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ESPN Reporter Places Pitt High in Preseason ACC Ranking



Pitt running back Rodney Hammond Jr.

Any noise in the preseason is just that, noise. But unlike other national media, David Hale and Andrea Adelson from ESPN are reporters who cover the ACC all year ’round.

So, when Hale puts out a ranking of his top ACC programs, it’s worth taking a look.

He ranked all the position groups among ACC schools, which we will get into, and then aggregated all 14 teams in the conference. When it came to Pitt, he ranked Pitt as the preseason No. 3 team in the ACC. Right behind Florida State and Clemson.

Hale ranked Florida State and Clemson at No. 1 and 2, which is pretty common, and he placed Pitt at No. 3. Duke and North Carolina State followed up. And Miami, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse followed to round out the Top 10.

Pitt was bolstered by a top ranking at special teams and a strong showing across the board. No unit ranked lower than sixth in the ACC. That shows not only the depth that Pitt’s coaching staff has accumulated over the seasons but the development in the wake of major losses to the professional level.

Despite All-Americans, team captains and multi-season contributors needing to be replaced, there’s a sense that the youth uprising will lead to another season of progress.

If there’s a position where there isn’t a youth emergence, it’s quarterback.

Kedon Slovis is gone, and Phil Jurkovec has arrived. Slovis didn’t work out. That’s fine. Jurkovec worked out very well for a season in Boston College, and then injuries and poor team play set in. Here’s a chance to set it all right.

The hometown hero returns to lead his hometown school to an ACC title. We’ll see. Sixth feels about right. There are some excellent quarterbacks in the ACC.

If there’s a position that feels like it will be able to rise, it’s running back. Israel Abanikanda was the best running back in the ACC last season, and it remains uncertain what Rodney Hammond Jr. will accomplish, but he has the ability — and the scheme — to rise all the way back to the top of the conference.

And that’s without mentioning C’Bo Flemister, Derrick Davis Jr. and Daniel Carter.

Pitt’s wide receivers and tight ends units, which were ranked as a combo, check in at No. 6. This is where it feels like Pitt has the ability to move up or down. It’s no secret that Pitt’s wide receiving corps is a question mark.

Konata Mumpfield, Bub Means and Daejon Reynolds form the core of Pitt’s wideouts, and if a true freshman is able to break out as a legitimate difference-maker, the room could surprise a lot of people.

Gavin Bartholomew has all the ability to emerge as Pitt’s best offensive player in 2023, and I like the addition of Malcolm Epps and the development of Ed Conway Award winner Karter Johnson. I’m very bullish on the tight ends room in 2023.

And I’m even higher on the offensive line. Fifth, despite some major losses, feels low. Jake Kradel, Blake Zubovic and Matt Goncalves are all All-ACC caliber players, and Branson Taylor, Ryan Jacoby and Ryan Baer are all filled with potential. Once again, the offensive line room is full of potential.

And while the defensive line room is even more inexperienced, with serious losses as Calijah Kancey, Haba Baldonado, Deslin Alexandre, John Morgan and Chris Maloney all moving on, there’s a lot of production to make up. But it’s a unit — that’s led by Charlie Partridge — that is best equipped to deal with loss.

David Green, Devin Danielson and Tyler Bentley are still around inside, and they’re joined by Elliot Donald, Sean FitzSimmons, Isaiah Neal and the likes, and the true youth renaissance begins outside. Dayon Hayes is expected to take that next step, and he’s joined by vets in Bam Brima and Nate Temple and kids in Nahki Johnson, Samuel Okunlola and Jimmy Scott.

The linebacking corps will suffer from the loss of SirVocea Dennis, but when a player like Shayne Simon can move inside — and be backed up by Brandon George — that affords a lot of flexibility.

Bangally Kamara and Solomon DeShields will flank Simon, coming off their first full seasons at Pitt, and there are intriguing options in Braylan Lovelace, Jordan Bass, Nick Lapi and more waiting to slide into the rotation.

Marquis Williams and M.J. Devonshire offer one of the best cornerback duos in the ACC, and there’s depth in Ryland Gandy, A.J. Woods, Rashad Battle and Noah Biglow. The safety duo will be all new, but that’s okay.

Javon McIntyre received a test drive at the end of the 2022 season, starting in the season finale against Miami and the bowl game against UCLA, and he’s primed to replace Brandon Hill. P.J. O’Brien Jr. is primed to join him, sliding in at field safety, but Donovan McMillon and Steph Hall are both firmly in the mix.

And in Pitt’s lone top-ranking, the special team’s unit is bolstered by perhaps the best kicker in the ACC in Ben Sauls. He only got stronger as the season wore, putting an emphasis on his season in the Sun Bowl, and his leg has no limit.

Caleb Junko appears to lead Jeff Yurk when it comes to filling the void at punter, and Devonshire is still an elite return man in the conference.

Position Ranks:

QB: 6/14

RB: 5/14

WR & TE: 6/14

OL: 5/14

DL: 4/14

LB: 5/14

DB: 3/14

ST: 1/14

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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