2014 Record: 6-7
Returning starters: Chad Voytik, QB, James Conner, RB, Tyler Boyd, WR, J.P Holtz, TE, Adam Bisnowaty, LT, Dorian Johnson, LG, Artie Rowell, C, Alex Officer, OL, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, DT, Darryl Render, DT, Shakir Soto, DE, Matt Galambos, MLB, Lafayette Pitts, CB, Avonte Maddox, CB, Reggie Mitchell, S, Chris Blewitt, K, Ryan Winslow, P
Most important offensive player: tie--Tyler Boyd, WR, and James Conner, RB. They’re two of the top three skill players in the conference, maybe the top two depending on where some stand on Clemson QB Deshaun Watson. It’s difficult to say who’s better and any case to be made for one over the other is just splitting hairs. Bottom line, they’re both very good and they’re the cornerstones of Pitt’s offense.
Most important defensive player: Lafayette Pitts, CB. New head coach Pat Narduzzi’s scheme places a great deal of responsibility upon its corners, leaving them in man coverage on an island more often than not. Pitts will match up with the opposition’s best wideout each week and if the Panthers’ pass defense will be effective, he’ll need to be solid in his senior year.
Emerging offensive player: Chad Voytik, QB. Voytik was one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks in the second half of 2014 and has taken further ownership of the Pitt offense heading into this season. He spent part of his summer at the Manning Passing Camp and studied under offensive guru Jim Chaney. Although Conner and Boyd draw the most attention, make no mistake in knowing who is in command of the offense.
Emerging defensive player: Jordan Whitehead, S. Whitehead was the prize of the Panthers’ 2015 recruiting class and there was panic he would leave amidst the transition between Paul Chryst and Pat Narduzzi. But Whitehead stayed firm in his commitment to his hometown school and is primed to become a playmaker on defense. He could probably contribute at two or three other positions on either side of the ball, but safety is where the Panthers need him most and the area he can make an impact quickly.
How they matchup with Syracuse: Pitt matches up rather well with the Orange. Running through the schedule, that game is probably a win for the Panthers. Pitt's offense should be enough for the Panthers to control the game as their experienced, talented unit could prove too much for a young Syracuse defense in the midst of transition to handle. Defensively, Syracuse has talent but nothing Pitt shouldn't be able to handle.
Season outlook: A successful season for Pitt would be moving beyond the six-win plateau the Panthers have been stuck on in each of the past four regular seasons, resulting in an inconsequential bowl game each time. The program is supposed to be embarking upon a new era under head coach Pat Narduzzi, and that would be a good place to start. The offense will be one of the best in the league, with returning talent on the offensive line and at the skill positions. James Conner and Tyler Boyd are the best players at their respective positions in the ACC and Chad Voytik is primed to become one of the conference’s top quarterbacks under the tutelage of Jim Chaney and with a year of starting experience. The key to this team’s success is if Narduzzi and new defensive coordinator Josh Conklin can build a unit that will match the prowess of the offense. If so, Pitt could be dangerous.