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Pitt vs. Florida State: Panthers have running back issues ahead of big game

Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

So yeah - Pitt's got enough to worry about on Monday, right? A top 15 team coming into town, a new quarterback that hasn't played in three years, freshman kicker, questionable offensive line - the list goes on and on, really.

Running back, though, is also a sizable concern and you can practically feel the angst growing every day. Paul Chryst did nothing to make fans feel much better in his presser, offering little information. With practices closed off and the head coach giving precious little information, here's what we know.

Rushel Shell - he gone.

Isaac Bennett was projected to be the starter with Shell turning heel. In and of itself, it sucks that Shell's gone, but Bennett wasn't expected to be a terrible option. A bit inexperienced, yes. But he's played in a few games over the past two seasons and, maybe more importantly, has shown potential. Much of that has come in practices, but Bennett's regularly broken long runs in practices and also in the spring game, and should be a viable option.

The problem is Bennett's been injured. He didn't participate in some 11-on-11 drills early in camp. Days went by and he missed more time, including the scrimmage. The back missed more time after that and while he was able to participate a little at the end of camp, his status is largely unknown.

Behind him, freshman James Conner emerged to presumably land the backup role, despite not being listed on the two deep this week. Conner, however, has been dinged up himself and, you guessed it, his chance to play is in question, too.

Malcolm Crockett is going to be in the mix just because those two aren't 100%, but his experience is limited, too. Crockett has a grand total of 12 carries in his college career.

Fact is that while fans were uneasy about Bennett being the starter, we'd all feel a lot more comfortable if he was just healthy. Without him, the already unstable running game is even more of question mark. And the fact is that without a solid running game, that just makes things much more difficult for Tom Savage to try to get going.

Best case scenario is that Chryst is playing a nice little game, realizing that his backs are close to 100%, but wanting to keep Florida State guessing as to who they'll see. But with little game film on Crockett and none on Conner, I'm just not sure how much that would matter.

Worst case? Both miss the game entirely or play only sparingly and Florida State drops seven or eight back into coverage knowing that Pitt has no real threat of a rushing game.

Unfortunately, we just won't know how good or bad things are until game time.

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