Yeah, I get it - technically, 2013 isn't even over yet with bowl season to come. But yeah, I had a hard time looking ahead at least a little bit to next season.
Pitt loses several key players to graduation, including do-everything defensive star, Aaron Donald. Donald had a season for the ages as I mentioned recently. But for all the things he does - sacking the quarterback, forcing fumbles, stopping the run, and even blocking kicks, Pitt might miss his pass rushing abilities the most.
The Panthers had only 18 sacks this season and ranked 83rd in the nation in sacks heading into Saturday's game against Miami. When you've got one of the nation's leading sack artists, that's a really disappointing number. Donald drew double- and sometimes even triple-teams this year and the fact that others couldn't step up to make more of an impact was a bit disappointing. Bryan Murphy added four of his own, but as a defensive end playing on the same line as Donald, that's a pretty modest number.
Other than Donald, Pitt also loses senior Tyrone Ezell. Returning are David Durham and Bryan Murphy as well as several reserves.
Pitt's defensive line could have their hands full without their star. One thing that will help is that the Panthers will get several guys back next year that weren't around for much of this season. Khaynin Mosley-Smith was suspended for this season, and Devin Cook and Ejuan Price have been injured for much of the year. Pitt also has some young guys including freshman Shakir Soto and sophomore Darryl Render that are backups and should be improved.
Still, I'm not convinced that all of that competition will mean a threatening pass-rusher emerges. Losing a player of Donald's caliber would hurt any team and that's especially true for Pitt since there wasn't much of a pass rush without him.