Pittsburgh Panthers — 2016 Syracuse Football preview

Syracuse lost to Pitt in 2015
Syracuse lost to Pitt in 2015

As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will wrap up its 2016 schedule when it plays Pitt on Nov. 26.

STABILITY AT PITT (FINALLY): Head coach Pat Narduzzi has been a stabilizing force for the Panthers. Consider where Pitt was before he arrived on campus. Following Dave Wannstedt’s departure from the Panthers in the 2010 season, Pitt went through three head coaches and had two bowl games coached by coordinators. That predictably led to inconsistent performances, with the Panthers posting records of 6-7, 6-7, 7-6 and 6-7 during that time period. But Narduzzi exceeded expectations last year, guiding Pitt to an auspicious 6-1 start, an eight win season and a trip to the Military Bowl. “It’s been an amazing year,” Narduzzi said at ACC Kickoff in July. “Looking forward to making some greater things happen.”

» Related: NC State Wolfpack — 2016 Syracuse Football preview

WHO TO WATCH FOR: In 2014, running back James Conner established himself as one of the best running backs in college, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns and grabbing ACC Player of the Year honors. But 2015 was a harrowing year for Conner on and off the field. He missed nearly the entire season with an MCL injury, and then needed chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Conner has beaten the cancer, and appears to be ready to build on 2014. “I expect nothing but his best performance,” Narduzzi said. “When you look at what James has done, what he’s been, what he’s been through, the size of that heart inside his chest cavity, you know, I think you’re going to get his best effort.” On defense, strong safety Jordan Whitehead was named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 after recording 109 tackles, the most for a true freshman in program history.

PREDICTION: Pitt returns 16 starters, which should make for a better team. That may not be reflected in its final record, though, with non-conference matchups against Penn State and Oklahoma State, and road games against Miami and Clemson. PITT 28, SYRACUSE 21.

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.