Rant Sports College Football Top 100: No. 63 Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh Panthers

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The Pittsburgh Panthers are looking at one of their biggest transition years in a while. Making the move from the Big East to the ACC, the schedule will be much tougher in 2013 than it’s been in year’s past, as well as the fact they will be moving forward without quarterback Tino Sunseri, who started for this team for three seasons.

Despite the big move ahead and doing so without a majority of their skill players on offense, the Panthers will look to make their sixth-straight bowl appearance and their first as members of the ACC.

Paul Chryst is going into his second season as the head coach and after a 6-7 finish in 2012, he will look to turn heads with an even better finish with a younger team. It will be a tough task, but can he do it?

KEY PLAYERS

Losing starting quarterback Sunseri and starting and backup running backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell to graduation and departure from program, respectively, will hurt this team. The two running backs combined for nearly 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns, leaving junior Isaac Bennett to receive most of the carries.

Bennett showed flashes of brilliance in the past two seasons, proving he can run and catch some passes out of the backfield as well.

Wideout Devin Street is the key returning offensive threat, catching 73 passes for 975 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. He will surely help out whoever earns the starting quarterback job.

OFFENSE

As I stated before, Sunseri is no longer apart of the team, but Rutgers transfer Tom Savage and freshman Chad Voytik will be battling it out as the team’s two leading candidates to take over at QB. Savage is a pro-style quarterback with a very strong arm and has the experience while Voytik is a bit undersized, but is very smart for the position.

The rushing game was one of the worst in the nation in 2012, ranking 94th, while the pass game was ranked in the top-50 nationally. Losing the main guys from both of these offensive aspects will definitely set them back a bit, but coming even close to their marks from last season with the new guys will be considered a success.

Wide receiver Street will lead the way for the team as he will look to improve on his already impressive numbers from last season.

The offense will suffer a bit, but a little gelling and chemistry improvement, and they will be acceptable.

DEFENSE

Jason Hendricks is the returning defensive star and will likely lead the defense as he did last season. The safety will be tops on the team and one of the best at his position in the conference. He led the team in interceptions with six and tackles with 90 in 2012.

Also returning is star cornerback K’Waun Williams, who was second on the team in interceptions and seventh on the team in tackles.

Pitt averaged over an interception per game in 2012 while allowing just 21 points per game — 23rd ranking in the nation. The defense was solid last season and there are a lot of key pieces returning. I could see the Panthers’ defense carrying this team to a bowl game in 2013.

SCHEDULE

The schedule, as I mentioned earlier, will be much tougher in 2013 than it was in years past. Moving from the lowly Big East conference to the ACC, it’s easy to tell why this team may miss their first bowl game since 2007.

Here are their hardest matchups: vs. Florida State Seminoles, at Virginia Tech Hokies, vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish, vs. North Carolina Tar Heels and vs. Miami Hurricanes.

This team has many tough home games, which could be beneficial before it’s all said and done, but the road matchups seem to be relatively winnable. Prediction: this team will go 6-6 and make their sixth straight bowl game.

Connor Muldowney is a columnist for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Connormuldowney, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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