Well, I am bit late with this post, but better late than never, right? In any event, I thought I would post some thoughts on the just concluded football season of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers, the first season under Head Coach Pat Narduzzi.
On the PLUS side:
- Pitt started the season with a 6-1 record and were in contention for the Coastal Division title of the Atlantic Coast conference.
- The team went 5-1 in regular season road games.
- Including their Military Bowl game, the team finished 8-5, a better record than in the previous four seasons under Graham and Chryst.
- The did this despite losing the reigning ACC Player of the Year, James Conner, in the first quarter of the first game of the season.
- The team showed a remarkable ability to come from behind and win games, and to make "halftime adjustments" after poor starts and come back and win football games. Credit to Narduzzi and his Staff for this. He does seem to be an excellent game day coach.
- There seems to be a lot of talent at the skill positions, particularly running backs and wide outs. Losing Conner could have been devastating, but his replacements picked right up and carried the load.
- The team seems to have uncovered a bona fide two-way star in Central Valley's Jordan Whitehead, the ACC Rookie of the Year. He is going to be fun to watch over the next two or three (most likely only two) years.
- All of this was accomplished after the turmoil of yet another coaching change at the end of 2014 and of Narduzzi starting late and getting only 15 recruits signed on for 2015. It will be interesting to see what happens when he gets a couple of full recruiting classes over the next few years.
On the MINUS side:
- Despite that gaudy road record, they only broke even, 3-3, at home.
- Once again in 2015, it can be argued that the team failed to get a "signature" win. They came close at Iowa, against a team that finished the regular season at 12-0. They came up well short against teams like Notre Dame, North Carolina, Miami, and in the Military Bowl, Navy. In fact, Pitt hasn't won a game of this nature since beating Notre Dame at Heinz Field in 2013.
- Losses to North Carolina, Notre Dame, and Miami, by 7, 12, and 5 points, respectively, appear to be closer than they actually were. Pitt was never in those games, and in that loss to Miami, they appeared to be unprepared and uninterested. That can happen to teams over the course of a season, but to see it in the final game of the year, on Senior Day, when Which Bowl Are You Going To was at stake was very disappointing.
- The 44-28 loss to Navy in the Military Bowl (again, that 16 point margin is deceiving; the nature of Navy's dominance in that game was way larger than that score would indicate) was really disappointing. For he first time all season, Pitt appeared to be completely out-coached in a game, but don't take my word for it. By his own admission, Narduzzi said that they were totally unprepared for what Keenan Reynolds (and would you be surprised to see him on the Joint Chiefs of Staff someday?) and Navy threw at Pitt, and they were unable to stop it. Gotta give Narduzzi a lot of credit for honesty there.
- Shortly after the Bowl game, Tyler Boyd announced that he was leaving Pitt to enter the NFL Draft. That was not unexpected, but still, big shoes for the Panthers to fill next year.
All in all, though, I think there is more to be excited about than not, more so than at any time during the Paul Chryst Era. As I said, I am anxious to see what Narduzzi can do with his own players. It's not going to get any easier next year with non-conference games against Penn State (and really, should Pitt not be favored in that home game?) and Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and ACC road games against Miami, North Carolina, and, oh, yeah, Clemson.
Of course, Pitt football was hit with a sobering piece of Real Life news late in the year when James Conner revealed that he had lymphoma and was about to begin several rounds of chemotherapy. That put a lot of things into perspective. This is one form of cancer from which people can recover (Mario Lemieux, for example), so there is hope that Conner will be one of them. How great would it be to see #24 leading the Panthers out of the tunnel against Villanova on September 3?
Let's Go Pitt!