With the 2013 college football season rapidly approaching, fans are craving any and every taste of what is to come in what should be an invigorating year. As we inch closer to the action kicking off on Aug. 29, I'll release schedule analysis for a new ACC school every other day. For now, let's take a look at the Pittsburgh Panthers:
Sept. 2: Florida State
Sept. 14: New Mexico
Sept. 21: at Duke
Sept. 28: Virginia
Oct. 12: at Virginia Tech
Oct. 19: Old Dominion
Oct. 26: at Navy
Nov. 2: at Georgia Tech
Nov. 9: Notre Dame
Nov. 16 : North Carolina
Nov. 23: at Syracuse
Nov. 29: Miami
Schedule obtained from the official website of Pittsburgh athletics
After years of unattractive Big East matchups, Pitt finally boasts one of the most intriguing home schedules it has had in recent memory. Florida State, Notre Dame and Miami traditionally draw interest no matter where they are playing, and North Carolina has improved its position in the ACC hierarchy coming off its fifth straight winning season (minus the vacated wins from 2008 and 2009) and a first-place finish in the Coastal Division.
The problem, though, is that none of those games will be easy. Florida State will reload after winning 12 games last season, Notre Dame will look to build off a 2012 national title berth, and Miami will be the favorite to win its division. The showdown with North Carolina may be the Panthers' best chance to steal a win from one of those four opponents, but the Tar Heels boast one of the best offenses in the ACC.
Paul Chryst faces several questions with this team heading into his second season as head coach. There is at least some uncertainty surrounding every part of the offense this time around, and while most of the starters return on the other side of the ball, the coaching staff will be looking for a way to field a defense that won't give up 30 or more points on four separate occasions.
At 6'5", 230 pounds, Tom Savage steps into the starting role at quarterback as a good fit for Pitt's pro-style offense. The coaching staff's decision to move 2012 tackles Cory King and Matt Rotheram to left and right guard, respectively, proves to be the solution for last season's issues with pass protection.
Freshman Tyler Boyd and redshirt senior Ed Tinker step up at receiver, and Devin Street makes a name for himself in his new conference by hitting the 1,000-yard receiving milestone. The departure of Rushel Shell, whose off-field troubles plagued the team during his career with the Panthers, is just addition by subtraction, and the holes at running back are filled by Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett.
Last year's defense actually didn't give up many yards a season ago, and the unit is more consistent this year in holding its competition to lower point totals. Aaron Donald anchors a solid defensive line, while Jason Hendricks takes care of business in the defensive backfield.
The Panthers are able to steal two of their four toughest home games while winning two of three road contests against Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. With nine regular-season wins, this team proves that it is a force to be reckoned with in the ACC.
With position changes on the offensive line, Pittsburgh essentially goes into the season with a totally inexperienced group. The O-line is unable to keep Savage's jersey clean, and the running game is nonexistent after the graduation of Ray Graham.
Street faces constant double-teams with no one stepping up as a legitimate No. 2 option, and the offense as a whole can't put enough points on the board.
Pitt brings back nine starters on defense, but lingering injuries from the spring make Hendricks and linebacker Shane Gordon less effective in 2013. Florida State, North Carolina and Miami each eclipse the 40-point mark on the Panthers as dreadful blowouts demoralize the team.
Chryst receives a rude awakening in his first year in the conference, as his team loses its final five games and ends up with a 4-8 record.
The Panthers are looking at a rigorous slate. If they want to improve upon their 2012 record of 6-7, their returning starters must show growth and the first-year contributors need to mature quickly.
The Coastal Division overall is more talented than the Atlantic, but there's also considerably less disparity between Miami and Pitt than there is between, say, Clemson and Maryland. Because of that, no one should rule out the possibility of Pittsburgh finishing in the top half of the division.
Reasonably speaking, a 6-6 finish would be a realistic expectation for Chryst's second year.
Also check out:
Schedule analysis for Virginia
Schedule analysis for Clemson
Schedule analysis for Florida State
Schedule analysis for Boston College
Schedule analysis for Wake Forest
Schedule analysis for NC State
Schedule analysis for Maryland
Schedule analysis for Syracuse
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