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The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

The University of Pittsburgh's Daily Student Newspaper

The Pitt News

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

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A portrait of Chancellor Joan Gabel.
Senate Council holds final meeting of semester, recaps recent events
By Anna Kuntz, Senior Staff Writer • May 14, 2024
Column | A thank you to student journalists
By Betul Tuncer, Editor-in-Chief • April 27, 2024

Preview | Pitt football enters 2023 season with a lot of question marks

Sophomore+running+back+Rodney+Hammond+Jr.+%286%29+and+another+Pitt+player+celebrate+at+a+game+against+Syracuse+at+Acrisure+Stadium+on+Nov.+5%2C+2022
Pamela Smith | Contributing Editor
Sophomore running back Rodney Hammond Jr. (6) and another Pitt player celebrate at a game against Syracuse at Acrisure Stadium on Nov. 5, 2022

11After posting a 20-7 overall record and finishing in the top 25 over the past two seasons, Pitt football enters a crucial year in 2023. The departures of several key players has left the team in need of new leaders and a new identity. 

By no means is this a sink or swim year for head coach Pat Narduzzi and company. The immense success the program saw over the past few seasons will keep Narduzzi out of the hot seat for years to come. Nonetheless, posting a third straight season with nine-plus wins would go a long way in earning national respect for the program. If Pitt wants to reach elite status, then another winning season in 2023 is a must. 

But this is no easy task. As it stands right now, the team lacks an identity. In 2021, the Panthers were led by their electric offense. With quarterback Kenny Pickett at the helm, the Panthers were fast and fierce, which earned them an ACC title. In 2022, Pitt was led by its dominant defense. Even though the passing game held the team back, players like defensive lineman Calijah Kancey and linebacker SirVocea Dennis stepped up big time, leading the Panthers to an impressive 9-4 record. 

But Pickett, Kancey and Dennis are all gone in 2023, along with a lot of other valuable players. Both the offense and defense will look nearly completely different this season, which raises a lot of questions.

Perhaps the biggest question entering the new season is whether redshirt senior quarterback Phil Jurkovec can successfully lead the Panther offense. Jurkovec transferred to Pitt from Boston College, where he played three years in the Maroon and Gold. 

During his tenure at Boston College, Jurkovec was plagued by injuries and ultimately failed to live up to expectations. This was especially evident last season. Despite playing alongside first-round draft pick wide receiver Zay Flowers, Jurkovec managed to complete just 59.5% of his passes with eight interceptions and led the Eagles to an abysmal 2-6 record as the starter. 

While Jurkovec undoubtedly disappointed many during his time in Boston, it doesn’t mean that he does not possess the talent to succeed in Pittsburgh. Standing at 6 feet, 5 inches, Jurkovec is a tough, pro-style pocket passer who can utilize his size to make plays. If Jurkovec can stay healthy and improve his decision-making, then the Panthers’ passing game is in good hands. But if he can’t, then Pitt will likely end up like Boston College did in 2022. 

Jurkovec will have a solid supporting cast on offense, as the Panthers have several starters returning in 2023. The strongest unit on offense is arguably the wide receiver corps. The unit will have a good mix of veterans and up-and-coming players, as junior Konata Mumpfield and redshirt senior Bub Means return to lead a group filled with new faces. Means specifically is set to have a breakout year. The former Louisiana Tech transfer posted 84 yards and a touchdown in the Sun Bowl, which led the Panthers in receiving for the game. 

The receiving corp will also have help from junior tight end Gavin Bartholomew. The returning junior had a disappointing sophomore season last year due to injury and lack of targets, but still showed promise as both a pass catcher and blocker.

On top of the receiving corps, the Panthers also have their running back room to rely on in 2023. Unlike last year, the unit will not have a clear cut starter and will likely implement a running back by committee instead. Junior running back Rodney Hammond will likely see the most touches, but redshirt senior C’Bo Flemister and LSU transfer redshirt sophomore Derrick Davis will also see a lot of action. 

Finally, the offensive line looks solid this year. Led by redshirt senior Matt Goncalves, the unit will likely thrive with a quarterback that doesn’t go down easily in Jurkovec. Goncalves, in particular, is set for a big year, as he is already projected as one of the Panthers’ top draft prospects for 2024.

Defensively, the Panthers are set for a transition year in 2023. After losing much of their star talent, the Pitt defense will need fresh faces to step up. Led by renowned defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, the Panthers’ front attack has several players capable of breaking out this season. Redshirt senior David Green and senior Dayon Hayes — who both posted 3.5 sacks in 2023 — are likely candidates for a breakout season, as they both showed promise in 2023 despite playing behind bona fide stars like Kancey. 

In the secondary, look for redshirt senior cornerbacks M.J. Devonshire and A.J. Woods to lead the way. Devonshire in particular will make an impact, as he possesses NFL-level speed and has proven himself as a clutch player. But Woods isn’t far behind Devonshire’s potential as he excels at breaking up passes and laying down big hits. Plus, the Panthers have redshirt senior defensive back Marquis Williams in the secondary, too, which adds to an already stacked defensive back unit. 

With all the new faces on Pitt’s starter roster, it is hard to predict how the team will fare in 2023 — especially since their schedule this season is the toughest the team has faced in years. The Panthers will face off against three Heisman-hopeful quarterbacks Drake Maye of North Carolina, Jordan Travis of Florida State and Sam Hartman of Notre Dame. 

On top of this already daunting challenge, the Panthers will play several solid teams such as Syracuse, Duke and Louisville. Plus, in undoubtedly the most important game of the year, the Panthers will have to travel to Morgantown for a showdown against West Virginia in the Backyard Brawl. All in all, Pitt will need to find its rhythm early if they want to compete against these top-tier opponents. 

Considering all the questions and uncertainty around this team, it’s hard to pinpoint how the season will play out. If Jurkovec lives up to expectation and the defense continues to build upon its already fearsome reputation, then expect a fun year. But that’s a lot of ifs. Realistically, Pitt should win 7-8 games at least. But in college football, nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen. 

About the Contributor
Brian Sherry, Sports Editor