2018 season: 7-7, 6-2 in the ACC
Head coach: Pat Narduzzi (5th season)
Thanks to a weak ACC Coastal division and a yawn of an in-conference schedule, Pittsburgh ended up making its first-ever ACC championship game in 2018 after defeating only one ranked team during the regular season. What awaited them wasn’t pretty—Clemson smacked the Panthers 42-10. Still, a championship game appearance in a power five conference is nothing to scoff at, and Pittsburgh did compete marginally well in a 14-13 loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
What the Panthers excelled at was taking care of business in their winnable games, and they did that by running the football—running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall ended the year with a combined 2,357 yards and 21 touchdowns. But with both backs out of college eligibility, it’s going to be a whole new look to the Pittsburgh backfield in 2019.
Rushing the football will still be the Panthers’ strong suit, this time with junior A.J. Davis and sophomore Todd Sibley Jr. leading the show. But Narduzzi is placing an emphasis on improving his team’s pass attack this season, hiring Massachusetts head coach Mark Whipple—who was Ben Roethlisberger’s first quarterback coach in the NFL—as his new offensive coordinator. Whipple will be tasked with mentoring junior quarterback Kenny Pickett, who passed for 1969 yards and 12 scores in his first season under center.
On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh wasn’t great last year, ranking 54th in pass defense and 87th in run defense. But the Panthers did impress late in the season, holding five of their final six opponents to under 25 points. There are some changes to the depth chart entering the 2019 campaign—specifically at linebacker—but expect this year’s unit to perform similarly to 2018.
In the end, another ACC championship appearance is unlikely for Narduzzi’s squad. But in a division that’s just as wide open as it was last season, anything is possible.