Fresh off of a career best year, Pat Narduzzi has a newly inked contract extension and a chance to prove that 2021 was no fluke for Pittsburgh. The 11 wins and ACC Championship may not happen again, but the Panthers have an excellent returning core and a tantalizing set of transfer additions that could keep them atop the Coastal.
Pittsburgh checks in at the middle of the pack in returning production, ranking 67th according to Bill Connelly. Given their recent track record and returning production, The Binion Index gives them a 7.8 rating (meaning they are 7.8 points per game better than an average FBS) team, good for 34th in the country. Connelly’s SP+ is even higher on the Panthers, projecting them with a rating of 14.8, good for 19th overall.
What do you need to know about Pittsburgh in 2022?
QB Kenny Pickett
The 2021 Heisman finalist threw for over 4300 yards on almost 9 yards per attempt with 42 touchdowns to go with only 7 interceptions. That’s an exceptional season of college football. Along with the loss of OC Mark Whipple, the loss of Pickett is likely to keep Pitt from the ranks of college football’s elite offenses in 2022. That’s no shot at those who are back; it would be tough for anyone outside of Columbus or Tuscaloosa to match that passing attack from last year. Pickett was selected in the first round of the NFL Draft after putting up the greatest passing season for Pittsburgh since Dan Marino.
WR Jordan Addison
To cap off the blows to Pittsburgh’s offense, Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison decided to enter the transfer portal at the last allowable minute and has headed west to join forces with Lincoln Riley. Last year was an otherworldly performance for Addison; he pulled in 100 catches for almost 1600 yards and 17 touchdowns. It will certainly be a collective effort to replace that kind of output.
WR Jared Wayne
One of the two members of the Pittsburgh receiving corps most likely to be part of that collective is Wayne. He was Pickett’s second favorite target last year, putting up a line of 47-658-6. He doesn’t have the game-breaking ability of Addison, but he’s a really good outside target who could push for All-ACC consideration.
The Offensive Line
Pittsburgh returns the whole thing. Using some numbers that best capture offensive line performance, David Hale rated this line as second in the conference for last season, and Bill Connelly notes that they will return 98.6% of their OL snaps.
I ran through a number of stats relatively indicative of OL success (pressure rate, yards before contact, etc.) & created a weighted average ranking for 2021. Here's how it came out:— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) June 8, 2022
This creates a really high floor for the offense and gives more margin for some of the newcomers to hit their stride.
DT Calijah Kancey
Turning to the other side of the ball, we see why Pittsburgh could have another special season. Anchoring the middle of the defense is Kancey, who put up 13 TFL (including 7 sacks) last season. He’s a monster against the run and can split a gap to disrupt the quarterback. I’d expect to see him next to Bryan Bresee on the preseason All-ACC first team.
DE Habakkuk Baldonado
Lining up outside is an excellent compliment, Habakkuk Baldonado. He added to the disruption numbers with 12 TFL of his own, including 9 sacks. He’s a terror on the edge and will be a big weapon against the strong crop of quarterbacks residing in the ACC this year.
LB SirVocea Dennis
The final returning defender we will highlight is Dennis. He brings a sought after combination of disruption and consistency:
Pitt loses a high % of its LB snaps from last year but does bring back SirVocea Dennis, who has totaled 24.5 TFL, 8 sacks & 10 QBH the past 2 seasons. Among 10 ACC LB w/ a 90%+ tackle rate, he had the lowest yds gained/tackle.— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) June 20, 2022
He led the team with 84 tackles, 10 of them for a loss, and he added an interception. Dennis is a great anchor on what should be an excellent defense.
QB Kedon Slovis
There’s a fascinating parallelism between the key departures and the key newcomers. So much of Pitt’s outlook will depend on how the two incoming transfers, Slovis and Mumpfield, can slot into the vacancies left by Pickett and Addison. Can they provide 80%, even 90%, of the departing production? If so, Pitt should be in the hunt for another ten win season. If not, 7 wins still looks like the floor, but we’re probably looking at a different Coastal champion.
Slovis started for parts of three seasons at USC but never reached the dizzying heights some predicted after his freshman season. He’s a good college quarterback. Can he take the next step, like Pickett did in his final year?
WR Konata Mumpfield
When Georgia Tech first got the transfer commitment of QB Zack Gibson from Akron, I was hopeful that Mumpfield was coming too, as a kind of package deal. Unfortunately for us, he chose what was probably a more stable option by transferring to Pittsburgh. His tape wowed me, and his numbers told the tale of a very impressive freshman campaign, putting up 61-751-8. He’s the second member of the receiving corps I expect to help fill in admirably for the loss of Addison.
The Binion Index projects Pittsburgh to win 8 games this fall, while SP+ is slightly higher at 8.7. Pat Narduzzi has done great job of finding roster reinforcements where the Panthers suffered the biggest losses from last year’s outstanding team. This squad should be in the hunt for the Coastal well into November, and the early non-conference offerings against West Virginia and Tennessee will go a long way in determining if they can make it onto the national radar as well.
When Georgia Tech squares off at Pittsburgh on the first weekend of October, TBI would make Pitt a 17 point favorite, which implies an 11% win probability for GT. It may be stunning for some readers to be reminded that GT has now lost 6 of 7 to Pittsburgh. That’s a frustrating reminder for GT fans and one small indicator of the change of fortunes for these two programs over the past half decade.
What do you see as the likeliest outcome for Pitt this season?