Pitt's offense is full of impact players. There are the All-American candidates, James Conner and Tyler Boyd. There's emerging quarterback Chad Voytik, who put together a quality second-half last season as a first-year quarterback. There are offensive linemen, such as Adam Bisnowaty, and a host of highly-touted young players.
But while we question the defense, if we're talking about individual players, kicker Chris Blewitt (name issues aside) may have just as much of a say in how the team does this season.
Kickers are often integral parts to a team, but Blewitt is particularly important for Pitt. A big reason for that is the close games the Panthers found themselves in last year.
- There was a four-point loss to Iowa
- A five-point loss to Virginia
- The three-point double overtime loss to Duke
- A five point-loss to North Carolina
- And, of course, the demoralizing one-point loss to Houston
With an unproven defense, more close contests are a strong possibility for 2015.
Blewitt, for his part, hasn't been an awful kicker - but there's clearly plenty of room for improvement. He's connected on more than 75% of his attempts in each of his first two seasons, and last year, his 76.2 percent ranked a modest 57th in the nation.
A big part of that is how he finished the season. The kicker got off to a hot start, and was 9-9 in field goal attempts through his first six games. The train came off the track after that, and he went only 5-10 the rest of the way. The biggie, of course, was his inexplicable 26-yard shank again Duke where Blewitt hooked it badly. That sent a game that should have been won at the end of regulation into overtime, where the Panthers eventually lost.
To be fair to Blewitt, his inconsistency hasn't always been of his making. Two of those misses were blocked as was one of his attempts last year, and it's hard to put all of the blame on the kicker for those. But the kicking game is one that is important to Pitt in that it will almost always have a hand in close games.
It should also be noted that Blewitt wasn't the biggest reason for most of those games listed above. He was perfect in the games against Iowa, Virginia, and Houston, and his miss against North Carolina was blocked. But the point isn't that he cost the team those games so much that he'll be a factor in close games moving forward this year.
I'm also pretty confident with Blewitt, that end of the season stuff not withstanding. He's had some misses but is a quality long-range specialist. In his two years at Pitt, he actually has never missed a kick beyond 45 yards (he's 4-4). He also has some experience under his belt and should be better equipped to handle any pressure as an upperclassman. I wouldn't go as far to say I have zero concern about the kicking game, but I do think it's going to be pretty solid.
Conner, Boyd, and Voytik will lead the way for Pitt this season, but much of their success (or lack thereof) can be tied to Blewitt as well.