Preview 2017: Can Pitt Go From Tease To Terrific?
All the pieces are there, and the program has been close, but can Pitt finally put everything together and be great?
Pitt keeps teasing you.
Pitt held the distinction of beating two Power Five conference champions – taking down Penn State early in the season and Clemson in November – but it also lost in the Pinstripe Bowl to a mediocre Northwestern team.
The pass defense might have been the second-worst in the country, but it had to deal with Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Brad Kaaya, Mason Rudolph, Jerod Evans, Trace McSorley and Clayton Thorson – all will be a part of the NFL quarterbacking world at various levels over the next few years.
Four of the five losses were by a touchdown or less, but that fifth defeat was a shootout blowout at Miami.
The defense was among the ACC’s best in 2015, but it finished 101st last year even with one of the most impressive pass rushes in college football.
Safe to say, it’s been an up-and-down first two seasons for head coach Pat Narduzzi.
But the one thing that hasn’t changed for the program since joining the ACC is the straight-down-the-middle consistency of its averageness. Sure, it’s been a good enough program to hang with the big boys, but since making the move from the Big East – sky point – Pitt has gone 7-6, 6-7, 8-5 and 8-5.
It’s fine. There have been a slew of mid-level bowl appearances, and there have been plenty of fun games and good times, and under Narduzzi, the Panthers have even finished second in the Coastal in each of his two seasons.
But even though it’s in the hotbed of hotbed recruiting areas in a football-mad part of the country, and with a tremendous history, Pitt has just one ten-win season since 1981.
The program of Dorsett, and Marino, and Revis, and Fitzgerald, and nine national titles has just two conference championships since joining a league in 1991, and even the last one it came up with in 2010 was in a pedestrian 8-5 campaign.
Now it’s up to Narduzzi to keep on tweaking, hoping that this becomes the team that starts to win all those close games, plays solid defense, and can keep up with the big boy offenses the ACC is cranking out.
It seems like Pitt is right there, but it needs that one big season when everything goes right to become a star in the ACC.
You make your own breaks, though, and Pitt is trying – it’s not for a lack of aggression on either side of the ball. But this year’s team has to be better in the secondary. The pass defense can’t be so woeful, and it might start with quickly replacing the pass rushing stars who just graduated.
Replacing Nathan Peterman with USC transfer Max Browne at quarterback should keep the high-powered passing game going – the Panthers have killer speed in the receiving corps – but the line has to be sound after losing two future NFL starters. The running game has to replace the production and heart-and-soul inspiration of James Conner, while maintaining the impressive balance that kept everything moving.
The parts of the puzzle are all there to have a big season – including not having to face Clemson, Florida State or Louisville from the Atlantic – and that includes Narduzzi having two years under his belt.
No one’s going to pick Pitt to win the Coastal – it’ll be lucky to be in preseason top three – but it’ll be right there every week and into late November with a shot at doing big things. There isn’t a game on the schedule the Panthers can’t win, and there isn’t a team in the country they can’t keep up with.
They’re good enough, they have the experience, they have the coaching, and they have the schedule.
Pitt’s overdue go from teasing to tremendous.