Pitt's final Big East season is barely finished ... which means it must be time to talk about the 2013 season. The Panthers will be in their first season of ACC play next year. Pitt's conference opponents have yet to be released, but we do know that the Panthers will play the rest of the Coastal Division, as well as Syracuse.
The Coastal Division was by far the weaker division in 2012, and it looks to be that way again next season. Florida State and Clemson rule the Atlantic Division, but Pitt may not face them for a few seasons. If Pitt were to draw one of the weaker Atlantic Division schools, it could set them up for a run at the Coastal Division title.
Let's not get carried away with things, though. It will be Pitt's first season in the ACC, where the opponents are, on paper, much tougher than the Big East. In that conference, Pitt frequently struggled and almost always fell massively short of preseason expectations. The team will also be breaking in a new quarterback, lacks depth at wide receiver, and will still be weak along the offensive line. If that weren't enough, the Panthers will also be breaking in a new kicker.
But the defense should be strong, with Pitt losing just four starters off of their two-deep from the bowl game, (assuming Aaron Donald doesn't leave early). A good defense can make up for even the worst of offenses. Paul Chryst's ability to mold quarterbacks, regardless of whoever it may be, will give Pitt a capable signal caller in the backfield to go along with the talented Rushel Shell.
I know that we just finished watching Pitt suffer a beat down at the hands of a 6-6 Ole Miss team, but listen to me for a second. The Panthers' toughest conference games figure to be against North Carolina and perhaps Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. But the Hokies were far from their dominant selves in 2012 and Pitt thoroughly beat them. The Yellow Jackets, despite beating USC and playing in the ACC Championship game, still had seven losses, including one to Middle Tennessee State. The Tar Heels were ineligible for a bowl game in 2012 because of sanctions, but they still were co-champions in the Coastal. There will also be games against Syracuse and Miami. The Orange beat the Panthers in the Carrier Dome, but Pitt could have just as easily won that game and Syracuse will also be replacing quarterback Ryan Nassib. Miami still has the NCAA sanctions looming, so who knows what could happen there. Pitt also plays Duke, who lost six of their last seven games, as well as Virginia, who lost eight of their last ten.
It really comes down to who Pitt gets at home. Heinz Field doesn't give Pitt a home-field advantage as much as many other programs, but the Panthers still played much better in Pittsburgh then on the road, where they won only a single game in 2012. It's still a long shot for Pitt to get to Charlotte, but the defense along with a weaker Coastal Division should give the Panthers a shot at reaching the Championship game.