Will this be the year Pitt puts it all together and contends for the top spot in the ACC Coastal Division?
One national writer isn’t going as far as to predict they beat out Miami, but he does pick the Panthers to be the surprise team in the division.
Bill Bender, national college football writer for the Sporting News, released his ACC predictions and is optimistic about Pat Narduzzi’s 2018 team.
BILL BENDER’S ACC COASTAL PREDICTIONS
2) Virginia Tech
5) Georgia Tech
6) North Carolina
This morning, we caught up with Bender to get him to give thoughts on Pitt and why he believes they’ll make a big turnaround from last year’s 5-7 record.
“I had Pitt as a sleeper team last year and obviously it didn’t work out that way but I think the schedule especially the cross-over games are more favorable,” said Bender. “It’s a weird schedule because their non-conference games are really tough but I think the early in-conference schedule is pretty manageable all the way through the middle of October.”
Some look at the Panthers defense as their biggest strength but Bender is looking at the other side of the ball as a huge plus for Pitt.
“I like their running backs. Darrin Hall is a someone that emerged and had a good year last year,”said Bender. “Then you have Quadree Ollison and it seems like he’s been their forever. When you have that tag-team at running back and Pat Narduzzi has two multiple guys that he can count on to carry the football. You put them behind what is normally a pretty steady offensive line and if the receivers are able to step up. Pitt has that style of offense that most teams in the ACC don’t play. If that comes together, I think the offense has a chance to be pretty good.”
Of course, Kenny Pickett will be a big factor in how well the offense performs. Despite really only having one big game, the expectations and excitement level for the sophomore are pretty big. Does Bender think they’re a little too big?
“I don’t think the excitement is any different than with say Miami’s quarterback Malik Rosier or Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson. If you want to win the ACC Coastal, he’s going to need to take that next step. I think quarterbacks in that division are good but there aren’t any Heisman Trophy quarterback candidates in the Coastal and that’s why I think Pitt should be excited. If Pickett steps up and plays to his potential, they’ll have a chance to win those conference games.”
Entering his fourth year as head coach, Narduzzi is coming off his first losing record (5-7) after finishing 8-5 his first two years. With a career record of 21-17, I got Bender’s opinion as to the job Narduzzi has done at Pitt.
“Last year was a setback, there’s no doubt about that because no one at Pitt expected to go 5-7 and lose some of the close games they shouldn’t have lost,” said Bender. “Overall though, I think you have a guy that won eight games his first two years and had the programs trajectory going up. The next step is getting to nine wins. I mentioned the non-conference schedule before, when you play Penn State and you play Notre Dame, I think they’ll get them ready for the conference games. Looking at that Penn State game, it was a springboard two years ago and could be again when they play them in prime-time this year.”
“The ACC Coastal is improving. I think what you’re looking at within the division is, Mark Richt is building something special at Miami, they’ll have a lot of talent. The fact that Pitt beat them last year shows that they can hang with them. Virginia Tech is going to be better. To me, that division has those two at the top and everybody else three through eight is the next step. It’s on Pitt now to show that they can compete with those two schools. I think the parity three through eight is pretty good, there’s not a horrible team in the ACC Coastal but I also don’t think there’s a team capable of winning the College Football Playoff yet.”
Follow Bill Bender on Twitter at @BillBender92 for all his college football insight.