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Pitt football schedule looks winnable but tough - The Pitt News

The Pitt News

Pitt football schedule looks winnable but tough

By Joe Rokicki / Staff Writer

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On paper, everything looks easy.

And on paper, Pitt’s schedule seems deceptively easy. But it’s easy to forget that Pitt has lost at least once to each of this year’s opponents in the past three years, some losses nastier than others. But with a new coaching staff and fresh enthusiasm, the future has never seemed brighter.


Pitt vs. Youngstown State — Saturday, Sept. 5, 1 p.m.

Pitt faces Youngstown State for the first time since Paul Chryst’s inglorious debut in 2012 — a 31-17 loss. The Panthers will be sans star receiver Tyler Boyd and sophomore defensive end Rori Blair because of suspensions. Blair led Pitt with five sacks in 2014. The team will miss Blair’s presence on the field, as Pitt lacks a consistent pass-rushing threat from the defensive end. Limiting the passing attack will be the number one obstacle for Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin’s aggressive new defense.

Player to Watch: Andrew Williams, Wide Receiver, Senior

FINAL — 45-37 Pitt
Game Recap


Pitt at Akron — Saturday, Sept. 12, 6 p.m.

Pitt travels to Akron for another non-conference matchup. The Zips beat the Panthers 21-10 in a home upset last year. Senior Akron running back Conor Hundley rushed for 148 yards in that win and averaged 5.4 yards per carry for the year. Working to keep Akron’s 5-foot-10, 204-pound bulldozer at bay will be a revamped interior defensive line, highlighted by graduate student transfer Mark Scarpinato.

Player to Watch: Conor Hundley, Running Back, Senior

FINAL — 24-7 Pitt
Game Recap


Pitt at Iowa — Saturday, Sept. 19, 8 p.m.

Pitt’s second of three consecutive road games poises the Panthers against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Panthers fell to the Hawkeyes last season 24-20, getting outscored 17-3 in the second half. The Hawkeye offense, led by quarterback C.J. Beathard, averaged 237 yards passing per game last season, while the defense held opponents to an average of 176 yards per game. If James Conner and Tyler Boyd can repeat their big games from last year, Pitt should have a chance.

Player to Watch: Drew Ott, Defensive Line, Senior

FINAL — 27-24 Iowa
Game Recap


Pitt at Virginia Tech — Saturday, Oct. 3, TBD

Pitt kicks off conference play in Blacksburg, Virginia, against a surging Hokie team that finished 2014 with a befuddling 7-6 record. The Hokies received high praise in the ACC preseason polls. They’re predicted to finish second in the Coastal division behind Georgia Tech, mostly on the strength of the Hokie defense. In last year’s win, when the Panthers defeated the Hokies 21-16 at Heinz Field, quarterback Chad Voytik and Conner together rushed for more than 200 yards. Pitt offensive coordinator Jim Chaney will have to keep up the running game against a team with one of the best pass defenses in the ACC.

Player to Watch: Kendall Fuller, Cornerback, Junior


Pitt vs. Virginia — Saturday, Oct. 10, TBD

After three straight road contests, the Panthers return home to face the Virginia Cavaliers in their homecoming game. The Panthers fell to the Cavaliers last season, 24-19, as senior running back Kevin Parks ran for 175 yards and a touchdown. The outlook for Mike London’s Cavaliers isn’t so hot in 2015 – Virginia is predicted to finish last in the Coastal Division.

Player to Watch: Quin Blanding, Free Safety, Sophomore


Pitt at Georgia Tech — Saturday, Oct. 17, TBD

This matchup is one to anticipate. The Yellow Jackets’ triple option offense shredded the Panthers’ defense last season and propelled them to a lopsided 52-38 victory, which included five Pitt fumbles in the first half. Pitt cannot afford to make such mistakes at Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta, especially since Georgia Tech is favorited to win the Coastal. The Yellow Jackets’ offense was the best in the ACC in 2014 with 6,671 total yards — 4,789 of them coming on the ground. As Pitt started making defensive preparation for Georgia Tech in the second week of training camp this summer, this game will display how much growth and development can occur one year, head coach and coordinator later.

Player to Watch: Justin Thomas, Quarterback, Junior


TPN SPORTS ACC POWER RANKINGS

  1. FSU (93)

  2. CLEMSON (91)

  3. GEORGIA TECH (88)

  4. LOUISVILLE (71)

  5. VIRGINIA TECH (66)

  6. MIAMI (64)

  7. PITT (60)

  8. DUKE (49)

  9. UNC (44)

  10. NC STATE (38)

  11. VIRGINIA (26)

  12. BOSTON COLLEGE (23)

  13. SYRACUSE (13)

  14. WAKE FOREST (9)

Rankings are based on point system in which a first place vote earned a school 14 points, a second place 13, a third place 12, and so on


Pitt at Syracuse — Saturday, Oct. 24, TBD

It’s difficult to imagine Pitt football without Syracuse. The two rivals have a history dating to 1916. Ninety-nine years and an Aaron Donald extra point attempt block later, the Panthers hold a slim advantage over the Orange, 36-31-3 (the two teams didn’t play each other for 25 years from 1930-1955). The Panthers and Orange have split the past two meetings in the Carrier Dome, each by one point.

Player To Watch: Terrel Hunt, Quarterback, Senior


Pitt vs. North Carolina — Thursday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.

The Panthers will seek to avenge another 2014 Coastal Division loss when North Carolina visits Heinz Field for a primetime Thursday night grudge match. The Panthers have yet to defeat Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels as a conference opponent. North Carolina won the inaugural meeting in 2013 at Heinz Field, a 34-27 thriller.

Player To Watch: Marquise Williams, Quarterback, Senior


Pitt vs. Notre Dame — Saturday, Nov. 7, TBD

A pair of Ray Vinopal interceptions sealed a 28-21 Pitt victory when the teams last met two seasons ago at Heinz Field. Team captain and senior cornerback Lafayette Pitts must shut down star Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller, an assignment few accomplished in 2014. Rori Blair and the rest of the Pitt defensive line will also have to establish serious, consistent pressure against Malik Zaire in his first year as starting quarterback since 2014 starter Everett Golson’s transfer to Florida State.

Player to Watch: Will Fuller, Wide Receiver, Junior


Pitt at Duke — Saturday, Nov. 14, TBD

Pitt travels to Tobacco Road for its final conference road game of the season to face off against a team that finished 9-4 in 2014 and narrowly escaped Heinz Field with a victory in double overtime, 51-48. Pitt and Duke have scored 212 points total in the past two games, as each game offered a showcase of offensive talent. To boot, senior place kicker Ross Martin was 19 of 21 in 2014, and his 90.5 field goal percentage was the best in the Coastal and second-best in the ACC.

Player to Watch: Thomas Sirk, Quarterback, Sophomore


Pitt vs. Lousiville — Saturday, Nov. 21, TBD

Week 11 will mark the first time these two teams have met since Paul Chryst’s inaugural season in 2012, when Louisville defeated Pitt 45-35 at Heinz Field. The Cardinals’ efficient, conservative offense is a concern. Louisville posted the ninth-best team offense in 2014, but its 405 total points scored ranked sixth in the ACC (Pitt ranked fifth with 414 points.). Junior quarterback Will Gardner threw for 1,669 yards in 2014 with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions.

Player to Watch: Sheldon Rankins, Defensive End, Senior


Pitt vs. Miami — Friday, Nov. 27, TBD

Hurricanes’ head coach Al Golden is beginning to feel the Miami heat. His team dropped four of its last five games in 2014, finishing with a 6-7 record. Star running back Duke Johnson departed for the NFL — he finished second in rushing in the ACC (to Conner) with 1,652 yards. A generous reading of the Hurricanes’ nasty schedule has them at third in the conference. It includes a six-game stretch against Nebraska, Cincinnati, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Duke before playing presumed Coastal Division bottom-feeder Virginia. Miami is home against Georgia Tech before heading to Pittsburgh.

Player to Watch: Brad Kaaya, Quarterback, Sophomore

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Pitt football schedule looks winnable but tough