It sure seems like we have this exact conversation every year, but once again, the Pitt football program is getting very little preseason respect.
I’m 100% certain that this is something that head coach Pat Narduzzi doesn’t mind one bit. In fact, it’s no doubt something that he relishes and will give him another talking point for training camp.
While the conference preseason coaches’ poll won’t come out until next week, a couple of other national media outlets unveiled some of their early season ACC predictions. Pro Football Focus listed their preseason First Team All-ACC Team, and no Pitt Panther made the first team on offense or defense.
However, the prediction that caused some controversy came from Grant Hughes of 247 Sports, that had his ACC Power Rankings.
Despite being one of the best and most consistent teams over the last handful of years, Hughes listed Pitt as the 9th best team in the ACC this season.
Hughes ACC Power Rankings:
1. Florida State
3. North Carolina
5. NC State
8. Wake Forest
11. Virginia Tech
12. Georgia Tech
13. Boston College
When citing his reasoning for forecasting the Panthers to finish in the bottom half of the conference, Hughes listed concerns over starting quarterback redshirt senior Phil Jurkovec and the team losing running back Israel Abanikanda, wide receiver Jared Wayne, defensive lineman Calijah Kancey and linebacker SirVocea Dennis.
While losing those talents is tough, I find it funny how when other top programs lose players to the NFL, the national media doesn’t have a concern, still predicts them to do well because of the “next man up” theory and the belief in the coaching staff that they’ve brought in equally talented players to replace them.
However, when Pitt loses a handful of players to the NFL, the experts immediately believe they’ll struggle and don’t have adequate replacements.
Doesn’t it seem like every year, the national media predicts, or maybe better yet, they hope that Florida State and Miami does well. How times have you heard that this is going to be the year that Florida State or Miami returns to being a national power and nationally relevant?
I’m still waiting for that to happen, so it’s no surprise that this Power Ranking has Florida State and Miami so high. I’m not sure Pitt will ever get that preseason bias from the national media.
By no means am I predicting that Pitt will win the conference this season, but I will tell you that they’re not going to finish ninth or lower.
THAT’S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.
I’m noticing that a lot of people aren’t real excited about Jurkovec and the impact that he can have. Not sure if that’s because of previous starting quarterback Kedon Slovis and how things went last year, but Jurkovec has something to prove.
Two years ago, national media talked about him as an NFL Draft pick. After a mess last season at Boston College, due in large part to a terrible offensive line, his national stock has plummeted. Jurkovec is a winner, has a tremendous work ethic, is a leader and 2022 will just be a blip on the radar.
Abanikanda won’t be in the Pitt backfield, but that won’t matter. I believe they’ll have one of, if not the best running back depth chart in the ACC, which includes junior Rodney Hammond, redshirt senior C’Bo Flemister, Gateway alum/LSU transfer in redshirt sophomore Derrick Davis Jr. and senior Daniel Carter.
That along with a strong, veteran offensive line are factors that Jurkovec didn’t have the luxury of playing with last season.
Another reason that Pitt won’t struggle in 2023 is that they have defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, one of the best position coaches in college football. Although they’ll be young, the defensive line has serious talent that will develop and produce as the season goes on.
The other reason I’m optimistic is due to the coaching staff. Year after year, this Pitt coaching staff has proven the ability to develop and coach up talent.
Whether it’s defensive lineman Rashad Weaver, defensive backs in Jason Pinnock, Dane Jackson, Damarri Mathis, Dennis, Abanikanda or others, Pitt can develop talent and it doesn’t have to be four/five-star talent.
Time will tell and I could be completely wrong but considering their track record, Pitt football will prove their doubters wrong and be a lot better than expected.