#52 Pittsburgh Football 2014 Preview

Pittsburgh Panthers

Overall Rank: #52
#8 ACC

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Before Paul Chryst came to Pitt, he was considered a frontrunner for any head coaching vacancy.  Pitt has to be pleased that they are the school that got him.  After implementing great offensive schemes at his alma mater, Wisconsin, Chryst brought that philosophy as a football lifer to the Panthers.  He has a .500 record after two seasons, winning a bowl game in his second season.  Pittsburgh has an opportunity to keep moving upward in the ACC.  Chryst will need to find a replacement for his quarterback Tom Savage, who was reliable for him after transferring from Rutgers and having his best statistical season of his college career.

2013 Record: 7-6, 3-5
2013 Bowl: Little Caesar’s Bowl (W 30-27)
Coach: Paul Chryst (13-13 at Pittsburgh, 13-13 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Rudolph
Defensive Coordinator: Matt House

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: James Conner, RB, 799 yards
Passing: Chad Voytik, QB, 116 yards
Receiving: Tyler Boyd, WR, 1,174 yards
Tackles: Ray Vinopal, DB, 83
Sacks: Nicholas Grigsby, LB, 3
Interceptions: Ray Vinopal, DB, 3

Other Key Returnees: RB Isaac Bennett, DB Lafayette Pitts, TE J.P. Holtz

Key Losses: DL Aaron Donald, QB Tom Savage, DL Brian Murphy

Pittsburgh is full of young talent.  Chryst and his staff have to be excited that a lot of these players are coming back.  Only three starters are gone from the offensive side of the ball.  They are deep at some important skill positions.  They return their top three rushers from last year’s campaign, including James Conner who led all three.  Not far behind him was senior Isaac Bennett.  Together they combined for 1,596 yards.  Their receiving corps is also in good shape.  Sophomore Tyler Boyd may be poised for a breakout season.  He was a very productive freshman last season, scoring seven touchdowns.  The Panthers are also deep at the tight end position.  Starter J.P. Holtz returns with sophomore Jaymar Parrish ready to break out and the return of Scott Orndorff from injury only helps.  There is a lot to work with and build on for the coaching staff.

Pittsburgh’s biggest problem will be replacing Tom Savage.  Savage had his best season as a collegian last year, throwing 21 touchdowns to just nine interceptions.  Backup Chad Voytik has some playing experience in big games, mainly the bowl game last season.  He just lacks a lot of experience.  It will also be impossible to replace Aaron Donald, the top-15 draft pick that was a generational player at the college level.  From his inside position he had 11 sacks.  The other side of the line needs to step up and do better as well.  Savage was not a running quarterback, and he got caught behind the line of scrimmage quite often.  The line will have to keep the new starter upright and open up a few more holes for the running backs.  The running game will be vital this season.

The Bottom Line:
Chryst lost two NFL talents – one being elite – but he has to feel good about the team he is putting on the field.  With Florida State and Clemson vying for top ACC honors, the Panthers will likely not compete for a conference championship.  They can however make strides and win a few more conference games as Chryst re-stabilizes a program.  He is going to have to find the answer under center, along with filling a few spots on the defensive side of the ball.  The Panthers look like they will have another winning season in 2014-2015.

Projected Bowl: Detroit Bowl

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 125.7 (102nd in nation, 12th in conference)
Passing Offense: 236.5 (59, 8)
Total Offense: 362.2 (97, 12)
Scoring Offense: 26.3 (80, 8)
Rushing Defense: 149.0 (43, 6)
Pass Defense: 133.0 (80, 13)
Total Defense: 367.5 (34, 7)
Scoring Defense: 27.2 (69, 11)
Turnover Margin: -0.1 (68, 10)
Sacks: 1.92 (66, 11)
Sacks Allowed: 3.31 (118, 14)


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