Tyler Boyd got left off the pre-season 1st team All-ACC squad. For what it’s worth, Phil Steele did the same in his annual preview guide. I wonder how much of that is a “disrespecting” of Boyd or a belief that his numbers will drop with increased focus and Chad Voytik at QB. Either way, it isn’t a huge thing beyond additional motivation. As should be the fact that no Pitt players outside of Boyd were even in the second team.
You would think that a team that apparently has only one “sure” star player coming into the season wouldn’t have much in the way of expectations.
And yet, there seems to be a lot of positive views to Pitt. The two deepest previews of college teams have surprisingly upbeat takes. The ones that look at the make-up of the squad and the deeper numbers like where Pitt is heading.
Bill Connelly at SB Nation had one back in June that got a lot of notice by Pitt fans. The caution of this year, but loaded with a sense of excitement for next.
And as the Panthers head toward Year 3 under Chryst, it’s beginning to look like whatever ceiling this program has under Chryst, it will see it clearly in 2015.
That’s not to say Pitt can’t be pretty good in 2014. The Panthers have a couple of the most intriguing sophomore skill position players in the country (receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner), an offensive line that gets plumped up by some blue-chippers, a defensive line that still features some exciting pieces (despite the loss of Aaron Donald), and a nice set of play-making linebackers.
The Panthers will have an outside chance of being the best team in the ACC’s Coastal division. But this team will still be a work in progress, and most of the reasons for optimism in 2014 will return in 2015.
Simply reaching Year 4 will be a happy sign of stability, progress, and potential for Paul Chryst at Pitt. But we should probably pay attention to the Panthers in Year 3, too, just in case.
The major takeaway was potential, but the big warning was depth. As in, there isn’t tremendous depth that makes anyone feel good behind key spots. QB, DB, LB, DE. There are a lot of positions where an injury or two could completely change things.
Still. The potential.
Name Pitt’s top 10 players. You’re definitely including Tyler Boyd (sophomore). You’re probably including James Conner (sophomore), Shakir Soto (sophomore), and Lafayette Pitts (junior). There are some key seniors, sure — Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez, Ray Vinopal, guard Matt Rotherham. But if some high-ceiling youngsters blossom, you could also add players like Chad Voytik (sophomore), Adam Bisnowaty (sophomore), Dorian Johnson (sophomore), Rachid Ibrahim (sophomore), Ejuan Price (junior), Matt Galambos (sophomore), or Titus Howard (sophomore) to this top 10 list.
You get what I’m after here. Most of Pitt’s best players are still super-young, which will likely makes for another rather volatile, up-and-down season. But wow, could the ceiling be high when Chryst enters Year 4 in 2015. He’s put together a high-caliber roster, and despite going young last year, he produced a 7-6 record with some late blossoming.
It’s funny. Plenty of us look back at that season with a little disappointment because of a game they blew (Navy), a game they could have stolen (GT) and a game they battled back but got burned on special teams (UNC). Sure the flip side was not blowing the Virginia game despite no offense, the wild-wooly Duke game they nearly blew and of course getting that win over ND. So, as easily as we think Pitt could have been 9-3 in the regular season, 3-9 was just as much a possibility.
Paul Myerberg’s USA Today preview also is heavy on the optimism for 2015 while trying to stay focused on 2014.
My feeling is that Pittsburgh is a year away. That’s a copout, of course, but it’s genuine: Pitt doesn’t seem ready to make any major win-column gains on last season, though it’s clear to me that there is a foundation in place that could yield a far stronger degree of competitiveness in 2015 and beyond. It’s all about the youth, the sophomores and underclassmen, and how well they develop at the forefront of this program during the next 12 months; if the Panthers stay the course, this program seems poised to battle for eight-plus wins with a heavy level of regularity. It’s all about getting there — and staying in the postseason during the interim.
That is the huge part of it. It is a very young team. We saw plenty of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores in key roles last year. That is expected to continue this year. They are good players. Players that are developing and will get better, but they are not (except for Tyler Boyd) a bunch of studs who will be able to consistently hold their own from the outset. Mistakes will happen. There will be inconsistencies.
Along with that comes health. We saw it last year with the O-line as the season went on. Injuries piled up, and the guys behind them were either not ready or never that good.
There is the schedule — which I am not a big fan of as justifying a better year — especially since it will be a long time since I will forget the Youngstown State game. Is it more favorable than last year’s? On paper, sure. But not by too much. Iowa is a wash compared to ND from last year. Akron at home is easier than at Navy. The biggest difference in not facing FSU. Instead, going to Chestnut Hill to see BC. In a warped way, that is a really big game for both teams. It gives each a chance to see where they really are for 2014. BC may have been blown out by Arizona in their bowl game, but they went 4-4 in conference (7-6 overall) — beating VT and giving both Clemson and FSU strong games.
Yet, there is a reason to think this team can be pretty good even in 2014. They will simply have to do more than think they are.