Pitt football preview: Will the Panthers be better than 8-5?

Under Pat Narduzzi, better than 8-5 is a definite maybe!

Pat Narduzzi is at the helm for another season. Can Pitt get to 10 wins?

Pat Narduzzi is at the helm for another season. Can Pitt get to 10 wins?

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Is this one of those columns where the author pretends he or she is being asked questions?

It sure is!

Okay. So you’re just doing it right from the start, I guess? No intro or anything?

Sure am!

Uh, alright. What exactly are we supposedly asking you questions about?

Pitt’s 2017 football season. You will ask me questions, I’ll answer them and the result will be a quick, easy-to-read preview of their season.

That actually sounds … kind of interesting? So how will Pitt do this year?

Hey, great question! And I’m glad you committed to the Q&A concept before this intro got really long. Pitt is not ranked to start the season. In the AP preseason poll they are in the “Also Receiving Votes” category and, if the poll was extended, would be ranked No. 32. Same deal in the Coaches Poll: No. 32. Here’s a look at both rankings. See: 32.

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Boston College
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

So it sounds like Pitt will be kind of good this year, but not actually good. And while not actually good, definitely not bad. Is this correct? Pitt is going to go 8-5 again this year, aren’t they?

They sure could, friend! Pitt is The Official College Football Team of 8-5. They did it in 2016. And 2015. And 20- … wait, no. They went 6-7 in 2014 for a nice change of pace. But Pitt has gone 8-5 in head coach Pat Narduzzi’s two seasons with the program. Ideally, they will win 9 or 10 … or even more? … this year. That No. 32 projection by the so-called “experts,” and coaches who still totally have their sports information directors vote for them even if they have to put their names on it now, would slot them in around 8-5.

You apparently have all the answers … at least in the structure of this column you’ve created. Do you think Pitt will do better than 8-5?

I can say that I don’t see any way Pitt is worse than 8-5. There is too much talent on the roster, and the schedule is too weak this year — after playing Top 10 teams Penn State and Oklahoma State back-to-back Saturdays in mid-September, of course — to see a path to six losses.

That said, Pitt-ing is a real thing. Remember that last year Pitt handed national champion Clemson its only loss of the season, at Clemson, beat a Penn State team that won the Big Ten and almost beat Oklahoma State? They then lost to North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Miami by 23 points, and fell to a bad Northwestern team in their bowl game.

Look for Pitt to go 9-4 this year barring any extreme Pitting and 10-3 without any Pitting at all.

Max Browne graduated from USC and is now the starter at Pitt this year.

Max Browne graduated from USC and is now the starter at Pitt this year.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

You wrote that Pitt has a lot of talent. Who are the players I should know?

A good place to start is always the quarterback, and Pitt has a new one in Max Browne. He is a graduate transfer from USC, so he’ll only be on campus for this season, but a lot is expected from him. Not so long ago one of the top recruits in the nation, Browne has an NFL skill set and was named one of Pitt’s captains for 2017. His play will go a long way in determining if Pitt is an 8-win team or a 10-win team.

The most fun player to watch is Quadree Henderson, Pitt’s 5-foot-8, do everything, preseason All-American. Catching passes, running the ball, returning kicks — Henderson does a little bit of everything and does it well.

I noticed you didn’t mention any defensive players. Why?

Well … because Pitt’s defense was horrible last year, there were few players worth mentioning, and now they will open the season without standout safety Jordan Whitehead for the first three games due to suspension. He won’t be able to play against the explosive offenses of Penn State and Oklahoma State. Yeah. Not good.

Ideally, though, missing Whitehead wouldn’t be an excuse for Pitt. When Pat Narduzzi was brought to Pittsburgh two years ago, he was supposed to be a defensive mastermind. Yet it’s been Pitt’s offense that has been an unstoppable force and the D that is an easily movable object. You know how Mike Tomlin is supposed to be a defensive coach, but the Steelers are all-offense? Narduzzi has been ‘college Tomlin’ so far.

This being his third season on campus, more of “his” players will be on the field and his system should be fully in place. So if the defense is still a sieve, Narduzzi will have to remove “defensive genius” from his LinkedIn page.

What is Pitt’s home schedule this year, in case I want to see a local football team try to win a game 45-40 on a Saturday instead of a Sunday? 

The Panthers open the season at 1 p.m. Saturday at home versus the Youngstown State Penguins. For this one day only, Pittsburgh will boo the Penguins. Then two weeks later, No. 10 Oklahoma State and the mullet of head coach Mike Gundy come to town. The rest is as follows:

  • 9/30 vs. Rice
  • 10/14 vs. NC State
  • 10/28 vs. Virginia
  • 11/9 vs. North Carolina
  • 11/24 vs. No. 18 Miami

And the road schedule is either pretty easy — at Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse — or very not easy: at No. 6 Penn State next week and No. 21 Virginia Tech on Nov. 18.

NCAA Football: Penn State at Pittsburgh

Pat Narduzzi and Penn State head coach James Franklin

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Are tickets to the Penn State game still available?

Yes, they are. But they are pretty expensive. The cheapest seat currently on StubHub is $150, which is 108 more than 42 and 111 more than 39. However, the good news is that $150 is much less than 1999, the last year Penn State beat Pitt at football. It’s all about perspective.

Is there time for me to ask one more question?

There sure is. There is no time limit on the Internet. The only limitation is the reader’s capacity for boredom.

It is the most important question of all: Are Pitt’s uniforms going to be unsightly or awesome this year?

That is the most important question. And I have good news, friend: Pitt’s uniforms are trending clearly in the direction of always awesome. Long gone are the days of Dinocat and not only is Pitt Script being embraced again, but the athletic administration is kicking around the idea of going fully retro.

And let’s be honest. It doesn’t matter if Pitt goes 13-0 or 0-13. As long as they put on those mustard yellow and blue uniforms, they’ll look amazing.