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Five questions for Pitt football in 2016

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2015 college football season in the books, it's too early to get a detailed look at next year. Pitt will add and lose a few players by the time the season starts, there may be some offseason injuries, and we don't yet know what impact the freshmen will have (or even who all of those freshmen will be).

But in looking ahead to next year, a few immediate questions come to mind. Here are five on my mind and I'd love to hear some of yours.

5. How is the Running Game sorted out?

Pitt returns its top two running backs, Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, for next year so this isn't a huge area of concern. Both guys were adequate last year and despite the loss of transfer Chris James the running game, the unit should be fine. The X-Factor, of course, is James Conner. Assuming Conner returns to Pitt next year, the question is if/when he might be able to play in the wake of his Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnosis last season.

Outside of Conner, I think we'll also have to see how Ollison performs in his second year. He came into this year as a complete unknown and exited as the starter and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. While I expect him to perform well, he also has a bigger target on his back for next season. Finally, we also saw a bit of flip-flopping among the backs this season and Hall getting a crack at the starting job can't be ruled out entirely.

4. How do the Losses Impact the Defensive Line?

Pitt is due to lose seniors Darryl Render, K.K. Mosley-Smith, and Mark Scarpinato. They also might lose Ejuan Price, who can try his hand at the NFL Draft or come back to the NCAA for a sixth year if he gets a ruling to do so. Should they lose all four, that would be a significant blow. The Panthers would be trying to not only replace two starters, but two key reserves. That is a unit very much in flux for 2016 and several guys will have to step up to give the team the depth it needs.

3. Who backs up Quarterback Nathan Peterman?

With the loss of Chad Voytik for next year, Pitt needs to figure out who is the No. 2 quarterback. Redshirt sophomore-to-be Adam Bertke could be the guy but the Panthers could also go the transfer route where they've had some success with Peterman himself as well as Tom Savage a few years ago. Ben DiNucci, who will be a redshirt freshman next year, was the only other quarterback on this season's roster and he and true incoming freshman Tom MacVittie don't appear to be great options to take that role next year.

2. What do we see from Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada?

After offensive coordinator Jim Chaney left the program for Arkansas, the Panthers replaced him with North Carolina State's Matt Canada. Canada has plenty of experience and looks like a quality grab for head coach Pat Narduzzi, who actually said he wanted to get Canada last year. But outside of wanting to run, which he has acknowledged, like any new coordinator there are a lot of unknowns. Can he involve the tight ends as much as Chaney did? Will we see a good amount of trick plays? Does he let Peterman air it out deep or will the offense be more conservative? Canada won't have the luxury of a Tyler Boyd on offense and how he makes up for that as well as molds the offense to the players he has available will be something to watch.

Another question for Canada? How does he utilize Jordan Whitehead who played some snaps on offense in addition to his starting job at safety? Whitehead has a year under his belt now and with the loss of Boyd, does that mean he plays more on offense? Time will tell.

1. How does Pitt replace Tyler Boyd in the Passing Game?

The short answer is that they don't. Boyd is an NFL talent and almost assuredly a high-round NFL Draft pick. He leaves Pitt as the school's all-time leading receiver and you just don't get players like that every day. The real question is if the Panthers can get anywhere close to his production.

For now, Dontez Ford becomes the No. 1 guy and last year, he had 26 catches for 505 yards and two touchdowns. But while he should be able to bump up his production, that also means Pitt has to find someone to replace what he did as the No. 2 guy this season. The Panthers do add transfer Juwann Winfree to the mix and Zach Challingsworth made some catches as a No. 3 guy of sorts this past year.

A big problem is not so much in terms of Boyd's yardage (926, including the bowl game) - rather, it's his work as a go-to-guy. But there's no doubt that the loss of Boyd creates some very real issues in the passing game. According to, Boyd had 18 catches on third down alone that went for first downs. He was targeted often in crucial situations and how Pitt replaces that is anybody's guess.

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