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FOX Sports' Stewart Mandel tabs Pitt at No. 25 to start 2016 college football season

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

We're only about a month away from the start of the season and Pitt got some early love from Stewart Mandel in his preseason Top 25 for Fox Sports. In the article, Mandel ranks the Panthers at No. 25.

The most inspiring story of the offseason is RB James Conner’s return from cancer. In 2014, Conner, who tore his ACL early last season, was the nation’s No. 6 rusher. He’ll greatly benefit returning QB Nathan Peterman. Coach Pat Narduzzi is known for producing fearsome defenses. With eight starters back, including DE Ejuan Price and S Jordan Whitehead, the Panthers should produce one of the ACC’s best units.

His logic, in part, was due to the return of running back James Conner and a defense that returns eight starters. Those are, of course, big. But I'd throw in the team's experienced offensive line that also returns four starters and could boast a pair of NFL Draft picks in 2017 with guard Dorian Johnson and tackle Adam Bisnowaty.

Also worth noting is that the team also adds some strong talent on defense from players that weren't starters last year. Pitt has transfer and former four-star recruit Dewayne Hendrix and four-star cornerback Damar Hamlin in the mix for 2016. And while there's no guarantee that either will start immediately, the possibility exists that they could.

So, are the Panthers really Top 25 worthy? I don't know. What I want to see most of all is what kind of passing attack they can generate without Tyler Boyd. Having a starting quarterback is helpful and, ultimately, I think the team will have some receivers step up. But it will be interesting, particularly early on, to see how quickly Nathan Peterman can get into a rhythm with guys and how things are sorted out.

What say you? Where would you slot the Panthers right now? Weigh in with the poll below.

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