ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Can Aaron Donald and a Strong Defense Help Overcome Pitt's Offensive Futility?

Can Aaron Donald and a Strong Defense Help Overcome Pittsburgh’s Offensive Issues?

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

2012 W-L: 6-7 (3-4 in Big East)

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (6-7; second season)

Returning Starters: 13 (5 Offense, 8 Defense)

Bad luck, bad hires, bad timing… just seems like nothing can go right for Pittsburgh of late. And this offseason didn’t really make things easier, as players continue to leave the program — most notably would-be standout halfback Rushel Shell this spring, who ended up at arch rival West Virginia. There are two positives: the ACC move and coach Paul Chryst actually sticking around pas the one season mark, but are they enough to outweigh the on-field losses? We’ll find out pretty quickly as Pitt’s thrown into the fire early — a Labor Day date with defending conference champion Florida State. While the Panthers aren’t exactly expected to beat the ‘Noles, a respectable showing could at least show signs that this team is ready and willing to compete in its new conference right away. If they fall flat though, it could be a very long season for a team in transition.

The offense will take on a very different identity than in years’ past, with or without the personnel to do so. Losing Shell and former starting running back Ray Graham (nearly 1,700 yards between them last season), Pitt’s usual propensity for running the ball seems to be a difficult sell. Backup Isaac Bennett will take over primary ball-carrying duties, but without much experience himself, or depth behind him, it’s unlikely you’ll see the Panthers running the ball nearly as much as normal. Making matters a bit more worrisome, the offensive line has to replace its own set of departed players, and try and account for a lack of depth as well. Several freshman could conceivably end up in the regular linemen rotation — a disconcerting thought when you think about the types of pass-rushers Pitt will face in the ACC. With positions shifting around, it may come down to tackle T.J. Clemmings‘s ability to handle a switch to the offensive side of the ball and take pressure of the veteran guards. If the line can come together quickly, it’s obviously a huge relief for both the running game (which needs plenty of help) and the also-green passing attack as well.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Is Former Rutgers QB Tom Savage Ready to Take Over the Job at Pitt This Spring?

Is Former Rutgers QB Tom Savage Ready to Take Over the Job at Pitt This Spring?

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

Spring Practice Start Date: March 5

Spring Game Date: April 12

The Panthers jumped into spring practices a few weeks back, as they attempt to move on without key playmakers on offense, and adjust to a brand-new defensive coordinator as well. All this change is nothing new for Pitt, however, as any fan would tell you. Over the past four years, the team’s employed three head coaches and four different defensive coordinators. Now, replacing their starting running back and quarterback too, it’s the personnel the coaches that must adjust to the new personnel. Will it be an easy process, or another frustrating, long offseason?

As mentioned, the keys for Pitt’s offense are figuring out the quarterback and running back situations. While experienced passer Tom Savage (Rutgers transfer, by way of Arizona) appears to be the front-runner to succeed departed senior Tino Sunseri, it’s not necessarily a lock. In two years starting part-time for the Scarlet Knights, Savage struggled with accuracy (only completed about 52 percent of his passes) and regularly had his confidence shaken by poor performance. Behind him, Chad Voytik and Trey Anderson are also waiting in the wings, though both are largely unknown commodities. In particular, Anderson’s shown some fleeting promise in limited reps these past two seasons, but tough to make any over-arching generalizations after just 35 passes. At running back, on the other hand, Ray Graham‘s replacement is entirely proven. Rushel Shell was impressive in splitting carries with Graham last season, and he’s slated to do even more this season as the feature back (while also spelled by Isaac Bennett). Pitt has the potential to be among the nation’s best rushing teams this season (as they could’ve been last season as well), but a lot of that will ultimately come down to the offensive line push, which is undergoing its own transitions as well.

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A Case for the ACC (or Anyone Other Than the SEC)

Alec Lemon and the Orange Were Not Intimidated by the SEC

First, let’s be clear, the SEC is the most talented football conference in the nation. However, just how much better the SEC is than everyone else is less clear. Many people have bought into the notion of SEC superiority so wholeheartedly that they are now unable to seriously consider a team from another conference as a legitimate national title contender.

Playing in the national championship is not a birthright, it is something that teams earn. Right now though, it seems like the SEC is all but guaranteed a spot in the title game. Assuming Notre Dame beats USC, they are in, and will play the winner of the Georgia vs. Alabama game — so long as neither of those teams lose their regular season finale (go Jackets!). Georgia and Alabama are both talented one-loss teams; but it is wrong how one loss SEC teams are favored so strongly by humans, and thus computers too,  just because of their conference.

Why not a one-loss ACC team? Consider Florida State. FSU is currently ranked 10th in the BCS standings, behind five SEC teams. Two of these SEC teams, LSU and Texas A&M, both have two loses. FSU’s one loss this season came relatively early in the season on the road vs. NC State. Usually it is better to lose early in the season, yet Alabama lost just two weeks ago and is second in the BCS. FSU’s best win of the season came against Clemson, another one-loss ACC team wrongly buried behind SEC teams. FSU has two remaining regular season games: against rival Florida, and ACC Coastal Division Champion Georgia Tech. Should FSU win these two games, that would mean two more quality victories. Compare this to Georgia, who has a clear route to the national title available to them. UGA’s only signature win was a sloppy victory over Florida, whom FSU will have a chance to beat too, and their only loss was a beat down by South Carolina. Georgia is 1-1 in premiere games this season and has the 46th-ranked strength of schedule according to the Sagarin ratings. Other SEC teams mirror this pattern of one quality in-conference win, and one or two in-conference losses.

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Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25: Week 13

Notre Dame Took Care of Business Versus Wake Forest, and Now Sit One Win Away From the BCS National Championship Game

As is customary, we’ll be bringing you a new take on the top 25 teams in the country each Monday during the regular season. This week, we survey the wreckage after the top two teams went down; leaving us with the real possibility of another all-SEC championship. Disagree at all? Feel free to share that with us below (respectfully, of course).

Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25 (Week 13)

1. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (11-0) (LW: 3) (First-place votes: 4)

2. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-0) (LW: 5)

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (10-1) (LW: 4)

4. Oregon Ducks (10-1) (LW: 1)

5. Kansas State Wildcats (10-1) (LW: 2)

6. Georgia Bulldogs (10-1) (LW: 10)

7. Florida State Seminoles (10-1) (LW: 6)

8. Florida Gators (10-1) (LW: 7)

9. LSU Tigers (9-2) (LW: 8)

10. Texas A&M Aggies (9-2) (LW: 9)

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Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25: Week 10

Notre Dame’s Big Win Over Oklahoma Solidifies Them as a National Championship Threat

As is customary, we’ll be bringing you a new take on the top 25 teams in the country each Monday during the regular season. The theme of this past weekend was upheaval, and the BCS picture is looking as cloudy as ever, still with eight or nine teams in the championship conversation. Disagree at all? Feel free to share that with us below (respectfully, of course).

Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25 (Week 10)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (8-0) (LW: 1) (First-place votes: 5)

2. Kansas State Wildcats (8-0) (LW: 4)

3. Oregon Ducks (8-0) (LW: 3)

4. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-0) (LW: 5)

5. LSU Tigers (7-1) (LW: 6)

6. Ohio State Buckeyes (9-0) (LW: 9)

7. Florida State Seminoles (8-1) (LW: 10)

8. Florida Gators (7-1) (LW: 2)

9. Georgia Bulldogs (7-1) (LW: 14)

10. South Carolina Gamecocks (7-2) (LW: 15)

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Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25: Week Four

Stanford’s Big Upset Over USC Sent Shockwaves Through This Week’s Top 25 Poll

As is customary, we’ll be bringing you a new take on the top 25 teams in the country each Monday during the regular season. With some big upsets this week, you’ll notice quite the shake-up from top to bottom. Disagree at all? Feel free to share that with us below (respectfully, of course).

Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25 (Week Four)

1. Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0) (LW: 2) (First-place votes: 5)

2. LSU Tigers (3-0) (LW: 3)

3. Oregon Ducks (3-0) (LW: 4)

4. Florida State Seminoles (3-0) (LW: 5)

5. South Carolina Gamecocks (3-0) (LW: 10)

6. Oklahoma Sooners (2-0) (LW: 7)

7. Stanford Cardinal (3-0) (LW: 18)

8. Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) (LW: 6)

9. West Virginia Mountaineers (2-0) (LW: 9)

10. Clemson Tigers (3-0) (LW: 11)

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Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25: Week Three

USC Maintains Its Top Spot in Our Poll, Though It Was Not Without a Fight This Week

As is customary, we’ll be bringing you a new take on the top 25 teams in the country each Monday during the regular season. With some big upsets this week, you’ll notice quite the shake-up from top to bottom. Disagree at all? Feel free to share that with us below (respectfully, of course).

Atlantic Coast Convos 2012 Top 25 (Week Three)

1. USC Trojans (2-0) (LW: 1) (First-place votes: 3)

2. Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0) (LW: 2) (1)

3. LSU Tigers (2-0) (LW: 4)

4. Oregon Ducks (2-0) (LW: 3)

5. Florida State Seminoles (2-0) (LW: 5)

6. Georgia Bulldogs (2-0) (LW: 8)

7. Oklahoma Sooners (2-0) (LW: 6)

8. Michigan State Spartans (2-0) (LW: 12)

9. West Virginia Mountaineers (1-0) (LW: 7)

10. South Carolina Gamecocks (2-0) (LW: 9)

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