ACC: Adam Bisnowaty

Pittsburgh Panthers season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
10:30
AM ET
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Panthers:

Key returners: QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, RB Isaac Bennett, WR Tyler Boyd, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE David Durham, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Ray Vinopal

Key losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jason Hendricks

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd looks to build on a freshman All-America season.
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 versus Iowa, Oct. 16 versus Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 versus Duke, Nov. 15 at North Carolina, Nov. 29 at Miami

Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 63.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are a pair of freshman cornerbacks who will likely be counted on heavily to provide some needed depth at the position, as Titus Howard's season-long suspension leaves Pitt with just two returners with any experience at the position (Pitts and Trenton Coles). Both Maddox (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and Motley (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) arrived this summer as ESPN three-star prospects, and the learning curve will likely be accelerated as the Panthers search for more bodies in coverage.

High point from 2013: A 28-21 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 9 buried the Fighting Irish's remaining BCS bowl hopes and, at least partially, erased some of the sting from Pitt's consecutive three-point losses to them in 2011 and 2012. It's more useful, however, to look back at the 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green, as youngsters Voytik, Conner and Boyd all stepped up in a big way, something each hopes is a sign of things to come for 2014.

Low point from 2013: A 24-21 loss at Navy on Oct. 26 marked the first of a two-game slide (Pitt lost at Georgia Tech a week later), threatening to keep the Panthers out of postseason play before they pulled off the upset the following month over the Irish. Still, Pitt dropped three contests in a four-game stretch surrounding the loss to the Midshipmen, with its only win during that stretch coming against Old Dominion.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Voytik builds off his late-game experience from the Pizza Bowl and gives Pitt a dynamic threat under center, the experienced-but-shaky offensive line jells, Boyd continues his ascent and the defense makes big strides. Pitt takes advantage of a rather friendly schedule, makes a run at 10 wins and emerges as the champion of a Coastal division that is simply begging someone to step up.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offensive line continues to struggle, leaving Voytik vulnerable and the offense out of flux. The front seven fails to make up for the loss of Donald, allowing opponents time to test a green secondary. The Panthers win four games, taking a step back after consecutive bowl seasons in Paul Chryst's first two years. The youth on this team, however, is probably still enough to keep the future promising.

They said it: "I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh. You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that absolutely -- it's a great sports town but a heck of a football city. High school football is big on Fridays. Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday. We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the university and the tradition of a great university. I want the ex-players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it. But that's where we want to go, and that's what I mean, we're not where we want to be. But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity." -- Chryst, on how he defines Pitt football
The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Pittsburgh will win the Coastal

1. Tyler Boyd is among the conference’s best receivers. And he might be the best by season’s end. As a freshman, Boyd compiled nearly 1,200 receiving yards and brought a playmaking element to the Pitt offense it has not had in a few seasons. With Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street all pursuing NFL careers, this is now Boyd’s team. An elite playmaker, Boyd’s impact on his teammates as a locker room leader will be equally important. Boyd lost just one game in his high school career, and he is bringing that winning mentality to Pittsburgh. Boyd does not deal well with losing.

[+] EnlargeChad Voytik
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsChad Voytik's progression will probably go a long way toward Pitt's success in 2014.
2. The running game will keep pressure off Chad Voytik. The Panthers’ new starting quarterback showed positive flashes during the team’s bowl victory, but the redshirt sophomore obviously will take his lumps in his first season as the No. 1 quarterback. The good news is Pittsburgh is stocked at running back, which means Voytik will be able to feed off the rushing attack. Senior Isaac Bennett returns as the starter, but Pitt fans might be most excited about sophomore James Conner, who set a Pitt bowl-game rushing record in December. There is a chance Conner might move to defensive end full time, but the remaining Panthers backs would be able to shoulder the load even without Conner’s bruising running style. Sophomore Rachid Ibrahim played in every game last season, and Pitt signed talented three-star recruits Chris James and Qadree Ollison in February.

3. The schedule is favorable. Pitt was thrown into the ACC fire last season with an opening game against Florida State and Jameis Winston, whom we learned that night was going to be a special player. The Seminoles rotate off the schedule this season, and Pitt also avoids Clemson and Louisville, which means the Panthers will not play any of the teams projected to finish in the top three of the Atlantic Division. They play Boston College, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia on the road, all manageable games away from Heinz Field. The Panthers’ three toughest games might all come in a row, in but they will all be at home. The Panthers host Virginia Tech on a Thursday night before Georgia Tech and Duke travel to the Steel City.

Why Pitt won’t win the Coastal

1. The offensive line was porous last season. Savage was beaten and bloodied in 2013 behind an offensive line that failed to protect him many times. The Panthers return most of their offensive line, which could be a good or bad thing. The line should be more experienced, but that does not necessarily mean it will be better. Few programs return as many starters from a season ago as the Panthers do on the line. The left side of the offensive line could be the key to the Panthers’ offensive success. Left tackle Adam Bisnowaty is talented, but he battled back injuries at the end of last season. Dorian Johnson was a blue-chip recruit and played extensively as a freshman, and he’ll start alongside Bisnowaty.

2. Voytik has very limited experience at quarterback. While Voytik showed a lot of promise during the Panthers’ bowl victory, the redshirt sophomore has thrown only 11 passes in his career. A four-star recruit, Voytik is clearly not short on talent, but it isn’t as simple as inserting him in the starting lineup with the expectation the offense will not miss a beat. A Sept. 5 night game at Boston College should provide an early glimpse into Voytik's potential.

3. The defense is not consistent enough. Defense is a staple in the city of Pittsburgh, and the Panthers did not show enough of it last season. In their first two conference games, the unit allowed 99 points. It was against Duke and Florida State, but there is no excuse for those kinds of defensive efforts, especially if the plan is to compete for a division title. There are still issues throughout the defense, and Donald isn't around to mask some of them.
Just a few weeks remain before fall camp opens around the ACC, and there are plenty of big questions still left to be answered. With that in mind, we’re looking at some of the conference’s biggest wild cards -- veterans without a distinguished track record who could make all the difference for their respective teams this season. One caveat: With so much of the conference breaking in a new QB, we ignored that key position for now. We’re also not including any true freshmen, since they all come with their share of intrigue. Instead, these are the Coastal Division’s biggest wild cards as we get set for 2014.

Duke: DE Dezmond Johnson

With fewer than five tackles for loss per game last year, Duke had the second-least-productive defensive front in the ACC. Then the Blue Devils lost three of their four starters on the D-line. That means there are major holes to fill and plenty of room for improvement. Johnson is a fifth-year senior coming off a solid spring, which makes him the first man up to fill the void.

Georgia Tech: DE Kenderius Whitehead

Talk about a wild card. Whitehead started his career at NC State, transferred to Georgia Military College, then became the first juco player to sign with Georgia Tech in the Paul Johnson era. Because he’s wrapping up his degree at GMC, he won’t even report to Tech until later this month, but the Yellow Jackets are so thin on the D-line that Whitehead could still be the starter at rush end. Aside from Adam Gotsis, Tech has virtually no established pass rushers, but before Whitehead can even begin to assert himself on Tech’s depth chart he has to take care of academics elsewhere.

Miami: LB Thurston Armbrister

A part-time starter last season, Armbrister has the ability to rush the QB and play the run. But after two linebackers were dismissed earlier this month, further diminishing an already thin group, the Hurricanes need their senior to blossom into a more well-rounded player in 2014. Aside from Denzel Perryman, Miami has little in the way of sure things in the linebacking corps. Getting some better production from that group -- Miami had the fewest tackles for loss in the conference and second fewest among Power 5 teams last season -- could be the key to the Canes’ defense.

North Carolina: DT Greg Webb

There’s ample depth on UNC’s defensive line, but there are plenty of question marks, too. After bandit Norkeithus Otis, the unit lacks an experienced pass rusher, and the Heels finished last in the ACC in rushing defense in 2013, allowing 182 yards per game on the ground. Right now, a handful of juniors and seniors are atop the depth chart, but last year’s struggles only underscore the need for younger talent to emerge. Webb could be the centerpiece. An ESPN 300 recruit in 2013, he has the size and quickness to make a difference up the middle. And if he can progress along with Nazair Jones, Dajaun Drennon and Junior Gnonkonde, there’s plenty of room for the unit to grow into a force in 2014.

Pitt: OT Adam Bisnowaty

A former four-star recruit, Bisnowaty has plenty of upside, but a back injury stemmed his progress early last season and sidelined him for the final four games and much of this spring. The left side of Pitt’s O-line has ample talent between Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, but the unit was a sieve at times last year, with the Panthers allowing the most sacks per game of any Power 5 team in the country. If Bisnowaty is healthy, he has a chance to get much better. And if he can hold down the left tackle spot, Pitt’s pass protection -- combined with a more mobile QB in Chad Voytik -- has a chance to improve dramatically.

Virginia: WR Darius Jennings

Coming out of high school, Jennings was an ESPN 150 prospect, and he appeared close to blossoming as a sophomore in 2012, catching 48 balls for 568 yards. Last year, however, was a regression. He had 10 fewer catches and just 340 yards on the season. He flashed potential with a 13-catch, 119-yard, two-TD performance against Georgia Tech, but that accounted for a third of his season’s production. With Virginia’s QB situation improving, the Cavaliers are looking for Jennings to finally capitalize on his potential in his final season in Charlottesville.

Virginia Tech: TE Ryan Malleck

OK, so pretty much the entire Virginia Tech offense feels like a wild card this year -- from leading rusher Trey Edmunds to a talented-but-inconsistent receiving corps to, of course, the mystery at QB. But for an offense in transition, its best friend can often be a reliable tight end. Coordinator Scot Loeffler plans to use Malleck, who missed last year with a shoulder injury, as a key contributor in 2014. When Loeffler was OC at Temple in 2011, his tight end led the team in receiving. When he moved to Auburn in 2012, the tight end finished second. Malleck was held out of contact drills this spring and has some competition at the position, but if he’s healthy, it’s reasonable to expect a big season.
Pitt coach Paul Chryst didn’t try to sugarcoat it.

The Panthers’ offensive line, which ranked No. 118 in the country last year with 3.31 sacks allowed per game, has little choice but to improve quickly if Pitt is going to take another step forward this fall in the Coastal Division race.

“I think we have a chance to” be better, Chryst said, “I really do. I think we can be better and flat-out need to be better. We have to make that come to fruition.”

While it remains a work in progress this spring, those within the program are optimistic that four returning starters can give the group a boost and help take some of the pressure off first-year starting quarterback Chad Voytik, who is more of a scrambler than his predecessor, Tom Savage. Senior guard Matt Rotheram is the seasoned veteran with 27 career starts, and the Panthers also welcome back both starting tackles: senior T.J. Clemmings and redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty. Center Artie Rowell started every game last season and earned praise for his performance in the bowl victory over Bowling Green.

[+] EnlargeAdam Bisnowaty
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsAdam Bisnowaty should help solidify the left side of Pitt's offensive line when he returns from a back injury.
“Every spring we come in, we look at last year’s tape and say, ‘Here’s where we were; here’s where we want to go,’” Rotheram told reporters after Tuesday’s practice. “You want to build off of every single year. It does give us a chip on our shoulder. We want to be better.”

Clemmings started all 13 games at right tackle last year, and it was his first full season on the offensive line after making the move from defensive end. Pitt is also eagerly awaiting the return of Bisnowaty, whose promising debut last year was derailed by a November back injury. He made eight starts as a redshirt freshman, but has still been sidelined this spring and is going through rehabilitation.

“He’s making progress and feeling a little more confident about everything,” Chryst said. “He’s slowly building to that level of work and so far, knock on wood, there have been no setbacks. So it’s good, but it’s a process.”

It’s also an opportunity to build some depth.

Jaryd Jones-Smith, who redshirted last year, has been getting more meaningful reps at left tackle this spring.

“I think like any young tackle, he’s doing some good things and he’s working,” Chryst said. “He certainly has some things he has to keep working on and cleaning up. It’s his first spring and it’s early, but I like what he’s doing. Offensive linemen have to be flexible, and our job is to try and get the best five on the field, and he’s certainly in that mix. He’s done good work in the weight room, he’s staying on top of the installation, and I don’t see him getting stuck mentally. He’s done a pretty good job with the things he can control.”

Pitt offensive line coach Jim Hueber said he has noticed a difference this spring in the maturity on the right side of the line, but the youth is still showing on the left side. That should start to improve with the eventual return of Bisnowaty.

“I need to really work the left-side guys along so we’re not spending our time going back to correct things that should be easily done,” Hueber said. “The only way we can do that is to see it at practice and make them do it right, but we need to get just a little bit mature and handle everything on that side a little bit easier.”

So far, not much has come easily for Pitt’s offensive line. Having some experience up front this fall, though, is reason enough for the Panthers to believe it can.

Pitt season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:30
AM ET
Today we’re looking at Pitt as the Panthers enter their first season in the ACC:

Pittsburgh Panthers

Coach: Paul Chryst (6-7)

2012 record: 6-7 Big East

Key losses: QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham, RB Rushel Shell, C Ryan Turnley, S Jarred Holley

Key returnees: WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, S Jason Hendricks, CB Lafayette Pitts

Newcomer to watch: Freshman running back James Conner. The rookie is already getting significant reps at tailback through one week of camp, and Pitt’s running game is looking for answers (see below). Conner rushed for nearly 1,700 yards (averaging more than 10 yards per carry) as a high school senior. He is a big body, but has opened eyes with his athleticism and feet.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 2 vs. Florida State; Oct. 12 at Virginia Tech; Nov. 9 vs. Notre Dame; Nov. 29 vs. Miami.

[+] EnlargeIsaac Bennett
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt's experience at running back is uncertain, but for now, Isaac Bennett will lead the way for the Panthers.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: How effectively will Pitt be able to run the ball? Not only did the Panthers lose their leading rusher from a year ago in Ray Graham, but they also lost his top replacement in Rushel Shell, who has since left the program. Isaac Bennett heads into the fall as the starter with Malcolm Crockett on his heels, but the experience is limited, and the offensive line remains a work in progress. Three starters return up front, but none of them are back at their old positions. The Panthers are hoping redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty and former defensive end T.J. Clemmings will be able to help out.

Forecast: At the very least, Pitt is better off than it was a year ago simply because the Panthers are in their second season under Chryst and have finally started to get some stability. The players and coaches are much more familiar with each other, and they learned a hard lesson about consistency last fall.

With seven starters returning, the defense will be the strength, and it will likely have to carry the load early, as the Panthers will be breaking in a new quarterback. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald is the best player on the roster, and he led the Big East with 18.5 tackles for loss last year. He’s one of three starters who return up front, and three of four starters return in the secondary.

Six starters return on offense, but losing the top two running backs from a year ago could create some problems. The staff has been pleased with what quarterback Tom Savage has done this offseason, but the two-time transfer hasn’t played in two seasons. The headliner on offense is receiver Devin Street, who could be one of the best in the country this year after making 73 catches last season. Pitt’s offense won’t have any opportunity to work the kinks out because it opens the season on Labor Day in a nationally televised home game against Florida State, which should again be one of the ACC’s best teams.

It’s not going to be an easy debut for Pitt in its new conference, and the Coastal Division schedule doesn’t get much easier with trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Pitt has a chance to be a contender in what should be another wide-open divisional race, but a dependable running game must emerge and Pitt must win the turnover battle in order to have a more consistent season.

Weak and strong: Pitt

June, 21, 2013
6/21/13
2:00
PM ET
We move on to Pitt today in our series looking at the strongest and weakest positions on each team in the league.

Strongest position: Defensive back

Tough call to make here between defensive line and defensive back. Three starters return to both positions -- the line features the best overall player on the defense in Aaron Donald, but the secondary features three players who could end up being All-ACC selections. K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts form one of the better starting cornerback duos in the ACC. Fans who are unfamiliar with them now will soon know who they are when the season begins. At safety, All-Big East first-team selection Jason Hendricks returns after a solid 2012 in which he lead the team with 90 tackles and six interceptions. He and Williams combined for 10 of the teams' 15 picks last season. The big hole is at strong safety, where both starter Jarred Holley and backup Andrew Taglianetti are gone. Holley has been the most consistent player in the Panthers' defense over the last three years, while Taglianetti could always be counted on to deliver the monster hit. Ray Vinopal, a top reserve last season, is the favorite to take over for Holley.

Weakest position: Offensive line

I gave the line the nod over running back and receiver because there remains way too much uncertainty about this group after spring practice. Running back has a depth problem, there is no question, but I think Isaac Bennett is capable of shouldering the load. Receiver also has some depth and inexperience issues, but Devin Street should be one of the best in the league. That leaves offensive line, which has to replace its two best players from a year ago. Two redshirt freshmen could be starting the season opener against Florida State and face what should be another talented defensive front -- Adam Bisnowaty at one tackle and Gabe Roberts at center. Incoming freshman Dorian Johnson -- one of the top offensive line recruits in the nation -- could see time as well depending on how he does during fall camp. There were more position moves this spring to try and find the right combination, but there remains much unsettled about this group headed into the season.

More in this series here.
Pitt already has taken an unusually large number of losses to its 2012 signing class.

With the recent news that three more players have decided to transfer, the Panthers have now lost five players out of the 16 they signed a little more than a year ago. Perhaps even worse, three of them were among the highest-rated players the Panthers signed. To review, here are the guys who have decided to leave:
At the time these players signed, coach Paul Chryst was praised for being able to keep such a strong class together after another coaching change seemingly set this program back. But that coaching transition -- from Todd Graham to Chryst -- may have ended up impacting some of these players who transferred. Shell and the Davis brothers gave commitments to Graham, though they ended up signing with Pitt anyway.

Rippy had a tough time choosing between Pitt and West Virginia, though he ultimately chose the Panthers on signing day, with Chryst firmly in charge. Jackson also picked the Panthers on signing day. Clearly, all these players have their own reasons for leaving, but it is plain to see the Panthers seem to be feeling the effects of all the coaching tumult still today. Remember, only 10 players remain from the 21-player class of 2011 as well.

Now having said that, the Panthers still have some very promising players from the 2012 class ready to take on prominent roles. Two four-star players remain -- left tackle Adam Bisnowaty and quarterback Chad Voytik. Bisnowaty is penciled in to start at left tackle, along with fellow class of 2012 signee Gabe Roberts at center. Voytik is competing for the starting quarterback job.

J.P. Holtz turned heads as a true freshman tight end last season; linebacker Mike Caprara made an impression during spring practice; defensive tackle Darryl Render played as a top reserve as a true freshman last year; and cornerback Jahmahl Pardner contributed as a true freshman before hurting his knee and taking a medical redshirt.

Still, losing these players hurts depth at their respective positions. Chiefly, running back -- once a position of strength -- is a now major concern. Bottom line: departures are expected at every program. But losing five from one class in a short period of time cannot be overlooked.
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.
FLORIDA STATE

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.
MARYLAND

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
DUKE

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.
MIAMI

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.
NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?
PITTSBURGH

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.

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March, 25, 2013
3/25/13
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