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Georgia Tech Football: 2016 Opponent Preview - Pitt Panthers

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The Panthers look to take the step up to Coastal champs with returning talent

NCAA Football: Youngstown State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Kickoff: 36 days

As our 100 Days to Kickoff continues on, we begin our opponent previews to provide a quick look at each of the teams coming up on our schedule this season. Each team has changed and provides new challenges than in years past, so this week is all about learning about those changes and learning exactly what the ACC has to offer.

Pitt is one of those teams that always seems to muddle around in the middle of the conference while never making a real run at the top, but never sinking to the levels that Georgia Tech experienced last year. Last year however, Pitt ended up 6-2 in conference, good for second in the coastal. They return quite a bit of talent and I am high on Pat Narduzzi.

Who’s Gone?

WR Tyler Boyd - The 2016 Panthers are going to be without easily their best receiver last season. He led the team with 965 yards and almost triple the amount of targets as anybody else. They are going to need a receiver to step up big time or Pitt’s passing attack will falter. Boyd was drafted in the second round by the Cincinnati Bengals.

LB Nicholas Grigsby - This linebacker was a senior leader for a young defensive unit. He recorded 55.5 tackles (9% of the team’s total) and had 9.5 tackles for loss. Pitt has good talent and experience at linebacker so replacing him shouldn’t be too big of a worry.

TE JP Holtz - Holtz was probably the second best receiving option for the Panthers last year. Having a dependable tight end would have gone a long way to limiting the effect of Boyd leaving. They are going to have to find some new air targets. Senior Scott Orndoff had 21 catches last year and will likely take over the starting role from Holtz.

Who’s Back?

RB James Conner - If you haven’t heard the story of James Conner you must be living under a rock. The star running back was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphona before his junior season, but he vowed to play football again. He has participated in team workouts and was declared cancer-free in May. He was a monster in 2014 when he rushed for over 1,700 yards. It remains to be seen if his knee injury and time off have hampered him at all. With his return, the Panthers are stacked at running back. Conner joins Qadree Ollison who rushed for 1,100 yards last year as well as his back-up Darrin Hall and 4-star freshman George Hill. Pitt will run the ball very well this year.

QB Nate Peterman - Nate Peterman is not a fantastic quarterback, but he is a solid and experienced starter. He threw for 2,287 yards with 8 interceptions and a mediocre 6.3 yards per attempt. He loses easily his best target, but this season will likely be about not messing things up for Peterman. With the tons of talent they have at running back, Pitt will likely focus on the ground and having Peterman take a more game manager role.

Offensive Line - Pitt returns four starters and a combined 98 starts on the line. The left side of the line with Adam Bosnowaty and Dorian Johnson is the strong point and both players were 2nd team All-ACC last year. This line was already pretty darn good and the extra experience should make them even better. They do have a point of concern when it comes to replacing center Artie Rowell. Nobody on the team has played any snaps at center for Pitt.

Defensive Line - It’s not just the offensive line that is returning experience. The defensive line is returning all 4 starters including defensive end Ejuan Price, one of the best pass rushers in the ACC (he had 11.5 sacks last season). They lost some depth, but with four star incoming freshman Amir Watts and Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix, they should be fine. Narduzzi is known for his solid defense, and this line is going to anchor a very fine defense.

Best Name

A tie between Quadree Henderson and Qadree Ollison.

Season Outlook

Pitt is starting to get quite a bit of hype this season and it’s not hard to see why. They return a ton of talent all over the field and have one of the best stories in football with the return of James Conner. The ACC media predicted Pitt third in a muddled coastal division which seems about right to me, though I might have picked them second. They have a tough schedule which includes Clemson as their crossover game, as well as OOC games against Penn State and at Oklahoma State. This team could be much better than last year’s team and still not improve their record. The only major concern is with the passing game. If nobody replaces the playmaking of Tyler Boyd and Peterman does not take a step forward, this could become a one-dimensional offense and limit the effectiveness of the strong running game.

Projection - 9-3 (6-2 ACC) This is a little bold given the somewhat tough schedule. I have them losing at Clemson and Oklahoma State while the third loss could come from anywhere. This looks like a good team this year.