As we continue our march towards the beginning of the college football season, here's a look at our upcoming opponents. Today we look at the, the Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pitt 2013 Season In Review
In their first season in the ACC, Pitt was very middle of the road. Led by quarterback Tom Savage, and defensive juggernaut Aaron Donald, Paul Chryst led the Panthers to a 7-6 record capped off with a victory over the MAC Champions, Bowling Green. In terms of inconsistency, Pitt beat two teams in the Top 25 (Duke and Notre Dame), but then lost to Navy. After the season DT Aaron Donald went on a Luke Kuechly-esque run on post season hardware winning the Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland and Bednarik Award.
The Panthers Offense
The first question that Pitt is going to have to answer is how are they going to replace Tom Savage? Last season the twice transferred senior threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Most publications say it will be Chad Voytik, who will be a true sophomore, and was one of the jewels of Pittsburgh's 2012 recruiting class. However Voytik has a completely different skill set than Savage. He is much more mobile, can move around the pocket quickly, but lacks the arm strength that Pitt fans saw last year. It'll be interesting to see how that lack of arm strength effects the Panther offense, especially when their biggest weapon is a wide receiver who can stretch the field, Tyler Boyd. Boyd may be one of the top handful of wide receivers in the entire country and should be a treat to watch up close. Don't get it twisted though, if Voytik gets his act together and matures as a QB who could be a major factor in the ACC.
The offensive line is another question mark for Pitt. Unlike BC who has an offensive line with experience, Pitt will be trotting out two sophomores on the line, a line that struggled mightily in 2013. The Panthers finished 2013 122nd in the country in sacks allowed, dead last among BCS conference teams, giving up 43 (only teams that were worse were Idaho, FIU and Miami of Ohio). Depth is also a concern here, if Pitt suffers injuries, starting left tackle Adam Bisnowaty has been plagued with them, they could be looking at redshirt freshmen and sophomore getting starting reps.
Pitt will be bringing a physical running game to Alumni Stadium as well. If he stays healthy, sophomore running back James Conner is a hulking 230 pound runner, who improves the more he runs the ball. Conner shares the ball with change of pace back senior Isaac Bennett, more of a quick burst runner, and Rachid Ibrahim a sophomore who has been getting looks during spring practice.
The Panthers Defense
2014 should be a year with a load of question marks on defense for Pitt. First of all, replacing a stalwart like Aaron Donald is not going to be easy, and it might a tad unrealistic to expect the Panthers to finish 33rd in the country in yards allowed like they did last year. In terms of defensive tackle, Darryl Render will have the tall task of replacing Donald. The junior played in all 13 games, but Paul Myerberg of USA Today explains that the drop off will be drastic between the two.
At defensive end it should be Shakir Soto on one end, and a combination of David Durham and Ejwan Price on the other side. However it should be noted that between the three of them, they only had two sacks last season (Donald had 11 last season). If you think BC has issues at depth in the secondary, be thankful that we aren't Pitt. They have major concerns at cornerback and could be looking at two true freshmen grabbing major playing time out of necessity. Lafeyette Pitts a senior will have to be the rock in the secondary as Pitt will be throwing out a lot of underclassmen on the field.
So will Pitt have a good defense? They certainly could. But there is a strong possibility that there could be major flaws in their system, and a lot of youth thrown into big game situations, which may hurt Pitt's chances this year.
Where BC Should Be Successful
This could be a game where BC's defense could cause problems for a young offense. Looking at Pittsburgh's offensive line, they could struggle against Don Brown's blitzing schemes and BC could be looking at multiple sacks and possible turnovers that put BC's offense is good situations. If Brown can line up some of his safeties and linebackers close to the line of scrimmage and mix up where the blitz comes from, they could exploit the inexperience of the offensive line by causing confusion.
Secondly, I like BC's offensive lines chances against Pitt's defensive line. BC has experience on the offensive line, and clearly Addazio puts these units in positions to be successful. If Pitt's line is still trying to find it's identity, BC could open up some holes that would allow the running backs to move the ball. If BC can control the tempo of the game and keep the Panthers offense off the field.
Where BC May Struggle
Tyler Boyd. Tyler Boyd. Tyler Boyd. One of the biggest concerns I have with BC this season is the play of their secondary, so when they are going against one of the best wide receivers in the country, I worry. There doesn't seem to be a lock down corner on this unit, and as much as I love Don Brown's system of blitzing like crazy, leaving guys like Dominique Williams and Bryce Jones one on one with Boyd scares the bejesus out of me. If Boyd starts off quick with some big catches, Brown may have to adjust his schemes and that will play right into Paul Chryst's hands.
Wayyyyyyy Too Early Prediction
Boston College 24, Pittsburgh 23. The difference in this game will be the play of the front lines will be the difference in this game. I think BC's offensive line should be able to push around Pitt enough to score some points and keep the offense on the field, while the Panthers offensive line woes will fit right into the BC's gameplan. But the difference maker? Homefield advantage. BC beat Wake Forest at home on a Friday night last year and set the stage for the rest of the season. I expect this to happen again.