#37 Pittsburgh Football 2016 Preview

Pittsburgh Panthers
Overall Rank: #37
#6 ACC
Coach Pat Narduzzi’s first year at Pittsburgh went extremely well. The Panthers went 6-2 in ACC play and ended with a trip to the Military Bowl. A win over Navy would have been ideal, but the Panthers have plenty of positives to work from heading into the 2016 campaign.
2015 Record: 8-5, 6-2
2015 Bowl: Military Bowl vs. Navy (L 44-28)
Coach: Pat Narduzzi (8-5 at Pittsburgh, 8-5 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Canada
Defensive Coordinator: Josh Conklin
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Qadree Ollison, RB, 1,121 yards
Passing: Nathan Peterman, QB, 2,287 yards
Receiving: Dontez Ford, WR, 505 yards
Tackles: Jordan Whitehead, S, 109
Sacks: Ejuan Price, DE, 11.5
Interceptions: Avonte Maddox, CB, 3
Other Key Returnees: TE Scott Orndoff, OL Dorian Johnson, OL Adam Bisnowaty, LB Matt Galambos, LB Mike Caprara
Key Losses: WR Tyler Boyd, RB Chris James, TE J.P. Holtz, LB Nicholas Grigsby, CB Lafayette Pitts
Pitt may not be known for their offense and last year they only ranked ninth in scoring offense, but there is a lot of talent on that side of the ball. It starts with the probable return of running back James Conner. Following treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and MCL surgery, it remains to be seen if Conner is ready for a productive comeback. Two years ago he earned ACC Player of the Year accolades and rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. It may take some time for Conner to return to his normal workload, but Qadree Ollison is certainly capable of helping take some of the carries. Last year in Conner’s absence, Ollison rushed for 1,121 yards and 11 scores. At quarterback Nate Peterman stepped into a starting role in week three after transferring in from Tennessee. He threw for 2,287 yards and 20 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Peterman is a relatively consistent passer and that year of starting experience should help him become a bigger threat throwing down the field. Replacing receiver Tyler Boyd could be an issue though. He caught 91 passes for 926 yards and six touchdowns. Nobody else on the team had more than 26 receptions.
Pitt is going to be aggressive on defense, but they need to do a better job not giving up the big play. The blitzes come from everywhere, but defensive end Ejuan Price is the main pass rusher. He tallied 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles-for-loss last season. Dewayne Hendrix and Tyrique Jarrett should solidify what is a pretty good defensive line. At linebacker Matt Galambos will get into the backfield too. He recorded 5.0 sacks and added 88 tackles and two interceptions. Mike Caprara is another senior linebacker who can get into the backfield. The secondary is led by safety and reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Jordan Whitehead. He record a team high 109 tackles playing at linebacker, strong safety and corner. Terrish Webb will again start beside Whitehead and Avonte Maddox will man one of the corner spots. The other side is up for grabs with Phillipie Motley and freshman Damar Hamlin the likely candidates to step into a starting role.
The Bottom Line:
Pittsburgh will be tested early in non-conference action. After a game against Villanova, Penn State comes to town. After that there is a trip to Oklahoma State and later in the season Marshall comes to town. Those games will certainly prepare for the Panthers for ACC play. Mixed in with those non-conference games is a tough road trip to North Carolina. Pitt also will travel to Miami and Clemson in back to back weeks in November. Those tough road games will likely keep this team out of the ACC Coastal Division title hunt.
Projected Bowl: Belk Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 186.8 (44th in nation, 6th in conference)
Passing Offense: 190.6 (99, 11)
Total Offense: 377.5 (82, 11)
Scoring Offense: 28.2 (68, 9)
Rushing Defense: 148.5 (40, 6)
Pass Defense: 214.7 (54, 11)
Total Defense: 363.2 (37, 6)
Scoring Defense: 26.1 (57, 10)
Turnover Margin: 0.00 (66, 7)
Sacks: 2.85 (16, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 2.23 (73, 9)
Madness 2017 NFL Draft Rankings:
#56 Adam Bisnowaty
Madness 2016 Recruit Rankings:
#186 Damar Hamlin
#234 Keyshon Camp