Don't Let Anyone Downplay the Pitt Panther Football Season

Reinhold Matay/USA Today Sports

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Georgia, Oklahoma State, Alabama, Michigan, Ole Miss, Oregon, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan State, Baylor, Oklahoma, Wake Forest, and Pitt.  That is it.  The entire list of Power 5 football teams that won 10+ regular season games in the 2021 season.  64 total Power 5 football programs and only 12 finished with 10+ regular season wins.  Missing from this list are so-called powerhouses like Clemson, LSU, USC, Texas, Penn State and many SEC teams despite them being "the best conference in the history of the world" or something like that.  

However, there are still critics out there trying to dampen the Pitt Panther fan spirit and minimize such an accomplishment.  Other conferences will whine that the ACC is too weak.  Penn State and West Virginia fans have pointed out that this is just one season so don’t get used to it.  Even Pitt fans themselves can’t enjoy the accomplishment because the departure of Kenny Pickett is on the very near horizon.  Forget it all.  This season has brought it with it historic, and buildable, achievements for the Pitt football program.

Weak ACC

I’d like to address the first critique, that the ACC conference is too weak.  The final playoff rankings that reflect the entire regular season came out yesterday.  The highest ranked ACC team, Pitt, is at No. 15.  That’s tough to swallow.  Power 5 conferences would like at least one team in the Top 10 following the regular season.  However, the SEC has six ranked teams, the Big Ten and the ACC each has four, the Big 12 has three, and the Pac 12 only has two.  So the ACC is right in the thick of things per those selected by the NCAA to determine such things.  

That includes for the ACC a Clemson team that, albeit had a down season relative to their standards, but only lost to Georgia by seven points.  Georgia then went on to beat every other opponent by 20+ points the rest of the season.  Additionally, Notre Dame is essentially an ACC partner ranked at No. 6.  They just have too lucrative of a TV deal to ever join a conference, even with the news yesterday that the ACC Network will be broadcasted on Xfinity now.  But I will begrudgingly adopt Notre Dame into the ACC for the sake of my argument.  

Additionally, if Clemson and North Carolina were in the ACC Championship as expected, nobody would be saying this was a "down year" for the ACC.  However, because *gasp* Wake Forest had a good year and the "can't get anyone to show up for the games" Pitt Panthers had a good year, it must be a down year for the ACC.  It's a lame excuse and I don't buy it.

Sustained Success

The second critique is that this is a one-year thing.  Is a 10-win regular season a one-year thing?  Probably.  Like I said, it is very difficult to achieve.  For most programs it is a once every decade achievement.

However, is sustained success for Pitt achievable?  Absolutely.  Pat Narduzzi, despite his flaws as a head coach, has grown this program into one with a great amount of stability.  Just look at some of the teams we played this season.  Duke parted ways with their head coach because of several terrible seasons in a row.  Syracuse looked, and played, worse than some of the non-Power 5 schools we faced this season.  

So while Pitt may not crack the elite group year after year, we certainly are not a consistent loser like Vanderbilt, Kansas, Boston College, Syracuse, etc.  There's something to be said for being in the middle consistently and at the top occasionally, but never finding yourselves at the bottom.  Also, Penn State is 11-10 in their last 21 games, and West Virginia went 6-4 this season so yinz can quiet down over there.

Replacing Kenny Pickett

The final downer, coming from even Pitt fans themselves, is that Kenny Pickett will be graduating.  I can't argue this.  The fact is, our Heisman-worthy quarterback will be entering the NFL draft in 2022 and will most likely be selected in the 1st round.  And yes, he will be difficult to replace.

However, he is one of the few offensivley that needs replaced.  Jordan Addison, Izzy Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond, Vincent Davis, Jared Wayne, and Gavin Bartholomew all are likely to return.  Pitt will lose some on the offensive line, but those that filled in occasionally for injury this season did just fine.  

The biggest losses on defense will be Keyshon Camp, Phil Campbell, and Cam Bright, but several top defenders, including Calijah Kancey and SirVocea Dennis are returning.  Also, despite not knowing how to scheme an effective defense, Narduzzi has shown the ability to recruit elite defenders.  

Ultimately, any team replacing a Heisman level quarterback will have a tough task ahead.  However, this Pitt team is still far more talented than Pitt teams in the past even without Pickett.  If the Panthers can develop either Nick Patti or Joey Yellen into an average QB, or find a suitable replacement for Pickett through the transfer portal, this offense will still function at a high level.  It just won't function at a high enough level to make up for a terrible defense, like this season.  There is work to be done on that side of the ball.

Special Season

No matter which way you slice it, or try to decrease its worth, this was a special season for the Panthers.  Not only was it the first 10-win regular season in 40 years for the program, but Pitt had one of the best offenses in the nation, the best quarterback, and the best wide receiver.  This will be a season Pitt fans will never forget and for good reason.  Don't let the naysayers downplay it.  Just enjoy it.