This past season, Pitt was expected to have some true freshmen contribute right away. But by the end of the season, head coach Paul Chryst counted on some first-year players even more than probably he anticipated. Overall, 12 true freshman played for the Panthers - and several had big roles.
Wide receiver Tyler Boyd was the big star. He not only played the entire season as a starter, but thrived in that role. Boyd hauled in one highlight-reel catch after another and proved he was capable of being a go to guy when Devin Street had to miss some time with injuries. It was hard to imagine Boyd having the type of season he had and in breaking Larry Fitzgerald's freshman records, he really exceeded all expectations.
Pitt also got a huge contribution from freshman running back (and sometimes, defensive end) James Conner. Conner, like junior Isaac Bennett, had his struggles at times against tough defenses. But you can make a pretty good argument that he was the best back that Pitt had. Joining him for playing time in the backfield was freshman Rachid Ibrahim. He didn't have a huge season, but got plenty of playing time.
Highly touted offensive lineman Dorian Johnson, as expected, got on the field. But he was probably used a bit more than anticipated based out of the sheer need with injuries. Johnson's playing time was considerable, particularly when you consider that he struggled quite a bit.
On offense, there was also quarterback Chad Voytik. Voytik was limited to mostly mop-up duty in the season, but he also got some significant time in the bowl game, playing the entire second half. It was only one game, but Voytik certainly played well in a pressure situation against a good defense.
Defensively, the Panthers also got contributions from freshmen. Linebacker Matt Galambos was arguably the star there, filling in for an injured Shane Gordon at times. Galambos finished with 38 tackles and a fumble recovery. Shakir Soto also saw time on the line with 20 tackles with three for a loss, and a fumble. Others that contributed on defense included Titus Howard and Terrish Webb in the secondary, as well as Tyrique Jarrett on the line.
Pitt also got contributions on special teams from freshmen - most notably, kicker Chris Blewitt. Blewitt missed some kicks, but making 14-18 kicks (including 5-6 from 40 yards or more), he was pretty steady.
The Panthers were a bit more dependent on freshmen than they probably wanted to be. But if it showed the incoming class of recruits anything, they should know that the opportunity will be there to play right away. Chryst could have gone to some other options in certain cases, but chose to rely on freshmen. The bottom line is that the 2014 first-year players will get a chance to get on the field.