Pitt Football Season Predictions: Narduzzi Has Tools For Successful First Year


The first college football game of the Pat Narduzzi Era is coming fast, and Pitt Panthers fans have a level of excitement that has not been seen since the early Dave Wannstedt years.

We are days away from the season opener, and I cannot wait!

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Now that former athletic director Steve Pederson is gone and incoming AD Matt Barnes from Utah State has taken the position, Pitt seems poised to turn its football program into a winner and a contender not willing to hold back on its athletic program.

Pitt brought in Narduzzi, who was defensive coordinator at a very good Michigan State football program, and he will try to build upon the stability that Paul Chryst created, upon going home to coach his Wisconsin Badgers.  Chryst will open the season against Nick Saban and Alabama.

Narduzzi and the new staff have used social media and various gatherings to generate excitement, and every coach on the team has a level of recruiting prowess that was missing in previous staffs. These guys literally recruit all over the country, and that is the way it should be.

For Pitt to turn the corner, the program will have to maintain at least 75% of the top-tier talent in the WPIAL/ Pittsburgh area, and they will need to bring in athletes from football hotbeds such as Ohio, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas. The current staff knows what they have to do to build a winner.

Fortunately, Narduzzi was inherited the youngest college football team in the country last season, so several key players are returning. Highlighted by Preseason NCAA All-American wide receiver Tyler Boyd and ACC Player of the Year running back James Conner, Pitt should have a potent offense against an average ACC Coastal Division.  Aside from Georgia Tech, who defeated Georgia in a big-time bowl game, the rest of the ACC Coastal is average with some potential.  The ACC Atlantic has some stronger teams such as Clemson and Florida State.

We’ve previously covered position by position, but now I am going to run through the Panthers schedule with my predictions for Narduzzi’s first season with Pitt.

Ironically, Pitt starts the season at home against Narduzzi’s hometown, as the Youngstown State Penguins come marching into Heinz Field. Tyler Boyd and defensive end Rori Blair will both miss this game due to suspension. I can assure you that the Penguins game plan will be to contain James Conner, but I still don’t know if he can be stopped.

Pitt should be eager to get the season started, and I expect a similar beating that the Panthers delivered to Delaware in the opener last season. Pitt lost to Youngstown State with Tino Sunseri at the helm on Chryst’s debut back in 2012, but Chad Voytik is a much more athletic quarterback and Narduzzi expects a strong defense that will not be out of position. Pitt 45, Youngstown State 10.

The next Saturday, Pitt will travel to Akron to look for revenge against their embarrassing loss to the Zips at home last season. This will begin a three-game road stretch. I am not sure why Steve Pederson would schedule a home and away with Akron, but Pitt did.  I say this because Pitt has nothing to gain in a game like this, but much to lose.  Akron is not a bad team, but if Pitt loses to them, it does not look good for recruiting and momentum moving forward.

Fans expect Pitt to beat Akron, so a win wouldn’t excite them.  These types of games do not help Pitt’s schedule strength, and I hope the new AD and Chancellor schedule Power 5 teams instead. Regardless, this game should mean revenge for Voytik, Conner, Boyd, and the rest of the Panthers. I think Pitt displays a much more experienced, high-powered offense than the one who only scored 10 points last season. Other playmakers such as sophomore running back Chris James and wide receiver Jester Weah could emerge in a game like this, but the defense will still need some work. Pitt 31, Akron 14.

The next Saturday, September 19th, will feature an ACC/ Big Ten primetime matchup as Pitt travels to Iowa.  The Hawkeyes handed Pitt their first loss of the season 24-20 last year, in a game where Pitt squandered a 10-point halftime lead. Iowa is likely the most physical team that Pitt will play this season, and no games on the road are easy in college football.

This will be a game where the loss of offensive lineman TJ Clemmings and Matt Rotheram, as well as linebackers Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez will be put to the test. Do the new starters have what it takes against another Power 5 team? Iowa does not have nearly as good an offense as Pitt, so I think the Panthers will squeak this one out, but it could go either way. Kicker Chris Blewitt makes the game-winning field goal in this one. Pitt 27, Iowa 24.

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  • If my predictions go this way, Pitt will be 3-0 entering some ACC Coastal action. The Panthers will get a bye week after Iowa and then prepare for a Saturday, October 3rd contest at Virginia Tech. Pitt has beaten Virginia Tech lately, and I do not think that the Hokies have the firepower to beat the Panthers even with home-field advantage. Virginia Tech did beat Ohio State last season, but they finished 7-6. Pitt wins Narduzzi’s first ACC game on the road, as the defense appears more confident and the offense puts enough points on the board. Pitt 24, Virginia Tech 10.

    The following weekend, Pitt will host the Virginia Cavaliers at Heinz Field. Virginia was 5-7 last season, yet exploded and scored 21 points in the second quarter for a 24-3 halftime lead last season against the Panthers. Pitt made a comeback but their deficit was just too big, falling 24-19. Pitt should be ready to put on a good performance at Heinz Field, and Voytik should expand his arsenal, throwing to tight ends J.P. Holtz and Scott Orndoff and other wide receivers such as Challingsworth, Zeise, Ford, and Araujo-Lopes. The Pitt offense is much better than Virginia’s, but will the Pitt defense hold up over the season? Pitt 21, Virginia 17.

    I hate to sound like a homer, but at this point I see the only potential loss coming at Iowa. If Pitt starts the season 5-0, they’ll likely be ranked at this point with some buzz generating for the Saturday, October 17th showdown at No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets were 11-3 last season, ending their year with a bowl win over Georgia. Pitt was trounced last season 56-28, committing five turnovers in its first five possessions, and handing them a 28-0 lead.

    This time around, I think Pitt will put on a better performance, but the defense is not good enough to contain the high-powered offensive attack. Pitt could not stop them last year, and I am not so sure if they can this season. Narduzzi and Conklin will likely have a better defensive scheme than Matt House and Chryst, but will it be enough? Pitt suffers its first loss of the year to a good team. Georgia Tech 38, Pitt 28.

    Luckily, Pitt will travel to Syracuse the following weekend, to battle an Orange team that was 3-9 last year and defeated by Pitt 30-7. This is where we find out how well the coaching staff can get the Panthers to move forward and rebound from a loss. Syracuse won’t be able to contain Tyler Boyd or James Conner in this one, as Pitt easily improves to 6-1 and 3-1 in the ACC. I would be surprised if Pitt lost this one, as Syracuse has been irrelevant. Pitt 45, Syracuse 13.

    Five days later, Pitt will host the North Carolina Tar Heels on a Thursday night on ESPN. Last season, Pitt’s defense did not show up, giving up 40 points in a 40-35 loss on the road. North Carolina finished 6-7 last year, though they were ranked at the beginning of the season. I don’t think that the new coaching staff will have Pitt’s defense out of position like last season.

    Pitt should have won this matchup last year, and they get revenge this year at home to improve to 7-1, 4-1 in the ACC.  Pitt needs to be wary of wide receiver Ryan Switzer, who has caused trouble the last two meetings. Pitt 34, North Carolina 27.

    On Saturday, November 7th, Pitt will welcome the No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish. These games are usually close battles that come down to the wire. I believe that this will be no exception. Notre Dame was 8-5 last year, and they are expected to be much better. The Panthers will be looking for a signature win, but I think a few costly turnovers and defensive lapses will come back to bite Pitt. Notre Dame wins on a last second field goal to break my heart and make me despise Brian Kelly a little more.  Notre Dame 31, Pitt 30.

    I believe that the final 3-game stretch of the season will determine whether Pitt wins the ACC Coastal or not. With a 7-2 (4-1 ACC) record, the Panthers will travel to Duke on Nov. 14th. Last season, Pitt had the opportunity to kick the game-winning field goal but missed a short field goal at an awkward angle and went on to lose in double overtime 51-48.

    Again, the defense looked lethargic and could not get off the field. Coming off the loss to Notre Dame, Pitt should be playing angry and respond positively. Duke will have trouble stopping James Conner, as he scores 3 touchdowns and runs over a couple defenders.  Another high-scoring battle here.  Pitt 45, Duke 35.

    The next weekend, Pitt will host Louisville from the ACC Atlantic Division. This will be the first time the squads face off since the Big East days. Unfortunately for Louisville, Charlie Strong has moved onto Texas, so his pipeline of recruiting has ended. Louisville was 9-4 last season, so this won’t be an easy test at Heinz Field. In order to maintain a shot at the ACC Coastal crown and keep up with Georgia Tech, Pitt must win this game. With it known that Conner and Boyd are destined to go pro, they’ll put on a show for the Pitt fans in another thrilling back and forth battle just like in the Big East days. Pitt 34, Louisville 31.

    Have you noticed the high scores in several of my games? I cannot see the Pitt offense stalling, but I am not convinced that the Pitt defense will be at the level to shut down teams.  If you like offensive excitement, you should tune in to Pitt’s games.

    Pitt will host the Miami Hurricanes in an important ACC game that could very well decide the ACC Coastal. If my predictions hold true, which they probably will not, Pitt will be 9-2, 6-1 in the ACC. If Pitt beats Miami, the Panthers will go to the ACC Championship game.

    If Pitt loses to Miami, Georgia Tech makes the Championship. At this point, the Pitt Panthers will be a heavily experienced team looking for a title. Pitt defeated Miami 35-23 on the road last season, and I think the Panthers will end the regular season on a positive note, turning the corner with an ACC Coastal title. Pitt 24, Miami 17.

    Jan 2, 2015; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Chad Voytik (16) in the pocket against the Houston Cougars during the 2015 Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Houston won 35-34. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

    I do not think that the ACC Coastal division is very strong, yet several people will be surprised that Pitt wins it. I then expect Pitt to face No. 12 Clemson, who has the ACC Preseason Player of the Year in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Tyler Boyd indicated that Pitt has better players than Clemson, but we will have to see if he is correct in the ACC Championship Game.

    If Pitt were to beat Clemson, they would be 11-2, 8-1 in the ACC. Would this be enough to get into the College Football Playoff? Who knows, but I expect this to be a fun season filled with more excitement than disappointment. For the record, I am going to predict that Conner and Boyd are too much for Clemson, as Pitt wins the ACC with a 27 to 21 victory.

    Several outsiders may disagree, but Pitt has a trio of juniors in Voytik, Conner, and Boyd which should be tough to stop. I think the difference between 11-2 versus 7-5 or 6-6 will come down to two things:

    1. The quarterback play of Chad Voytik. If he struggles, Pitt could easily lose 5 to 7 games. Pitt hasn’t had a successful quarterback for years, despite all the talented playmakers on offense.  To win, Pitt has to have a leader at the quarterback position. Is Voytik, currently a redshirt junior, that guy?
    2. The defensive effort by a Pitt team that appeared dazed and confused at several games last season. The offense should be able to bail them out in several games, but to win 10 games, they must grow over the course of the season and adhere to Narduzzi and Conklin’s defensive prowess

    I’m usually very optimistic on Pitt, and it usually blows up in my face, but if Pitt gets strong quarterback play and a defense that can make “enough” timely stops, they may have a special year in Narduzzi’s first season.  It is likely that Boyd and Conner will go pro and be potential first round draft picks in the NFL, so the time is now for Pitt.

    What do you think Pitt will do this year?

    Next: Narduzzi And Pitt Staff Ready For Youngstown State

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