Pitt is wrapping up its third straight 6-6 regular season, the second under coach Paul Chryst. In the three prior seasons under Dave Wannstedt, Pitt averaged nine wins and appeared in respectable bowls such as the Sun and Meinke Car Care Bowl. The administration certainly wanted to clean up the image with getting rid of Wannstedt, but the program has been going in a downward spiral ever since. Pitt has not even had a player drafted since 2011. Simply put, things have been bleak the past three seasons.
Certainly not all of this is Paul Chryst's fault, in fact, very little of it truly is. It is not his fault players transferred after Wannstedt and Graham left. It is not his fault he lacked the ideal depth and talent to compete consistently off the bat, and it is not his fault his tenure comes in the middle of Pitt stepping into a tougher conference. However, it is his fault the way some of the games ended. It is his fault for not having a top notch staff, let alone even a special teams coach, to help better prepare these players. He will be welcoming more of his own personnel on the recruiting front, and losing some of the old dead weight from previous regimes. It is time to start being more than a six win football program.
Can Pitt get there next season? I think its possible to step up to the eight win plateau, and at least be in the ACC Coastal Division conversation. To me, it is not a matter of can they do it, just a matter of they have to do it. This staff needs to figure it out, and avoid games like Navy and North Carolina. The ACC is more difficult than the Big East, but looking at the scores of the games they won and lost, Pitt is not totally outclassed in this league. They managed to beat better teams like Duke and Notre Dame, and that should be evidence enough that Pitt can hang with this league.
Pitt will lose some very important seniors, but not tons of them. Aaron Donald, Tom Savage, Devin Street, and Jason Hendricks will be missed, but aside from that, the Panthers have a lot of returning starters. The offense will be led by Tyler Boyd, as he looks to be one of the top receivers not only in the ACC, but in the nation. He will be joined by experienced guys like Manasseh Garner and Kevin Weatherspoon at the receiver spot, making that a strength of the team. Pitt also boasts a few experienced backs in James Conner and Isaac Bennett, and one of their prized recruits, Chris James, should enter the conversation at running back. Tight end also should be a strength with JP Holtz, Scott Orndoff, and H-Back Jaymar Parrish coming back next season. The question marks on offense will be the line, but with four starters coming back, and prized 2013 recruit Dorian Johnson looking to step in as a full time starter, and you would hope they can be better than this season. The other question will be quarterback. Chad Voytik will be a red shirt sophomore, as he is a former four star recruit. He is a different type of player than Savage, but has all the tools in place to be the man under center for the next three seasons.
Defensively, there are certainly more question marks. Pitt will lose all everything lineman, Aaron Donald. His leadership and ability cannot be possibly replaced. Pitt also will miss out on Tyrone Ezell, who played next to Donald all these years, and is a very good player in his own right. Pitt also will face the losses of experienced players like Shane Gordon, Jason Hendricks, and K'waun Williams. Pitt will have questions at every level on defense, but Bryan Murphy, Ejuan Price, Todd Thomas, Ray Vinopal, and Lafayette Pitts are all experienced guys, plus with some talented younger guys also in the fold, the unit should be able to compete. The defense will take a step back in some areas, but still have guys to keep them a threat.
Now, I am not saying Pitt is a top 25 team by any measure, and this team still is not overly talented, but they have pieces and some impact guys. They also have a very workable schedule on their hands. They have a rather easy non-conference slate with Delaware, Akron, and Iowa coming to town, and a trip to FIU. Iowa is the difficult one of the group, but they are certainly not an impossible task. The ACC schedule allows for Pitt to miss on Clemson,Florida State, and Louisville from the Atlantic Division. So in terms of ACC scheduling, Pitt's is fairly easy compared to others.
It all comes down to this: Paul Chryst has to be better than 6-6. He has to improve some in-game coaching decisions and the staff itself. Pitt is not a team ready to win conference championships, but they should strive to be more than mediocre at the same time. Paul Chryst is not going to be fired if he goes 6-6 next season, but his seat would be very hot if he does. There is still a bowl game this season, and perhaps the extra practice will do the team good, and a win can help change the perception of this season a little. Some impact recruits are still out there, and Pitt needs to land a few of them. So, there are a few ways Paul Chryst can head into this season, here's for hoping it will be with a bowl win, and a strong finish in recruiting...because he needs it, and Pitt does too.