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    [2020] Pittsburgh Panthers Season Preview - Presented by the ACC Network

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    :pitt: Pittsburgh Panthers

    2019 Record: 9-5 (6-1 ACC)

    1st in the ACC Coastal


    Pittsburgh had a season for the ages in 2019, winning the Coastal for the second time in program history after having to replace decorated quarterback Luke Williams. The Panthers' five losses came to teams that finished the 2019 season in the Top 25, including four losses to playoff teams (three to championship game participants). With a solid dual-threat offense and a hearty defense, Pittsburgh was able to breeze through the Coastal en route to the conference title game in Charlotte, and despite the departure of quite a few key pieces from that squad, the Panthers will be looking to take the division once again in 2020.


    Notable Losses:

    RB Rodrigo Rogers 5-11 204 (Sr) Bishop Miege (Shawnee Mission, KS) 4.0 of 4.0 [Speed]

    TE Hunter Goodson 6-2 239 (Sr) Fort Scott CC (Fort Scott, KS) 4.0 of 4.0 [Blocking]

    OG Marc Kerns 6-1 270 Sr Middlesex County College (Edison, NJ) 4.5 of 4.5 [Run Blocking]

    DT Michael McBride 6-4 313 (Sr) Pleasant (Marion, OH) 5.0 of 5.0 [2-Gap]

    OLB Joey Johnston 6-4 217 (Sr) Classical (Providence, RI) 3.5 of 3.5 [Coverage]

    SS Corey Davis 6-2 195 Sr Gateway (Monroeville PA) 5.0 of 5.0 [Zone Coverage]


    Rogers wasn't heralded in Pittsburgh until his final season, where he exploded for 1,216 yards and 13 touchdowns in a more run-friendly offense. Losing Rogers leaves a big dent in an explosive offense, potentially forcing McConnell to throw the ball more. Also gone is Pitt's 3rd-leading receiver in Goodson, who recorded 596 yards and 8 scores in his senior season. Kerns was a rock on the line, and losing him alongside fellow guard Kenneth Sanchez might result in a few consistency issues on a line playing only two starters from last season. All-ACC defensive tackle McBride is gone after recording 8 sacks in his senior season, and Davis is no longer around to anchor a solid secondary. Losing McBride and Davis, two phenomenal players during their time at Pitt, will surely put a sting in the upcoming season.


    Notable Returners:

    QB Grant McConnell 6-4 198 Sr Orange County Community College (Middletown, NY) 4.5 of 4.5 [Scrambling]

    WR Adam Coles 6-0 198 (Jr) Parkersburg (Parkersburg, WV) 5.0 of 5.0 [Speed]

    WR Samuel Ritter 6-2 218 Sr Notre Dame (Lawrenceville, NJ) 4.0 of 4.0 [Target]

    OT Jaime Reyna 6-2 277 (Jr) Ohatchee (Ohatchee, AL) 4.0 of 4.0 [Run Blocking]

    C Tim Kerns 6-1 271 (Sr) LaFayette (LaFayette GA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Pass Blocking]

    DE Messiah Pruitt 6-1 263 (Jr) L.E. Dieruff (Allentown, PA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Contain]

    ILB Abe Rock 6-3 235 (Jr) Trinity (Trinity, NC) 4.5 of 4.5 [Mike]

    CB Khalil William 6-0 173 (Sr) Mayer Lutheran (Mayer MN) 4.0 of 4.0 [Zone Coverage]

    CB Jeremiah Davis 6-1 202 (Jr) North East (North East, PA) 4.0 of 4.0 [Zone Coverage]


    It's obviously great to return your starting quarterback from a successful campaign, and with the improvements of Coles and Ritter, the passing game should improve from last season. Kerns and Reyna are the only two returning members of the offensive line; their experience and leadership will be needed to keep the line sturdy. Pruitt was second in sacks to McBride, having recorded 4.5 in his sophomore season and returning as the most veteran player in the pass rush. Abe Rock is, well, a rock at inside linebacker, racking up 47 tackles last season and even picking up an interception. William and Davis will look to cover for a weaker secondary, coming in as two corners with a lot of experience against higher-end receivers (see Josiah McCray, Cameron Beatty, etc).


    Potential Strengths:

    Experience Downfield - We know the passing game is going to be great, but I'd say that's more because of the skill that Coles and Ritter bring to the table than it is McConnell's arm. In Coles, the Panthers have a 1,000-yard receiver, being a big threat to get past slower players in the secondary. Ritter provides a solid option #2, having picked up 624 yards himself in the same role last season. Goodson is a notable loss, having been McConnell's favorite target in the red zone, but Dovid Dobson has the hands to be a very capable threat.


    Sharp Corners - The Panthers have two skilled corners in Khalil William and Jeremiah Davis, with the former providing a nuisance to some of the better receivers in the conference. With Clemson off the schedule and with Florida State and Boston College being avoided, the toughest receivers Pittsburgh will likely face in conference are Cameron Beatty of Virginia, Sean Spaczek of Duke, and Omari Ruff of NC State, all opposition that William has handled in the past or can handle in the near future. Quarterbacks won't get many open looks with these on the field, but William and Davis will have to be on the top of their game to cover for a rather interesting secondary.


    Potential Weaknesses:

    Safety First? - Yes, I know inside linebacker to strong safety is a relatively safe transition, but not having a player who can play that position naturally could be damning potentially. Besides the fact that Simon Newman is an obvious step down from Corey Davis, he'll be having to adapt to the position in real time, and teams looking to contend can't really afford that. I could be wrong and Newman could play out of his mind, but it's a very major concern to me.


    In the Sack - Pittsburgh loses both McBride and defensive end Phillip Tillman, losing 8.5 of the teams' 14 sacks. While Pruitt does return (as the only returning starting player on the defensive line)and Matthew Waldron is certainly capable of keeping some pressure on the line, the loss of McBride will certainly be felt during the season. Pitt generated a ton of pressure last season thanks in part to McBride's explosiveness up the middle; losing him should be reflected in the decline of the number of sacks. Pitt should still be able to get to the quarterback, but with the pass rush expected to decline, quarterbacks could find the time to expose Pitt's safeties.


    2020 Schedule:

    Week 2: at West Virginia (Morgontown, WV)

    Week 3: at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA)

    Week 4: at Penn State (State College, PA)

    Week 5: at Oklahoma (Norman, OK)

    Week 7: Stanford (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Week 8: Virginia (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Week 9: North Carolina (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Week 10: at Duke (Durham, NC)

    Week 12: Miami (FL) (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Week 13: at Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA)

    Week 14: North Carolina State (Pittsburgh, PA)

    Week 15: at Syracuse (Syracuse, NY)


    What to Expect:

    That opening stretch is brutal. Playing four consecutive road games, including two against teams that should be contending for conference titles and one against a divisional rival, is absolutely insane. Fortunately for the Panthers, both Virginia Tech and Oklahoma are expected to take steps back, although the latter will still be a very tough opponent in Norman. Aside from the Virginia game (in Pittsburgh), the conference schedule definitely doesn't look scary, and Pitt should escape with at most one conference loss. Once again, though, Pittsburgh should get off to a slow start only to roar back in conference to be a top two team in the Coastal. I foresee wins against Virginia Tech, Stanford, North Carolina, Duke, Miami (FL), Georgia Tech, NC State, and Syracuse. Pitt should fall in games to West Virginia, Penn State, Oklahoma, and Virginia, leaving the Panthers at 8-4 (7-1 ACC) and 2nd in the Coastal.


    Best Case Scenario:

    The secondary plays much better than expected and makes life hard for passing threats (Foster at WVU, Rook at UVA). Rook is harassed at Heinz Field, and Pittsburgh walks away with yet another clean divisional record while also claiming the scalp of the Sooners, ending up as a Top 15 team at 10-2, playing in Charlotte for the second consecutive season.


    Worst Case Scenario:

    The defense takes more steps back and falters against most teams with a solid passing attack, letting Virginia, Duke, and Georgia Tech throw over them. 6-6 seems to be the floor for Pittsburgh, but that would be disappointing given the results of last season and the expectations this season.

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