NCAA Football Preview - Pittsburgh Panthers

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Updated: 8/19/2013 9:22 am

A pattern would emerge in October, as Pitt lost to Syracuse (14-13) and Louisville (45-35), only to follow with wins over Buffalo (20-6) and Temple (47-17). More of the same in November, as losses to Notre Dame (29-26 3OT) and Connecticut (24-17), were followed by wins over Rutgers (27-6) and USF (27-3).

At 6-6, Pittsburgh found itself in a very familiar place come postseason, participating in the BBVA Compass Bowl for the third straight time. Matched up with and SEC opponent in Ole Miss, Pittsburgh fell hard, 38-17 to close out its Big East stay at 6-7.

2013 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Heading into the ACC, the hope in Steel Town is that Chryst can build off a strong offensive season, especially passing the football. That will be easier said than done however, as quarterback Tino Sunseri has moved on. Who exactly steps up and takes over the offense remains to be seen, although Chryst does have some options, including Rutgers transfer Tom Savage (6-5, 230) and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik (6-1, 205).

Regardless of who is under center, they will be looking for veteran wideout Devin Street down the field. Street (6-4, 190) is a game-changer on the outside and is coming off a season in which he hauled in 73 passes, for 975 yards and five touchdowns.

Chryst is very happy to have a player of Street's caliber to lean on.

"It's great to have him back. Obviously Devin is a very good player. He did a lot of really good things, but I'm excited because I still believe he can continue to get better. He realizes what he's got in the value of Coach (Bobby) Engram coaching him day in and day out. Certainly Devin is going to be one of those guys we need to play at a high level and lead at a high level. It's a tremendous feeling having Devin here."

The Panthers could also look to 6-2 freshman Tyler Boyd in the passing game. A smooth receiver with a great feel for the game, Boyd comes to Pittsburgh following an impressive high school career, where he amassed 5,755 yards and 117 touchdowns.

To achieve balance however, Chryst must find someone to step into the void left by Ray Graham's departure, after he put up 1,042 yards and 11 TDs last season, en route to All-Big East First-Team honors. Junior Isaac Bennett (4.9 ypc) played sparingly last season and should see his playing time increase. The team is also high on freshman James Conner, who at 6-2, 230 pounds, brings a physical aspect to the running game.

DEFENSE: The defensive side of the football will see less atrophy, with the return of nine starters. The unit as a whole, was extremely stingy in 2012, giving up just 330.5 yards of total offense.

A veteran-laden defensive front is led by senior tackle Aaron Donald (6-0, 275), who posted 64 tackles last season, with 11 TFL and 5.5 sacks. He will be flanked by fellow senior tackle Tyrone Ezell (6-4, 300), who 39 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year.

A strength of the unit last year was the secondary, which returns three of its four starters, highlighted by Second-Team All-Big East safety Jason Hendricks, who had a huge season, posting 90 total tackles and six interceptions. Senior cornerback K'Waun Williams (5-10, 195) is another playmaker and ball hawk, finishing last year with 47 tackles and four INTs.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kevin harper was decent as the team's place kicker last season, finishing 20-of-27, with a long of 47 yards. His likely replacement will be freshman Chris Blewitt, who was regarded as one of the nation's top prep place kickers a year ago. Senior punter Matt Yoklic will once again reprise his role after averaging 41.8 yards per punt in 2012.

OUTLOOK: There will be no easing into its new surroundings for Pittsburgh, as the Panthers open their first season in the ACC, with defending conference champion Florida State. Other league foes that come to Heinz Field include Virginia, North Carolina and Miami-Florida. The road slate in-conference will be no picnic either, with trips to Duke, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Syracuse on the docket.

Three of the team's four non-conference games will be at home in the form of New Mexico, Old Dominion and Notre Dame, with the lone road game comes at Navy.

If the Panthers can turn some of those close losses into wins this season, bowl eligibility is within their grasp. Jumping up in competition though leaves the team with a tougher than usual schedule.

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