Phil Steele’s College Football Preview magazine is out, and he believes that Pitt is the ninth most talented team in the entire country.
He also puts them as his highest of 12 surprise teams which he describes as a “non-preseason AP top 10 team that has a decent shot at making the College Football Playoff and even winning a national title.”
Steele actually has Pitt tied with Miami for the best team in the Coastal Division, although he has a slightly higher opinion of Pitt judging by his national rankings. Slightly higher is literal, as Miami sits at No. 10 in his power poll and No. 12 in his top 40, Pitt is No. 11 in the latter poll.
The top 40 is a different ranking system than his power poll. The power poll is based solely on the talent level of the team whereas the top 40 poll is based on where he thinks the teams will end up in the final rankings and takes into account things like strength of schedule.
Pitt’s falls low on the strength of schedule ranking, despite the ACC being the third-best conference in the country behind the SEC and Big 10. Pitt has the 79th rated strength of schedule and their opponents are tied with Memphis, Miami and Purdue for 108th in opponents 2021 winning percentage with 47%.
Both Miami and Pitt are behind Clemson though, who Steele seems to expect to win the ACC and make the College Football Playoff. He has Clemson as fourth in both his power poll and top 40.
Steele has high hopes for Pitt’s defense, projecting them to finish 14th in total defense in the nation despite being out of the top 15 in scoring defense. He also gave them the fourth best rush defense and the 15th most improved pass defense in the nation.
As is probably expected, it’s the defensive line that Steele loves the most about the team’s defense. He gives them the second-best defensive line in the conference and the nation, behind only Clemson for both. He highlights Narduzzi’s track record at the position and that seven of last year’s top eight return for 2022.
Pitt’s linebacker units (seventh) and defensive backfield (sixth) are not as highly rated in the conference, but both find their ways in Steele’s top 50. The linebacker unit sits at 49th, while the defensive backfield sits at 24th.
All units, on both sides of the ball, find themselves in Steele’s top 55 in every category. Offensively Steele projects Pitt to be the seventh highest scoring offense in the nation, but not in his top 15 of total offense.
He likes transfer Kedon Slovis to replace Kenny Pickett and puts Slovis as the 19th best quarterback in the country, but the seventh best in the conference. He puts him at No. 25 on his Heisman contenders list.
He isn’t nearly as high on the receiving unit, with them being Pitt’s lowest ranked unit at No. 55 in the country and tied for eighth in the conference with NC State and Louisville. He cites the loss of Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison as the reasoning but likes Pat Narduzzi’s next man up mentality for the position.
For running backs Pitt sits at 42nd in the country, but fourth in the conference. He thinks starting running back Isreal Abanikanda is a breakout star if this year’s offense is more balanced. He gives them the third most improved rushing attack in the country behind only Florida and New Mexico.
This is especially due to the offensive line, which Steele ranks as the No. 1 unit in the ACC and No. 17 in the country. With all five starters from last year returning the offensive lineman combine for 145 career starts which makes them one of the most experienced units, in any category, in the country.
Steele is also a fan of Narduzzi as he ranks Pitt’s coaching staff as second-best in the ACC behind only Dabo Sweeney and Clemson.
Steele has named five first-team All ACC players from Pitt, with one representing each unit on defense. Offensive tackle Carter Warren is joined by defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado, defensive tackle Calijah Kancey, linebacker SirVocea Dennis and safety Brandon Hill.
They are joined by five more All-ACC players in Abanikanoa (second team), offensive guard Marcus Minor (second team), wide receiver Konata Mumpfield (third team), defensive end Deslin Alexander (fourth team) and safety Erick Hallett (fourth team).
As a whole, he projects Pitt to average 38.5 points per game and give up only 21.9 points per game. That point differential of 16.6 ranks seventh in his projections in the country. He also projects an average yard differential of 131.1 yards per game, which is 10th in the country.
Pitt’s season is set to start on Thursday, September 1 at 8:00 p.m. in a College Football Gameday backyard brawl against rival West Virginia, who Steele is projected to finish eighth in the Big 12 but make a bowl game.