By all indications, Pitt's football team won't be in the ACC title game this season. The Panthers are improving and recruiting is on the rise, but this still looks like a program at least a year or two away from such a leap.
ESPN, however, is looking at the conference's bowl teams from this past season and how they can make a surprise trip to the title game. Pitt's hopes depend on James Conner, says the website:
How they make it: James Conner needs to be the story of the year in college football. That, of course, is a lot to ask of someone still battling Hodgkin's lymphoma, but Conner is as eager to write this storyline as any Panthers fan. The 2014 ACC player of the year missed virtually all of last season with a knee injury before announcing his cancer diagnosis last December. Since then, he’s endured chemotherapy, but has continued to make his presence felt in the locker room, the weight room and the practice field. If his recovery progresses as so many people at Pitt have projected, he could be both the inspirational focal point for the team off the field, and also the difference-maker the Panthers need on the field as they enter their second season under head coach Pat Narduzzi.
Even if Conner does make it back to the field and has a huge impact, I still don't see a championship run in their future if we're being honest. So many things would need to break their way and without Tyler Boyd at receiver, it looks like an even longer shot. Still, I do think ESPN is correct in that if they are to make such a run, they will need some things out of the ordinary, and that includes a monster season by the running back still battling cancer.