Finishing the season with losses to Miami and Navy, the Pitt football team didn't exactly end the year on a high note. Heading into the Thanksgiving weekend game against the Hurricanes, the Panthers had a reasonable shot at finishing the year with ten wins. Two losses later, they ended with the eight they had more than a month ago after defeating Louisville.
I've always been one to say that expectations change during a year and you can use that logic here if you want. However, I still believe this was a successful season for the Panthers.
Pitt has finished the past four regular seasons with a barely-tolerable six wins. That's the height of mediocrity, really. And when you consider that a couple of those years were in relatively weak Big East seasons and the team lost bowl games in most of those years, it's arguable that they weren't even mediocre in the grand scheme of things. This year, Pitt still didn't get the bowl win, but with eight regular season wins, it was certainly a step forward.
Another thing that sort of goes hand in hand with that is the Panthers' success against weaker opponents. We've seen it through the years - Pitt continually falling short in games against lesser teams. There was Akron last year. Youngstown State in Paul Chryst's debut. There was no letdown of that magnitude this year and Pitt's worse loss came to a pretty decent eight-win Miami squad. The Panthers didn't necessarily get a big win this year but at least won the games they should have. It would have been nice to win one of these last two in particular, but again, there wasn't the facepalm of a loss like in previous years.
I'd also claim a successful year because, for the first time in a while, Pitt goes into next season with a lot of momentum. Sure, that's been slowed to some degree by the last two losses and ending the year on a two-game losing streak usually isn't indicative of things moving forward. But the Panthers' recruiting has come on lately and Pitt has a good rookie coach in Pat Narduzzi as well as a coaching staff that is very aggressive in the recruiting front. Overall, the program is headed in the right direction and that helps make the claim for an overall successful year.
To another point, one thing that Pitt has done in recent years is showcase outstanding individual talent that will play in the pros. That also happened this year. We don't yet know who is going to the NFL, but Tyler Boyd proved he will be playing on Sundays. Jordan Whitehead and Darrin Hall stepped on to the field immediately as true freshmen and played big roles, showing recruits that it's possible to do that at Pitt. Qadree Ollison has a bright future and was the ACC's Offensive Freshman of the Year while Whitehead won the defensive and overall conference rookie awards. Ejuan Price finished among the nation's sack leaders. Pitt continued to show prospective recruits that the program is a viable path to the pros and also get immediate playing time.
If you think about it, the one constant over the years is Pitt's success in sending players to the pros and getting a spotlight on some individual players. It was good to see that continue this season. There's no doubt that Pitt needs more skilled players in larger quantities to become more successful, but when you look at this roster, you see some players that should certainly be in the NFL in the near future.
Finally, as I wrote about recently, the Panthers' attendance (actually, ticket sales) improved dramatically this year. More specifically, Pitt had the single biggest jump of any P5 program. That was up from a very down 2014 year, but the rebound in ticket sales this season was an important step in making this year a success.
Pitt's loss on Monday wasn't pretty and losing both games against Navy and Miami to end the year was certainly a disappointment. And the program isn't where they want to be as a whole. The goal is to get to ACC title games and major bowl games - the Panthers fell short this year. There's no question that this is not the ultimate goal for the program. However, in the grand scheme of things, Pitt's football program had a year that I would term as successful.
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