Tomorrow ushers in Albany week as the Pitt Panthers officially begin their 2018 campaign.
The goal remains the same as it has been since Pat Narduzzi took over: win the Coastal Division and make the ACC Championship game.
An appropriate–if not lofty–goal for a team coming off a 5-7 season, their worst since 2007, and facing one of the hardest schedules in the FBS.
You know the teams: #10 Penn State, #21 UCF and #12 Notre Dame, #20 Virginia Tech, #8 Miami.
Fortunately for the Panthers, three out of the five ranked teams they’ll play this year are non-conference and the Coastal seems to be stacking up as everybody chasing Miami. The difference between Pitt, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, UNC, Duke, VT and Virginia seems to be slight.
However, that doesn’t mean the college football prognosticators have been kind to the Panthers in 2018. Bill Conelly of SBNation sums it up thusly, “The Panthers could be a top-40 team again this year. So could about nine of their 12 opponents. Close games are coming.” Conelly predicts a repeat of last year’s 5-7, although he sees a large jump in overall rankings, from 82nd to 45th. Tellingly, he has Pitt’s win probability at 60% or greater in two games: Albany and Syracuse. On the positive side, Conelly sees the Panthers as a top-40 team if Pickett is the real deal and the defense’s 2017 late-season performance carries over.
Over at Athlon Sports, the Panthers clock in at 6-6 (4-4 in the ACC) and 43rd overall. However, the team is listed as a possible sleeper, with the usual caveats: Kenny Pickett and the defense have to carry over the promise they showed late in 2017.
ESPN’s Football Power Index predicts 4.7 wins and 7.3 losses for Pitt and an FPI of 2.4, which has them ranked 55th.
CBS Sports is particularly bearish on the Panthers, and has them at #68 on their preseason 129 team rankings. It’s the third lowest of all ACC teams, ahead of only Virgnia and Syracuse.
The official ACC preseason media poll put Pitt 5th in the Coastal.
College Football News predicts Pitt to have a 5-7 season with loses to Penn State, at North Carolina, at UCF, at Notre Dame, at Virginia, at Wake Forest and at Miami. Their 4-4 prediction for ACC play has them tied with Duke for third in the division.
ESPN has Pitt ninth in their ACC power rankings, but behind only Miami and VT in the Coastal Division.
One National media member bullish on the Panthers is The Sporting News’ Bill Bender, who has them as his ACC Coastal sleeper and ranks them third in the division behind Miami and VT.
All in all, not too much variation amongst the national outlets. The consensus seems to be that Pitt will be better than last year–a top 40 team, even–but will be torpedoed by a ridiculous schedule. The silver lining is that other than Miami, no one else in the ACC Coastal seems to be head and shoulders above the rest. Will that result in a Pitt team that bucks the national media predictions and makes a run at the division title as Pat Narduzzi predicted? We’ll find out soon enough.