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Pat Narduzzi to Pitt: With schedule and talented offense, the new Panthers coach has a chance to finish above .500 in debut season

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Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Narduzzi is expected to be in as Pitt's next head coach later today. And, while there's an adjustment period of sorts for all first time head coaches, Narduzzi won't be starting from scratch at Pitt.

Things will be a little more difficult schedule wise. Now, the strength of schedule isn't going through the roof, mind you. However, the Panthers will again avoid Florida State and Clemson in the Atlantic, and that alone makes things easier.

Akron and Iowa are the two holdovers in the non-conference this year and neither has the look of a game that is completely unwinnable. Youngstown State replaces Delaware and, well, while we all know the Penguins can beat Pitt, it's still a game that should be won at home. Notre Dame, of course, is the big addition, and they will essentially replace FIU. I don't need to tell you that the Irish are a significantly better team than FIU, but that's still a manageable non-conference slate and a 3-1 record isn't out of the question there.

In the conference, Pitt has some road games, which could be challenging, including Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia Tech. But the Panthers also get teams like Louisville and Miami at home.

Beyond the schedule, though, the Panthers also have a strong team on offense returning. James Conner, one of the nation's top backs, is back. Tyler Boyd is an All-American candidate, and will be back as well. The offensive line loses T.J. Clemmings and Matt Rotheram, but also get back starter Artie Rowell, who missed most of the season. The Panthers also have significant depth on the line with players like Alex Bookser and Michael Grimm waiting in the wings. Jaryd Jones-Smith, who got time as a backup last year, also returns and could step into the starting lineup.

Quarterback Chad Voytik also returns and with a year of experience under his belt.

Just as important as any of that, Pitt really doesn't lose anything. Senior running back Isaac Bennett was used sparingly in the backfield and with Chris Jones there as Conner's backup, the running game is unaffected. Manasseh Garner was the No. 2 receiver last year, but his isn't a tremendous loss, either, with Adonis Jennings and several others ready to take his place.

The Pitt offense is largely intact for Narduzzi's first year, and that will be a big help.

On defense, Pitt's linebacking corps is the unit that will take the biggest hit with losses of Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez. But outside of Ray Vinopal, Pitt doesn't really lose much on the rest of the defense and with all of the young players getting a year older, that unit, at worst, shouldn't be any different than last year - particularly since the Panthers also get some help in the secondary with the return of Titus Howard from suspension and incoming recruit Jordan Whitehead.

With an improved secondary, the oversight of someone like Narduzzi, and another year of experience for all of the young personnel, the defense should be better.

Like I've said before, I'm not ready to give Narduzzi a conference title yet. But one thing is clear - he's not going to be starting from scratch in his first season with the Panthers.

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