2013 ACC Previews: Pittsburgh
By Ryan Lacey
As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. We will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. Next up is Pittsburgh.
Head Coach: Paul Chryst (second season)
Last Season: Things looked like they were going to be a disaster for the Panthers and first-year coach Chryst out of the gate after they were crushed by Youngstown State (!) and Cincinnati. However, Pittsburgh righted the ship and remained competitive for the rest of the season, scoring a pair of upsets over Top-20 teams and nearly taking down Notre Dame before losing in triple overtime. It added up to a 6-6 record and a loss to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Key Losses: Tino Sunseri had plenty of ups and downs during his career, but he was stellar in 2012. He averaged 8.4 yards per pass attempt and threw 21 touchdowns to just three interceptions. Also gone is running back Ray Graham, who was the workhorse of the offense (222 carries) a year ago and rushed for 3,271 yards in four seasons.
What To Expect On Offense: Leading reveiver Devin Street (73 catches, 975 yards) will be relied upon a great deal in the fall, as leading receivers 2-5 are no longer with the team. Street has talent and size (6-foot-4, 200 pounds) and should be a reliable target no matter who is throwing him the ball. Rutgers transfer Tom Savage recently was named the starter, beating out prized recruit Chad Voytik in spring ball. Savage has NFL size (6-foot-5, 230 pounds), but has seen significant time since 2010. He should be comfortable in a pro-style offense, but his mechanics and accuracy leave a lot to be desired. A makeshift offensive line has talent but remains in limbo.
What To Expect On Defense: Pittsburgh will go as far as its defense can carry it. The group allowed 21.1 points-per-game last season (25th nationally) and is led by an excellent front four. Aaron Donald notched 5.5 sacks from the tackle position a year ago and is one of the most talented athletes on the team. They are much better at rushing the passer than defending the run, but both will be tested heavily in the ACC. The secondary has a penchant for forcing turnovers as Jason Hendricks (six) and K’Waun Williams (four) combined for 10 interceptions as juniors a year ago. Hendricks and Donald were named to Phil Steele’s preseason All-ACC first team. The linebackers remain a cause for concern.
Breakout Star: T.J. Clemmings. Clemmings played his first two seasons at defensive end, but failed to crack the rotation consistently and was stuck on the bench (including a redshirt) for three years. He is moving to the offensive line this season and already has demonstrated a tremendous amount of improvement. He won the Ed Conway Award as the most improved offensive player during spring ball and is primed for a big fall. If he can hold off talented incoming freshman Dorian Johnson for the right tackle spot, he will provide a major upgrade and make Savage’s life far easier.
Big Games: Pittsburgh welcomes Florida State to open the season, and its performance in that game will go a long way in determining how far the Panthers will go. The rest of the schedule draws little help outside of nonconference cupcakes New Mexico and Old Dominion. The Panthers travel to Duke and host Virginia in back-to-back weeks — two games that assuredly will determine their bowl status. Pittsburgh also hosts Notre Dame on Nov. 9.
Outlook: The talent level of this team just isn’t where it needs to be. Even with Sunseri’s excellent leadership and skills last year, the Panthers went just 6-7. Without him, it’s hard to imagine where the wins are going to come from. The defense is going to have to remain at a high level for them to have any chance of sneaking into a bowl game.
Predicted Record: 4-8