2015 ACC Football Preview: Pittsburgh

2014 Record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)

Returning Starters: Offense-9 Defense-6

Key Players: Chad Voytik, James Conner, Tyler Boyd, Rori Blair

The biggest issue for first year head coach Pat Narduzzi is his defense. That group was susceptible to giving up big plays last season and with only six starters returning, it’s hard to see things improving significantly.

“Defensively, they’ve got to man up and measure up to what we need to have in this ACC and in the opener against Youngstown,” Narduzzi told the media this week. “I feel like they’ve had a great offseason, but you’re going out there against fresh guys and new guys, new offenses, new fronts, new coverages. Our guys have to adjust to it.”

Rori Blair is the team’s best pass-rusher and his arrest for a DUI — apart from being monumentally stupid — has put him in a bad spot this offseason (Note: Both Blair and star receiver Tyler Boyd are suspended for the opener for DUIs). He should work his way back into the lineup however and be a force up front.

The star power for Pitt is on the offense with dominant tailback James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd leading the way. Conner rushed nearly 300 times for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns en route to winning ACC Player of the Year honors. Quarterback Chad Voytik was somewhat inconsistent in 2014, but he improved significantly during the second half of the season to finish with 2,233 yards, 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also completed an impressive 61.3% of his passes. He’s mobile enough to be accounted for and has a toughness that likely makes his defensive-minded head coach smile. The offensive line is among the best in the ACC with tackle Adam Bisnowaty and guard Dorian Johnson paving the way.

Another weapon who flies under the radar is kicker Chris Blewitt. Despite his somewhat unfortunate name, he’s generally an accurate kicker. He made 16-of-21 field goals with a long of 52 yards. Pitt should score a lot of points, the question remains whether or not the defense can stop anyone.

Pitt clearly has some question marks, but there’s also a lot of talent on the roster. It’s not hard to envision a scenario where they finish in the top two or three in the Coastal Division and the schedule sets up for a potentially enormous start. If Pitt can travel to Blacksburg and beat the Hokies for the second consecutive season, the Panthers could easily be 4-1 or 5-0 heading into a tussle at Georgia Tech October 17.

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