2016 Football Schedule Breakdown

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2016 Football Schedule Breakdown

Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

Nikki Moriello | Visual Editor

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

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Pat Narduzzi’s second rodeo isn’t going to get any easier.

The ACC announced Pitt’s football schedule for the 2016 season, and while all the opponents were public knowledge, the actual order is now finalized.

Nine of Pitt’s 12 games come against teams with winning records in 2015, while four come against teams with more than 10 wins that season, including a trip to Clemson University to take on the NCAA playoff runner-up Tigers.

The schedule will provide difficult non-conference battles that the Panthers didn’t see in an easier 2015 run of games, as well as a handful of new ACC coaches who look to bolster the overall depth and difficulty of an already strong conference.

SEPT. 3 vs. Villanova University

2015 record: 6-5

All-time record: 2-0

Key returner: DL Tanoh Kpassagnon

Pitt’s opening game of the year might be against a non-FBS school, but the Wildcats are no slouch. Andy Talley has been the head coach at Villanova since 1985, compiling a 221-134-1 record there, and won the FCS championship in 2009.

SEPT. 10 vs. Penn State

2015 record: 7-6

All-time record: 42-50-4

Key returner: RB Saquon Barkley

For perhaps the most anticipated game on the schedule, the Panthers renew their historic rivalry with the Nittany Lions, which has been dormant since 2000. Penn State will feature some new faces, losing starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg and star lineman Carl Nassib to the draft and graduation, respectively. Still, the Panthers will remain supremely motivated to beat their in-state rivals after James Franklin and Pat Narduzzi waged a fierce battle against one another on the recruiting trail.

SEPT. 17 @ Oklahoma State University

2015 record: 10-3

All-time record: 0-0

Key returner: QB Mason Rudolph

This contest is the first of a home-and-home series between Pitt and the Cowboys, and is the first-ever meeting between the two teams. This is one of the two toughest tests of 2016 for the Panthers, as pundits expect the Cowboys to be a Top 25 team again after a terrific season last year under longtime head coach Mike Gundy.

SEPT. 24 @ University of North Carolina

2015 record: 11-3

All-time record: 3-7-0

Key returner: WR/KR Ryan Switzer

The Panthers look to end a three-game skid against the Tar Heels, as Pitt has not beat them since the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl. UNC will no longer feature playmaking quarterback Marquise Williams, but wideout Ryan Switzer, who has terrorized Pitt in the past, will fill in. Switzer decided to return for his senior year rather than entering the NFL Draft, much to the chagrin of the entire Pitt football community.

OCT. 1 vs. Marshall University

2015 record: 10-3

All-time record: 0-0

Key returner: DL Gary Thompson

Another first-time meeting for Pitt, the Marshall Thundering Herd will come to Heinz Field as one of the strongest teams out of the Mid-American Conference. Under head coach Doc Holliday — who various outlets considered a potential candidate for Pitt’s opening in 2014 — Marshall has gone 50-28, and has consistently been one of the top-performing non-Power Five teams in the country.

OCT. 8 vs. Georgia Tech

2015 record: 3-9

All-time record: 6-4

Key returner: QB Justin Thomas

Paul Johnson’s team — a program that has given Pitt fits over the past two seasons — saw one of its worst seasons in recent memory, with its struggles partially due to a litany of injuries to its backfield. Now that the Yellow Jackets will be fully healed, the Panthers will once again have to try to stop a triple-option, a proposition that has proven fruitless for the program over the years.

OCT. 15 @ University of Virginia

2015 record: 4-8

All-time record: 5-3

Key returner: RB Taquan Mizzell

Virginia has been hapless in the ACC for the past few seasons, but it has the potential to turn the corner under former BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall. The Cavaliers played Pitt close at Heinz Field last year, and Mendenhall has the ability to rejuvenate Virginia’s offense into a capable unit this season.

OCT. 27 vs. Virginia Tech

2015 record: 7-6

All-time record: 7-8

Key returner: WR Isaiah Ford

The Hokies are without head coach Frank Beamer, replacing the legendary coach with former University of Memphis playcaller Justin Fuente. The Hokies are talented — particularly on offense, with wideout Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges supplanting a talented passing attack — and will attempt to move the ball better than they did in their loss to Pitt in Blacksburg, Virginia, last season.

NOV. 5 @ University of Miami

2015 record: 8-5

All-time record: 10-24-1

Key returner: QB Brad Kaaya

For the first time as ACC members, Pitt will not face the Hurricanes during Thanksgiving weekend. Instead, the team will travel to Miami earlier in the month, hoping to avenge a deflating 2015 loss to its conference rivals last year and taking on former University of Georgia head coach Mark Richt in his first year with the program.

NOV. 12 @ Clemson

2015 record: 14-1

All-time record: 1-0

Key returner: QB Deshaun Watson

Without a doubt the toughest game on Pitt’s 2016 slate, the Panthers must return to South Carolina to take on the defending ACC champions, still armed with superstar quarterback Deshaun Watson. Widely projected to be the top-ranked team in the country, Clemson’s offense has the potential to be even more dynamic than last year’s prolific unit.

NOV. 19 vs. Duke University

2015 record: 8-5

All-time record: 11-9

Key returner: RB Shaun Wilson

While the previous two Pitt-Duke matchups had been exciting shootouts, the Panthers won in a rout last season against the Blue Devils’ backup quarterback Parker Boehme. Duke returns quarterback Thomas Sirk this year, but loses ACC Defensive Player of the Year Jeremy Cash, so another back-and-forth contest could be in the works for 2016.

NOV. 26 vs. Syracuse University

2015 record: 4-8

All-time record: 37-31-3

Key returner: LB Zaire Franklin

Another ACC team that enters 2016 with a new head coach, Syracuse is still trying to find its footing in its new conference after three subpar seasons under Scott Shafer. Dino Babers will attempt to find some stability at quarterback, and do something the Orange hasn’t done since 2012 — beat the Panthers.

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