panthers’ head coach Narduzzi is faced with the task of returning this once proud football program to respectability. In recent years, the team has had difficulty finding the kind of talent that is necessary to compete in a major conference like the ACC. He will be starting with an offense that played like Jekyll and Hyde for most of the 2014 season. At the beginning and end of the regular season, the offense looked fine, rolling up big points. It was a stretch of five games in the middle of the season when the offense went on sabbatical and looked lost. Overall, they scored 31.8 PPG on 435.4 YPG of total offense.
Maybe the reason Narduzzi took this position was the fact the offense is returning all three of it’s best offensive players. Any discussion about this offense has to start with All-American candidate JR RB James Conner who had a huge 2014 season with 1,765 yards and 26 TDs. It doesn’t hurt that the man handing him the ball will be JR QB Chad Voytik who did a fine job with the passing game in 2014. For his part, he threw for 2,233 yards and 16 TDs with only 7 interceptions. He will be helped by the return of his favorite target in JR WR Tyler Boyd who caught 78 passes for 1,261 yards and 8 TDs.
It’s this three-headed monster the Panthers have on offense that has fans optimistic about the upcoming season. The fact all three of these players are only juniors means they each have room for improvement and any improvement would make this offense downright scary for defensive coordinators throughout the conference.
Further enhancing this team’s prospects for an improved future is the fact the defense was anything but a pushover in 2014. They did a great job of defending, limiting opposing offenses to 26.3 PPG and 359.8 YPG of total offense. The most impressive stat on the 2014 season was that the defense only allowed 17 touchdowns to opponents through the air. Considering the pass happy nature of NCAA football these days, that should be considered quite an achievement.
If Coach Narduzzi is going to face any difficulties this season, it will be trying to piece together another good defensive unit after the loss two key players, namely leading tackler Anthony Gonzalez (81 tackles and 1 sack) and second leading tackler Todd Thomas (73 tackles and 1 interception). Of course, it is not all bad news as the Panthers will be happy to welcome back JR LB Matt Galambos who returns after a 2014 season when he recorded 72 tackles with 1 interception and SO DL Ron Blair who led the team in sacks with 5 in his freshmen season.
It is clear this is going to be a young and inexperienced defense. The fact the offense figures to be very good and will probably be able to dictate pace bodes well for this defensive unit as it figures to give the younger players plenty of opportunity to stay fresh and mature as the season progresses. Here’s the most important thing to consider. If this defense plays as well as they did in 2014, Pitt figures to have a big shot at a major bowl game. At the least, this team looks like a certainty to be playing in the post season.
This is a hard-nosed, hard-working football team that needs to learn a new system fast. Look for the defense to once again be ahead of the offense this year. The Panthers will get to a bowl game in 2015.