As we count down to kickoff with Pitt, we sat down with SBNation blog Cardiac Hill to talk the upcoming matchup. Make sure to head over to their site for all things Panthers.
1. I think all eyes on are on Chad Voytik and his progression as the Panthers starting QB. Where does his strengths lie so far? Where are his areas that he still needs to gro?
Cardiac Hill: Chad Voytik's biggest strength is the fact that he has some mobility. Pitt's last few quarterbacks in Tino Sunseri and, to a greater degree, Tom Savage, both were a little short in that area. Much was made of all of the sacks those two guys took based on the porous offensive line. While that was most of the problem, a more mobile quarterback probably is able to avoid at least a few of those sacks.
Other than the inexperience factor, Voytik's biggest challenge is probably accuracy. Voytik struggled with accuracy throughout Pitt's camp and when I attended the scrimmage at one of the practices, that certainly held true.
Despite being the expected starter, he didn't stand out in training camp and, as a result, wasn't named as the official starter until the very end. Considering that his only competition was Adam Bertke, a true freshman expected to redshirt this year, and Trey Anderson, a redshirt junior that was a two-star recruit with no major offers until Pitt scooped him up, that wasn't a ringing endorsement.
Voytik played well in Pitt's bowl win last season and had no issues against Delaware, but he remains a question mark.
2. What are the feelings around Paul Chryst so far? Is the fanbase happy with his results or are the natives beginning to get restless?
CH: So far, there's definitely more support for Chryst than against him. That said, this is really a year where a little improvement needs to be seen. Pitt is 6-6 under him over his first two seasons and if you go back to Todd Graham the year before he came, the Panthers have been 6-6 in the regular season for three consecutive years.
I've been telling our readers for about a year now that 2015 is the year fans need to focus on. The team is really young right now and by then, Voytik will have a year of experience as the starter, much of their young talent on the offensive line will have matured, and the offensive stars, Tyler Boyd and James Conner, will be upperclassmen. That said, Pitt's schedule is too favorable to not surpass 6-6 this season.
If the Panthers somehow aren't able to do that, Chryst is still safe. But there will be more restlessness and pressure in 2015 for sure.
3. Boston College and Pittsburgh were in on quite a few of the same recruits last year. What are your thoughts so far on Pitt's recruiting since joining the ACC?
CH: Pitt's recruiting has really been pretty decent if you ask me. They haven't put together Top 25 classes, but to have three coaching changes in the past five years and three straight 6-6 seasons, the recruiting has been better than you'd expect. Chryst's philosophy is pretty clear - to build one of the nation's top offensive lines and running back corps. So far, it's really hard to not like the direction he's headed, too.
Pitt landed a total of (4) four- or five-star linemen in the past three classes. Just this week, the Panthers added a 247 four-star kid out of Ohio, Rob Dowdy, for 2015 and in Chryst's three classes so far, he's brought in ten linemen with loads of quality.
The Panthers have been equally successful building up the running backs. So much, in fact, that I wrote an article recently about all of these guys not sticking because there's so much talent. Behind starter James Conner, the backup is a four-star true freshman, Chris James. For 2015, Pitt adds four-star running back Darrin Hall. After those three underclassmen, there are several other three-star guys with potential that Pitt either has or will have in 2015. They even picked up a transfer, former four-star kid Jameel Poteat, who will be eligible next year.
For his offensive successes, Chryst hasn't had as much luck recruiting on the defensive side of the ball and there needs to be significant improvement there. But overall, I'm pleased with what he's done considering the mess he walked into and Pitt's state of mediocrity the past few years.
4. The Eagles had huge shoes to fill when Luke Kuechly left the program in 2012. Pitt is in a similar situation this year with Aaron Donald's graduation and departure to the NFL. How is Pitt's D going to fill that playmaking void?
CH: Simply put, they won't ... no one will even come remotely close, in fact. Donald had one of those years you just ever rarely see in a lifetime and there's no one on the current line with that much talent. Not only that, but Pitt also lost two other starters (one to graduation and one to leaving the team), and a third guy in Ejuan Price, who was expected to contribute heavily, to injury.
The biggest consolation is that the line besides Donald last year was very ordinary. Pitt loses a ton without Donald, but they could actually improve everywhere else just because there wasn't much else the other guys contributed.
5. Alright, predictions for Friday night, what have you got?
CH: It's really difficult to not like Pitt a little more after their 62-0 beatdown of Delaware. Yeah, it's Delaware and most rational Pitt fans will tell you it's taken with a grain of salt. But to be that dominant on both sides of the ball was kind of an eye-opener.
Last I checked, the line was three-four points in favor of Pitt. The books are basically saying this is a pick 'em on a neutral field, so even now, it's hard to say that Pitt will easily win.
Going into the game, I'd have probably given Pitt the slimmest of an edge and now I say that opens up a tad more. I don't like the fact that it's a week night game on the road, but I also just think Pitt is the better team right now.
A big question is going to be Tyler Boyd, who dislocated a finger last week and didn't play in the second half. But he's expected to play and if he does so, I'd pick Pitt to win by maybe a touchdown.