NCAA Football ACC FootballPittsburgh Panthers

Making Sense of the ACC Football Coastal Division: No. 4 Pittsburgh Panthers

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Entering their second season in the ACC, the Pittsburgh Panthers seem to have as good of odds of making an appearance in the ACC Championship as anyone in the Coastal division. There may be a few teams in the Coastal with slightly more talent than the Panthers, but it would not be by much. Pitt will need a few breaks to go their way, but they look poised to make some noise in the ACC this season.

Why Pitt could win the Coastal Division:

Pitt should be in the thick of the division race until the end. The reason for that is their back-loaded schedule. After a well-timed bye week, the Panthers will play their final three games against the North Carolina Tar Heels on the road, then the Syracuse Orange at home and the Miami Hurricanes on the road to finish the season.

The final leg of the season won’t be easy. Even the game with Syracuse should be tough, as the Orange return most of their starting lineup from last season, when they lost to Pitt by one point. But before that stretch, the Panthers get the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Duke Blue Devils all at home. This setup will give the Panthers a decent shot to head into the last few weeks of the season with some momentum.

The Panthers’ offense also has a chance to take a significant step forward this season, despite the loss of quarterback Tom Savage. They return four starters on the offensive line, two solid young running backs in Isaac Bennett and James Connor and an all-American caliber receiver in Tyler Boyd. Their success will hinge on the development of sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik, but Pittsburgh’s soft scheduling will give him plenty of time to improve before the Panthers really need him to excel.

Why Pitt could end up in last place:

Voytik saw his only significant game action in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last season when Savage went down with an injury. He looked good, going 5-fot-9 for 108 yards in the Panthers’ win.

Starting a new quarterback is one thing, but the Panthers also have to worry about depth. There are only two quarterbacks currently on Pitt’s roster, with one true freshman on the way, so injuries to Voytik and second-stringer Trey Anderson could be devastating. With a bit of luck it won’t be a problem, but it is a serious concern.

The Panthers also have to replace three starters from last year’s defensive line, including ACC Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald. Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darrel Render will be expected to pick up some of the slack. And while the unit could still be decent, it will certainly take a step back and depth will be an issue all season.

Prediction:

Pitt is a decent pick if you want a dark horse candidate to win the Coastal division. They have too much to replace on defense to be considered the favorite, but they could have one of the better offenses in the ACC if Voytik pans out. In any case, it will probably come down to the last three games of the season for Pitt. If they stay healthy and enter that stretch with some momentum, they could win it. But odds are they will drop at least one of those games and finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Previous articles in this series:

No. 5 Virginia Tech Hokies

No. 6 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

No. 7 Virginia Cavaliers

Dan Kelley covers college football for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook