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Can Pitt Rebound After a Disastrous 2023 Season?

Pitt Panthers
© Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Pat Narduzzi was riding high after the 2021 season in which his University of Pittsburgh Panthers went 11-3, won the Atlantic Coast Conference, and appeared at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Fast forward three years later and the Panthers are coming off the worst season of his Pitt tenure, finishing an embarrassing 3-9 overall and 2-6 in conference play.

Narduzzi also lost defensive line coach Charlie Partridge, one of the best in the business to the NFL. This season might be the hardest and most important year of Narduzzi's coaching tenure. Another disappointing year might be the end of his time in Pittsburgh. However, there is a chance that Pitt can have a semi-successful season and surprise many people this upcoming season.

Panthers Offensive Turnover

For starters, quarterback Phil Jurkovec and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti are gone and that alone should be an upgrade over last season. Jurkovec was arguably the worst quarterback in a Power Five conference in 2023. Cignetti's offense was stuck in the 1980s with zero creativity and a bizarre design not to get his best players the ball.

Sophomore Nate Yarnell looks to take over as quarterback this season and while he does not have much experience, every time he has played, he has shown the ability to throw a beautiful ball and is more athletic than some might think. New offensive coordinator Kade Bell—from Western Carolina—runs a completely different offense than Cignetti's and runs an uptempo offense similar to Rich Rodriguez at Jacksonville State.

Pitt Panthers
© Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The skill position players, if utilized, could be some of the best in the country. Gavin Bartholomew might be one of the most talented tight ends in the nation and it's criminal that he has been barely used these past two years. If Bell can make him a focal point in the offense, the Panthers have the potential to be one of the better offenses in the ACC. Pitt's offense will also be bolstered by wide receiver Kenny Johnson and a deep running back group consisting of Rodney Hammond Jr., Desmond Reid, and Derrick Davis Jr. There are real players on offense and they need to get the players the ball which was a major issue last year.

Questions Remain for Panther Defense

The Pitt defense has a lot more questions than the offense. The Panthers lost their top three cornerbacks Marquis Williams, MJ Devonshire Jr, and AJ Woods. Every starter on the defensive line will be new and the Panthers also lost talented linebackers Solomon DeShields and Bengally Kamara to the transfer portal.

Pitt did get potential starters in Kansas State transfer defensive end Nate Matlack, Nebraska transfer linebacker Chief Borders, and a versatile player in Youngstown State transfer defensive end Anthony Johnson. Still, there are questions throughout the front seven and at corner. The one position set is the safeties with Javon McIntyre and Donovan McMillion returning and securing the defense's back end.

Pitt Panthers Outlook

The schedule this season for Pitt also should be more conducive to getting more wins with two games against non-Power Four conference teams in Kent State and Youngstown State. An overall seemingly weaker ACC in 2024, the Panthers avoid Florida State and Notre Dame after playing them the year before. A successful season for Pitt will be winning seven or eight games and getting back to bowl eligibility.

However, with six wins or less and losing the Backyard Brawl against rival West Virginia at home this year, there is reason to believe the year would be another lost season and Narduzzis's job could potentially be on the line.


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