The 2013 Pitt Panthers were the definition of mediocre. They screamed "meh". Pitt beat teams it was supposed to beat, and lost to those who were superior. They were average in every sense of the word. However, Thursday night showed that this Panther team has the potential to be anything but average.
I cannot recall a team that relied on some many freshmen playing important roles in a season. Isaac Bennett was listed as the team's "starter", but we all know James Conner was the go-to-guy all season. Tyler Boyd managed to overshadow talented senior Devin Street. Titus Howard and Terrish Webb managed to see significant playing time in the secondary. Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty got a ton of experience on the offensive line (and a baptism by fire at times). Scott Orndoff and Jaymar Parrish also played significant time on offense.
These players all contributed in some way to Pitt's first winning season since 2010. Pitt played a fairly strong ACC schedule and finished with a win over a 10-win MAC champion. We all knew this season would not be easy, and at times it was clear that Pitt had to adjust to life in the ACC. The teams are more talented week in and week out. But now, there is reason for hope.
A new season always brings hope (and inflated expectations). Will Pitt win 10 games next season? No, most likely, not. Remember, they will still be breaking in a new quarterback. Although the highly regarded Chad Voytik showed some promise last night, he's still going to have a few growing pains. One thing that will be in Pitt's favor will be the schedule. Pitt will play Iowa, Delaware, FIU, and Akron out of conference. In ACC play the Panthers have Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech at home. Meanwhile the Panthers avoid Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State (as well as Notre Dame). Pitt will have its toughest road games against UNC, Miami, and Boston College. Yet, this schedule seems quite manageable. Eight wins should not be out of the question.
If Paul Chryst can continue to get the production from freshmen that we saw this season, that bodes well for the future of Panther football. Yes, Chryst and his staff have lost some big name local recruits, but his ability to work with his young players should not go unnoticed. If Pitt can continue to build momentum recruiting will improve. I'm a glass half full Pitt fan, and I admit there may be some issues with the staff (yeah, I'm talking to you, Matt House), but I think it's only fair we give them a few more chances to prove us otherwise. The bowl was encouraging, but not as much as the impact from underclassmen.
For the first time in a long time, we have a reason to be hopeful about Pitt football.
Note: This will be my final article for Cardiac Hill. I appreciate Anson for letting me put semi-coherent thoughts on his website. I also appreciate all of you who read them over the last few years whether you agree with me or not. Thanks and Hail to Pitt.