The Pitt Panthers have been a solid football program, winning just under 54% of their games over the past five years. The results have been reliable. They avoided a losing season three consecutive years while building one of the toughest defenses in the country.
You rarely find a football team that is consistent while being so unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. That's been the story for Pitt. They had upset wins last season as underdogs in back-to-back conference games while letting one slip away as a 14-point favorite vs. NC State. For Pat Narduzzi to get this program to the next level, he needs the offense to do their part.
QB Kenny Pickett returns for a fifth season, giving the Panthers leadership and stability at the position. He will have his primary pass catcher, Jordan Addison, back and looking to add to his breakout freshman year. Addison led the team with 666 receiving yards and four TDs. The sophomore wideout has the tools to be special and is one of the best in the conference. The Pitt passing game should flourish and has the opportunity to post its best numbers under Narduzzi.
The running game has been the missing piece. Pitt has named Israel Abanikanda the feature back in hopes of jumpstarting a previously futile attack. The Panthers' 3.3 average yards per rush ranked 109th of 132 FBS teams. The breakdowns started upfront as Pitt was outside of the top 100 in adjusted line yards as well. Pitt returns 60% of its offensive line, so the hope is the experience combined with Abanikanda's explosive downhill running style will get this offense into its next gear.
When you think of Pitt football, you think of a dominant defense. They lost two players to the NFL from the defensive line, but they still have plenty of playmakers to put fear into the rest of the ACC. Narduzzi's defense ranked top three in yards per rush allowed (2.8) and sack rate (11.2). They were also best in the country in tackles for loss and havoc rate. The linebacking corp returns everybody, which is a big reason why Phil Steele has them rated as 14th best in all of college football. If the offense can consistently move the chains and keep them rested, I expect big results.
PITT OVER 7 WINS (-145)
The win total for Pitt sits at seven games after the team notched a 14-10 record the past two years. If Abanikanda can make the running game more efficient, I am confident they can win eight games. The Pitt defense allowed only three points per game in the fourth quarter last season, so having an adequate rushing attack to close out games will be huge. The passing game should take big strides with Addison coming into his own. There could be a slight drop-off on the defensive side with the secondary losing production, but a balanced offensive attack will make up for it.
Six games should be the floor with this team as they run the table through all four non-conference games. They open the season as 38-point favorites to UMass and still have the below opponents on the schedule:
Narduzzi needs to grab a win at Tennessee, or at home against Virginia or Virginia Tech to get to seven wins. The path seems feasible considering how their defense keeps them in games. Pitt to win over seven games is a solid bet. You have "push potential" at 7-5, and the likelihood of a six-win season is less than the 45% probability the odds on the under (+120) implies. Everybody always remembers a dominating defense, but it's Addison and Abanikanda that is going make push Pitt to a profitable season.
Stats provided by Football Outsiders, teamrankings.com, CFB Winning Edge