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 Football Positional Rankings 2013: Offensive Line

Seantrel Henderson is One of Several Standout O-Linemen for Miami's Top-Ranked Unit

Seantrel Henderson is One of Several Standout O-Linemen for Miami’s Top-Ranked Unit

Less than two months from the start of the 2013 college football season! And it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off until August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the offensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends). The conference has been churning out pro prospects across the offensive line for years, and this season also possesses at least a few (if not more) players who will be suiting up on Sundays within the next few years.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual center/tackle/guard is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of offensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Offensive Line

1. Miami Hurricanes: This is the group responsible for Duke Johnson‘s breakout 2012 campaign, and will ultimately decide just how far the ‘Canes go this fall as well. You could dub guard Brandon Linder the “leader” of this line, but then you’d also be selling the other four returning starters short. In Linder and fellow senior Seantrel Henderson, Miami has as experienced and solid a right side of the line as you’ll find anywhere in the country. If you’re looking for prospective NFL players, this is the spot, with Linder and Henderson as the clear highlights.

2. Florida State Seminoles: In center Bryan Stork and guard Tre’ Jackson, Florida State returns two of the conference’s best offensive linemen — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Four out of five starters from 2012′s group are back in total and the only addition is right tackle Bobby Hart, who saw significant playing time last season as well. They’ll be challenged this year, protecting an inexperienced passer, while also receiving the luxury of two veteran running backs to help improve upon last year’s 24th-ranked rushing offense.

3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: When you have the run-heavy triple-option attack that Georgia Tech does, you need as many big bodies on the line as possible. Lucky for this year’s squad, they’ve got plenty of those, and experienced ones at that. All five starters have at least a season’s-worth of time in their current roles, with guard Will Jackson starting since his freshman season (at both guard and tackle). Should the team pass the ball more this year (seems likely), it may be a slight mindset adjustment. But considering Tech only allowed 14 sacks all of last season — even on fewer dropbacks — it may end up being a simple transition.

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ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Pittsburgh Panthers

The Quarterback Position Is One of New Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst’s Biggest Concerns This Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh enters 2012′s spring practices disappointed, and employing their third head coach in as many years. Not surprisingly, those two items are also linked. As predicted by many around the game, former coach Todd Graham lasted just one season in the Steel City. He failed to truly change any part of a stagnant offense and the team he leaves behind is in a more confused state than the one he inherited. So new head coach Paul Chryst has his work cut out for him, needing role players on both ends to show themselves as leaders from day one of spring ball. First in line on that front is — of course — quarterback Tino Sunseri. Inconsistent as they come, he’ll enter camp with no guarantees about his job status, and will face stiff competition all around. Along with returning reserves Trey Anderson and Mark Myers, there’s additional buzz that redshirt freshman Chad Voytik could actually be the best quarterback on the roster. For this horrendous passing unit (77th nationally in 2011), any sure arm will do, even if there’s little to throw to. Devin Street and Mike Shanahan could improve, but should they fail to, Pitt will once again rely on the run. This is where incumbent starter Ray Graham comes in handy. Arguably one of the best backs in the game, Graham will be unavailable this spring, leaving initial reps to Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis. Come the fall, expect this rotation to be a fierce one-two punch of Graham and five-star back Rushel Shell, who’s certain to continue the schools’ recent tradition of pro-caliber rushers. Continue reading