During the 2018 ACC Kickoff event last week, members of the media voted on how they saw the conference football season shaking out, and expectations regarding Pitt’s upcoming campaign were subdued. Likely owing to their 5-7 record in 2017, the Panthers were picked to finish in fifth place in the ACC Coastal Division and joined Virginia in receiving zero first-place votes.
The media placed Miami atop the Coastal with 122 first-place votes, and Virginia Tech came in second with 16 votes, reflecting last year’s ACC standings. In the Atlantic Division, Clemson was the resounding favorite with 145 first-place votes, and Florida State was a distant second.
The 2018 #ACCFootball Preseason Poll is here! @ClemsonFB chosen as the overall favorite while @CanesFootball tabbed to finish first in the Coastal Division. More: https://t.co/dVEEbk9APd #ACC #ACCKickoff pic.twitter.com/oshbnqNLK4— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) July 23, 2018
Pitt’s fifth-place finish in the 2018 poll is a step back from last year, when they were picked to finish fourth and secured seven first-place votes. The year before that, a much stronger Panthers squad was expected to finish third and attracted twice as many first-place votes.
Of course, things have changed significantly since then.
This time last year, there was an air of faint optimism around the program. The Panthers had yet to dip below eight wins in a season under head coach Pat Narduzzi, and they were expecting major contributions from quarterback Max Browne and tight end Chris Clark, two former five-star recruits who had transferred into the program. That star power is notably absent this year.
This time around, Pitt will be banking on the performances of quarterback Kenny Pickett, who had an outstanding showing against Miami and little else, and running back Darrin Hall, who had three stellar games late in 2017 before apparently fizzling out for the final two outings. Meanwhile, the defense improved last season but lost Jordan Whitehead and Avonte Maddox to the NFL draft.
Given all the questions surrounding Pitt on both sides of the ball at the moment, the rankings reflect reality in that there’s little to suggest the team will challenge for the division crown. However, fans can take solace in the fact that the Panthers’ poor showing last season didn’t land them at the bottom of the division, as North Carolina and Virginia padded their fall.