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Today at No. 83: PITTSBURGH Coach: Pat Narduzzi (0-0, entering first year; 0-0 overall) 2014 record: 6-7, 4-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference; tied for...

mlb money lineToday at No. 83: PITTSBURGH

Coach: Pat Narduzzi (0-0, entering first year; 0-0 overall)

2014 record: 6-7, 4-4 in Atlantic Coast Conference; tied for third in Coastal Division

Look back: Pitt’s second season in the ACC proved to be slightly more trying than its first. The Panthers were competitive, with five of their seven losses coming by fewer than 10 points. However, the inability to win close contests kept Pitt from being anything more than slightly above average despite some sensational performances from sophomore skill-position players Tyler Boyd and James Conner.

Offensive starters returning: 9

Offensive starters lost: 2

Defensive starters returning: 6

Defensive starters lost: 5

Key losses: OL T.J. Clemmings, LB Anthony Gonzalez, WR Manasseh Garner, LB Todd Thomas, DB Ray Vinopal, DL David Durham

Top returnees: RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd, OL Adam Bisnowaty, QB Chad Voytik, OL Dorian Johnson, PK Chris Blewitt, LB Matt Galambos, DB Reggie Mitchell, LB Bam Bradley, DB Avonte Maddox, DL Rori Blair

Strengths: There may not be a better running back-receiver combo in the ACC than James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The duo was simply fantastic, with the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Conner (1,765 rushing yards, 26 touchdowns) earning some Heisman hype early last season and Boyd (78 receptions, 1,261 receiving yards and 8 touchdowns) building on what was an impressive freshman campaign. They will give first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi — a former defensive coordinator from Michigan State — some much-needed help on one side of the ball as he tries to revamp an inexperienced defense.

Weaknesses: The defense was fine last year, ranking 34th nationally in total defense (359.8 yards allowed per game) and 58th in scoring (26.3 points per game). However, the Panthers have a ton of question marks, especially along the defensive line. For instance, Rori Blair was productive as a freshman (5 sacks), but is he capable of being an every-down end at 230 pounds? Projected starting linebackers Nic Grigsby, Matt Galambos and Bam Bradley all have experience, but how will the trio hold up with more playing time? Corners Lafayette Pitts and Avonte Maddox are expected to be pushed by incoming freshman Jordan Whitehead despite being full-time starters by the end of the season. With a new coach, it seems like every position us up for grabs, meaning there is competition but instability at this point.

Quarterback Chad Voytik was a game manager in his first season as a starter, completing 61 percent of his passes for 2,233 yards with 16 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Voytik has the luxury of having two really good safety valves in Conner and Boyd to take the pressure off him, as well as a fairly experienced and deep offensive line that includes returning starters Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson. Can he capitalize on the help around him?

The Panthers are also in need of a second option outside of Boyd, who accounted for more than 50 percent of the team’s receiving yards last season. Receiver Dontez Ford (3 receptions, 50 yards) was the starting receiver opposite of Boyd exiting the spring, but Pittsburgh is expected to use a platoon here.

Outlook: Paul Chryst did not leave the cupboard bare for Narduzzi when he departed for Wisconsin during the offseason. Boyd and Conner lead an offense that could be among the top units in the conference if it gets more consistent play from the quarterback. The defense is iffy, but Narduzzi was known for fielding elite defenses at Michigan State and should be able to whip the group into shape as the Panthers look to make a push in the middling Coastal Division.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Youngstown State

Sept. 12 at Akron

Sept. 19 at Iowa

Oct. 3 at Virginia Tech

Oct. 10 Virginia

Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech

Oct. 24 at Syracuse

Oct. 29 North Carolina

Nov. 7 Notre Dame

Nov. 14 at Duke

Nov. 21 Louisville

Nov. 27 Miami

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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