Pitt only received six votes in the Week Six AP Poll, but ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) is high on the Panthers’ chances as the season rolls on.
With a bye week before playing Virginia Tech at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Virginia, FPI currently has Pitt as the 10th ranked team in the country with an index of 15.7 — one spot and 1.2 points ahead of Penn State for reference.
The index projects Pitt to finish with a 9.8-2.9 record this season, which would be roughly six wins and two losses to finish out the season. 9.8 wins are the most for any ACC team, and Pitt has a 9.2% chance to win out and 99.9% to finish with at least six wins according to the index’s simulations.
Pitt has a 71.7% chance to win the Coastal division and a 43.6% chance to win the ACC outright. Conveniently enough, the Virginia Tech game will feature the two remaining unbeaten teams in ACC play in the Coastal division. While Clemson is still ranked seventh in the FPI, Pitt has surpassed the Tigers in odds to win the conference, but that could possibly require two wins against Dabo Swinney’s squad.
Pitt’s 5.9% chance to make the College Football Playoff is the highest in the ACC, 11th highest in the country, and the Panthers have a 2.9% chance to make the championship game and a 0.9% chance to win the championship.
That all may seem ambitious for this Pitt squad, but when you factor in a red-hot Kenny Pickett and a conference that is a dumpster fire with Clemson struggling post-Trevor Lawrence, it makes sense. With a loss to Western Michigan already on the schedule, Pitt just can’t slip up again. Which is, of course, easier said than done.
So, what does Pitt have left? Let’s take an FPI-influenced look ahead at the remainder of 2021.
Virginia Tech is up first, and the Hokies are a perplexing team. An early-season win over then-No. 10 North Carolina looks less impressive by the week, but the Hokies are still a team that plays strong defense, especially in the secondary. The Hokies’ FPI rating is 5.9, good for 40th in the country.
In three weeks, Clemson comes to Heinz Field. Of course, the Tigers have been a mess offensively with DJ Uiagalelei under center, but until Pitt can prove it, the ACC runs through Death Valley. FPI is high on Clemson still, rating the Tigers 16.9, good for seventh in the country. However, Clemson has looked very, very underwhelming this season.
A Miami squad that has once again underachieved to the tune of a 2-3 record so far this season will come to Heinz Field for a contest that, if anything, could be a complete 180-degree turn from the 2017 Pitt upset at Heinz Field. The index still favors Miami’s season with an 8.4 rating, good for 28th in the country, but the ‘Canes are not trending upward under Manny Diaz.
A mediocre Duke team feels like the one that could potentially hamstring Pitt this season, a 3-2 team that’s perhaps better than its schedule shows. With a -4.5 FPI rating, 86th best in the country, not much is expected from the Blue Devils.
A bit more is expected from North Carolina still, with Sam Howell still under center and producing at a high level. It’s been a disappointing season in Chapel Hill, with losses to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech already, but the Tar Heels can still score with the best teams in the country. A Pickett-Howell shootout at Heinz Field seems likely. With a 10.9 rating, 20th best in the country, FPI still expects a bit from the Heels.
Another home game against Virginia could be a high-scoring contest with Hoos quarterback Brennan Armstrong among the nation’s leaders in passing yards. With a 5.7 rating, 42nd in the nation, FPI isn’t particularly high or low on the Cavaliers.
The final game of the season, a conference championship notwithstanding, comes on the road against a Syracuse team that doesn’t fare well in the FPI’s system. With a -2.2 rating, 75th in the nation, Pitt’s final game shouldn’t be much of an issue.
According to FPI, Pitt is favored to win the remainder of the games on the schedule this season. The only relatively close contest coming against Clemson, with a 54.5% chance. The rest of the contests feature a 70+% chance to win.
It’s unlikely Pitt wins out this season, but it’s not impossible. The loss to Western Michigan, while dreadful, is in the rearview mirror, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Boston College aren’t on the schedule and Pickett is playing as good — if not better — than anyone in the nation at this point in the season.
A week off to prepare for the ACC stretch run isn’t a bad thing either, fueling up for pivotal games against Virginia Tech, Clemson and North Carolina in the weeks ahead. A perfect storm may be brewing for Pitt, but it’s up to the team to not revert to errors that have plagued good Panthers’ squads in the past.