Head coach Par Narduzzi is entering his second year at the helm for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Narduzzi had a great 2015, posting an 8-5 record and a Military Bowl appearance. The Panthers beat the Hokies last year, 17-13, and the defense dominated Virginia Tech. This season, Narduzzi looks to build on that success, and the Panthers have a real chance to make some program history. Pitt returns 8 players on offense, and 8 players on defense. Most importantly, the will return RB James Conner, who had battled Lymphoma.
On offense, Pitt returns QB Nathan Peterman. Peterman is a Tennessee Volunteer transfer, who took over for Chad Voytik. Peterman threw for 2,287 yards, and had an impressive 20/8 TD/INT ratio. Peterman will be backed up by another transfer in Manny Stocker. In addition to James Conner, the backfield includes Qadree Ollison, who was the A.C.C. Rookie Player of the Year. Ollison had an impressive 1,158 yards last season, and found the end zone a whopping 11 times. The receiving corps does lose Tyler Boyd, but look for Dontez Ford and Jester Weah to have more balls thrown their way.
Defense is where the Pitt Panthers really shine. Narduzzi won the Broyles Award winner at Michigan State. The award is given to the best defensive coordinator in the country. Pitt had 37 sacks in 2015, nearly double the 2014 output. Look for Ejuan Price to be a fixture in opponent's backfields. He was first team All-A.C.C. last season, and registered 11 1/2 sacks on the year. The secondary is led by Damar Hamlin and Avonte Maddox. Maddox had 3 picks last year, and his experience will be a blessing.
The schedule for Pittsburgh will be a true test. They host Penn State in week 2, and follow it up with a trip to Oklahoma State, which will be the first meeting ever for the two clubs. They battle North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but get the Hokies on a Thursday night at Heinz Field. The hardest part of the Pitt schedule will be a two week stretch in November. The Panthers travel to Miami, and then head to Clemson the following week. I have the Panthers at 6-6. They will lose to Penn State, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Clemson, and Miami. They have to be able to score more than 28 points per game to be competitive in the Coastal.