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.