#29 Pittsburgh Football 2017 Preview


Pittsburgh Panthers


Overall Rank: #29

#6 ACC

Pittsburgh beat both Penn State and Clemson last season and proved that this is a program on the rise under Coach Pat Narduzzi. Following back-to-back 8-5 seasons, the expectations are getting higher, but the Panthers have some rebuilding to do this year. The ACC Coastal Division is pretty much wide open and Pitt has the talent to compete for a title.
2016 Record: 8-5, 5-3
2016 Bowl: Pinstripe Bowl vs. Northwestern (L 24-31)
Coach: Pat Narduzzi (16-10 at Pitt, 16-10 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Shawn Watson
Defensive Coordinator: Josh Conklin
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Quadree Henderson, WR, 631 yards
Passing: Ben DiNucci, QB, 16 yards
Receiving: Jester Weah, WR, 870 yards
Tackles: Oluwaseun Idowu, LB, 74
Sacks: Quintin Wirginis, LB, 4.0
Interceptions: Avonte Maddox, DB, 3
Other Key Returnees: RB Qadree Ollison, S Jordan Whitehead, DE Rori Blair
Key Losses: QB Nathan Peterman, RB James Connor, TE Scott Orndoff, OL Dorian Johnson, OL Adam Bisnowaty, DE Ejan Price, LB Matt Galambos, CB Ryan Lewis, S Terrish Webb, K Chris Blewitt
The Pitt offense averaged nearly 41 points per game last season. It will be tough to keep up that pace without Nathan Peterman and James Conner. Peterman was extremely efficient last season and threw for 2,855 yards and 27 touchdowns. However, there is a very good solution at quarterback. Max Browne is a graduate transfer from USC. He started just three games during his career with the Trojans, but Browne is a very talented passer who will get one more shot at living up to his vast potential. Jester Weah will again benefit from the strong arm of a quarterback. He caught just 36 passes last season, but he averaged over 24 yards per catch and reached the end zone ten times. Quadree Henderson is another dynamic playmaker. He caught 26 passes for 286 yards and rushed for 631 yards. Henderson is also one of the best kick and punt returners in the country. Qadree Ollison figures to once again replace Conner. When Conner was out in 2015 with an injury, Ollison rushed for 1,121 yards.  
This is where Pitt needs massive improvement. They were strong against the run, but ranked last in the ACC in pass defense and second to last in total defense and scoring defense. With seven starters gone, it will be a pretty big rebuilding project, but that may not be a bad thing. The front seven will be built around ends Dewayne Hendrix and Rori Blair. Hendrix, a transfer from Tennessee, played in just one contest with Pitt last year before an injury ended his season. The only starter returning at linebacker is Oluwaseun Idowu, who record 74 tackles as a sophomore. There is potential here too with Quintin Wirginis, Saleem Brightwell and Elijah Zeise. The pass defense that was so terrible in 2016 will immediately be better with a healthy Jordan Whitehead. The free safety played only a handful of games last year after earning ACC Rookie of the Year accolades in 2015. Avonte Maddox is a very good cornerback and will anchor that group.
The Bottom Line:
This season could come down to the play of Browne. The defense cannot get much worse and the offense has a lot of potential if Browne can throw the ball effectively. The Panthers did not do themselves much favor with their schedule. Following a game against Youngstown State, who is one of the best teams in the FCS, Pitt travels to Penn State and then hosts Oklahoma State. Add Rice a couple weeks later and that is a tough non-conference slate. But the most important games will likely come at the end of the 2017 season. That is when Pitt plays North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami. The ACC Coastal Division will be decided during those three weeks.
Projected Bowl: Music City Bowl
2016 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 225.1 (28th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 221.7 (76, 11)
Total Offense: 446.8 (38, 4)
Scoring Offense: 40.9 (10, 2)
Rushing Defense: 119.6 (16, 4)
Pass Defense: 333.2 (127, 14)
Total Defense: 452.8 (101, 13)
Scoring Defense: 35.2 (106, 13)
Turnover Margin: 0.08 (58, 7)
Sacks: 3.31 (6, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 0.77 (3, 1)
Madness 2018 NFL Draft Rankings:
#60 Jordan Whitehead
#81 Max Browne
Madness 2017 Recruit Rankings:
#55 Paris Ford
#188 A.J. Davis
#218 Todd Sibley