- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Our series continues today with Pittsburgh, the conference's preseason No. 5 team. The Panthers, a trendy sleeper pick to win the Big East, will look to kick the Paul Chryst era off on a strong note.
For more from this series, click here.
Three reasons why Pittsburgh will win the Big East
1. Chryst: Yes, Pitt is dealing with, technically, its fifth different head coach over the past three seasons, but the Panthers seemed to find the right fit this time in Chryst, who likes to run the football and play the type of blue-collar football that has so often been identified with the program and city as a whole.
2. Safety: Andrew Taglianetti, Jarred Holley, Jason Hendricks, Ray Vinopal -- the Panthers essentially have four safeties who are good enough to be starters. Finding playing time among this group of four will be a fun, welcome challenge for the coaching staff.
3. Rushing attack: When healthy, Ray Graham might just be the best running back in college football. But last season's anterior cruciate ligament tear has kept Graham limited in camp thus far. Pitt should be in no rush to bring him back, however, as it has plenty of depth in the backfield with Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett.
Three reasons why Pittsburgh won't win the Big East
1. Front seven: New defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has his work cut out for him. For all of the chips Pitt returns in the secondary, the Panthers have a lot of production to make up for among their front seven. Yes, Aaron Donald is back after an 11-sack season, but he will move inside. He will be surrounded by first-time starters, which, coupled with the experience in the defensive backfield, could force Huxtable to get creative and aggressive.
2. Quarterback play: Two years of starting experience under his belt should prove valuable for Tino Sunseri going into his senior year. Of course, another coaching staff and the changes that come with it make for a far from ideal situation. Can the much-maligned Sunseri adapt quickly? Chryst's simplified approach should make the transition a little bit easier, but questions remain.
3. Protection: Last year's offensive line surrendered 64 sacks, an average of 4.92 per game. How does that compare nationally? The next-worst numbers were 47 and 3.92, respectively. To be fair, the line was plagued by injuries, but those numbers still sting. With Chryst coming from an offensive-linemen factory in Wisconsin, Pitt's unit should be better this year. Throwing the ball a lot less should help, too.