Last season was a struggle for the Panthers. It was the first time in Pat Narduzzi’s 3 years that they didn’t make a bowl game, finishing 5-7. Transfer QB Max Browne, a highly-touted prospect, didn’t have a chance to show off his stuff for most of the year, injuring his shoulder in October and missing the rest of the season (really a tough-luck career for Browne, who started at USC alongside Sam Darnold, and their paths diverged from there).
Pitt did have a feather in their cap in the final week, beating a Miami team that was reeling from some injury problems and already had an eye on the ACC title game. Maybe that can create some momentum going into 2018 for this program. Narduzzi is back for Year 4, and his coordinators will still be trying to implement systems, in years 2 (offense) and 1 (defense) respectively. Is this the case of a team that can get back to their previous level of success, or one that needs some time to hit rock bottom before re-establishing itself?
The markets have Pitt’s win total for this season at 5 -145/+115 (5D), 5.5 -115/-105 (BOL), and 5.5 -115 (DSI). Market sentiment has them making a bowl a reasonable percentage of the time. Is that really correct?
|9/22||@ North Carolina||+4|
|10/13||@ Notre Dame||+12.5|
|11/2 (F)||@ Virginia||-7|
|11/17||@ Wake Forest||+5|
|11/24||@ Miami (FL)||+18|
There is not a lot to like here, in my opinion. Kenny Pickett will possibly be an improvement over the Browne/DiNucci combo, but he didn’t show THAT much last year in the Miami game. To try to take 1 game where the other team was in their deadest spot of the season, and extrapolate that to a full season of success, is a recipe for disaster. Darrin Hall had a really good 3-game run at runningback, but would like to see him do it for a whole season, plus their offensive line is demonstrably lose, losing 3 starters, one of them all-conference. They have 1 returning starter at wideout and no one who particularly impressed in small time last year. Pickett could be the real deal, but I’d rather have him prove it to me first, otherwise this could be a long year for this side of the ball.
Much more returning in the way of players and experience, but they also bring in a new coordinator (Randy Bates, long-time Northwestern LB coach and good friend of Narduzzi) and a new scheme. Bates said in his introductory press conference that he thinks this program can go as far as the National Championship, so at least you know they’re aiming high, even if it’s absurdly way too high. The team has held opponents under 20 points just 10 times in 38 games under Narduzzi, so any change is probably welcomed by the fan base. Bates will have plenty to work with – 9 starters are back, including all 4 defensive lineman and all 3 linebackers (one of them 3rd team All-ACC). In the back-end, they lose 2 defensive backs to the NFL but have basically everyone else back. There’s enough here to craft something special as long as Bates can get them moving in his direction quickly. Week 2 at Penn State might be too soon to expect everything to gel the right way.
6 road games (and 6 in 9 weeks at that), which is never much fun and not something you like to see for a team that’s borderline bowl-worthy. They draw Wake Forest and Syracuse out of the Atlantic, which is possibly the best draw you can get, depending on what Wake’s QB situation ends up being (‘Cuse/NC State maybe a little better? But it’s close). That’s a plus. The non-conference is pretty rough though, with Penn State, at UCF and at Notre Dame, 3 losses a really large percentage of the time. Those tough trips combined with the road trips on the back create a tough slate despite the ease of some of the conference opponents.
Win/Total pick: Under 5.5 -105 (BOL)
This seems like a team for next year, to be honest. All of their promising skill-position players including Pickett will be back, they’ll still have 5-6 returning starters on D, and be in year 2 of Bates’ system. This year it’s a lot of new stuff and an unforgiving back-end of the schedule. Their only positive is the 2 teams they draw out of the Atlantic, but unfortunately they play Wake late in the year when the Deacons should have a better handle on who their starting QB is long-term (projected starter is suspended first 3 games). I don’t see a team with that much ability here, and I see a lot of road games and Penn State coming to town. This feels like a 4-5 win team when matching up with that slate, then they can retool and get to a bowl next year. Under for me here.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Last season was just what we expected to see from a Pat Narduzzi-coached team, right? Pitt Panthers games averaged 76.1 points and 900 yards of offense. How would one of the best defensive coordinators in the country allow such a thing to happen on his watch? Whatever the reason, it did, but the Panthers still managed their second 8-5 season under the watchful eye of the former Michigan State defensive coordinator.
One of the hardest things to figure out about Pitt this season is exactly what kind of style they will play offensively. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada was plucked by LSU to inject some life into that dormant offense. Shawn Watson, who was the offensive coordinator at Texas under Charlie Strong, is the new OC in the Steel City. What does that mean for an offense that lost its starting quarterback, Nathan Peterman, and its star running back, James Conner? What does that mean for a much-maligned defense that gave up 333 passing yards per game last season? It seems like there are a lot of things to figure out with Pitt this year.
As a result, it feels like oddsmakers and bettors are a bit unsure about this team. The Panthers have a season win total of 7 at 5Dimes Sportsbook, with -110 both ways. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/9||@ Penn State||+16.5||0.11|
|9/23||@ Georgia Tech||+5||0.36|
|11/9 (Th)||North Carolina||-9||0.75|
|11/18||@ Virginia Tech||+8||0.26|
|11/24 (F)||Miami (FL)||+5.5||0.35|
Total Expected Wins: 6.64
Replacing Nathan Peterman’s numbers may not be that difficult because USC transfer Max Browne appears to be next in line. The former #1 QB recruit in the country is a graduate transfer to Pitt and will look to pick up where last year’s offense left off. While he’s got big name recognition and a storied high school past, Browne’s college career leaves a lot to be desired. The upside is there, but will it shine through? At least Browne will have a good stable of skill players. Bruising back Qadree Ollison gets his starting job back with James Conner in the NFL. Ollison didn’t do much last season, but ran for over 1,100 yards in 2015. Quadree Henderson ran for 10.5 yards per carry on 60 tries last season as the Panthers softened up opposing defenses with a variety of jet sweeps. As a side note, Henderson is also one of the best kick returners in the country.
The wide receiving corps looks a little thin, though top target Jester Weah, who averaged 24.2 yards per catch, is back for his senior season. The offensive line lost a couple of NFL draft picks. That’s a group that allowed only 10 sacks last season and Pitt ran for 5.4 yards per carry with a wide variety of plays up the middle and out on the edges. It appears to be a pretty versatile offense again for new OC Shawn Watson. What will Watson do to prepare Browne for the season? Can Browne shine with a change of scenery?
What a difference a year makes. When Narduzzi took over at Pitt, he led the Panthers to an 8-5 record with 26.1 points allowed per game and 363 yards against per game. Perhaps the writing was on the wall with the 5.7 yards per play that the defense allowed. In 2016, the Panthers again went 8-5, but did so while allowing 35.2 points per game and six yards per play. The run defense was pretty good, but the secondary allowed a 63.8 percent completion percentage against and 333 yards per game.
Only four starters return on the defensive side of the ball, but is that a bad thing? Narduzzi will be welcoming in his third recruiting class and a lot of players from Paul Chryst’s classes are moving on to other programs or running out of eligibility. Ejuan Price is a huge loss, as he had 13 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Pitt was a very aggressive defense with 43 sacks, but, as you can see, it killed them in pass coverage. Will things change with players that, presumably, fit the system better? The schedule is a tiny bit better in terms of opposing offenses because Clemson is not on it. The Panthers still get Penn State and Oklahoma State in non-conference action, but they draw NC State instead of Clemson.
Pitt’s schedule is pretty tricky because the lone bye week doesn’t come until early November. That stretch of games includes Penn State, Oklahoma State, and the triple-option of Georgia Tech in consecutive weeks. Two huge games come at the end of the year against Virginia Tech and Miami, so those looking for Pitt to chase down a seventh win for a push or an eighth win for a cashed ticket may be sweating big time.
Win Total Pick: Under 7
My projected numbers show a slight lean to the under, so that’s what our final call will be here. Obviously things could change if Max Browne winds up being a good fit for the offense and we’ll have to adjust accordingly. As things currently stand, though, it’s hard to put a high ceiling on a team with a defense as brutal as Pitt’s last season. An offensive coordinator change has bettors a bit concerned about that side of the ball going into the season, which puts even more emphasis on the defense. There are winnable games and upset chances, but not nearly enough to feel confident in eight wins.