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Pitt ranks in lower half of ESPN's ACC football post-spring power rankings

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Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN recently put together some post-spring ACC football power rankings for this upcoming season. Despite all of the enthusiasm surrounding Pitt's program with the hire of Pat Narduzzi and the return of some dangerous offensive weapons, they still aren't sold on the Panthers, ranking them eighth in the 14-team conference:

The offense returns Chad Voytik, along with 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd and 1,000-yard running back James Conner, so it is not unreasonable to expect Pitt to potentially contend in the Coastal Division. But we said the same last season, and the Panthers ended up underachieving. New coach Pat Narduzzi has brought enthusiasm and a new style, but major questions remain about a defense that has failed to perform at a high level.

That seems kind of disappointing (well, as disappointing as meaningless preseason rankings can be, anyway) given what the Panthers return on offense. Legit All-American candidates in running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. A quarterback in Chad Voytik with now a year of actual playing time under his belt. A deep and talented offensive line, even with the losses of T.J. Clemmings and Matt Rotheram.

But ESPN's questions about the defense are, of course, more than fair. As a whole, I do expect the unit to be better. And with the addition of Jordan Whitehead to the secondary as well as a lot of young guys returning with more experience, there's reason to think things won't be quite as bad as we saw in 2014. Still, it's important to keep in mind that the defense was pretty bad last year. No pressure from the defensive line led to secondary breakdowns and there are a ton of questions to be had.

In short, it's hard to disagree from a Pitt standpoint for me as we look at the season this far out. Can the Panthers be better than North Carolina State and Duke, two teams ahead of them? Sure. But can they also be worse than North Carolina and Miami? Absolutely.

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