Record: 6-6, 4-3 Big East
The Panthers were anything but high octane this season. But Pitt is going back to a bowl game, and coach Todd Graham will take that in his first season -- even if his offense failed to live up to expectations. His pro-style players could not adjust to his hurry-up spread offense. Injuries also took their toll as several starters were lost for the season. That includes running back Ray Graham, the best player on the team who tore his ACL against UConn at the end of October.
Injuries on the offensive line also played a major role in Pitt ranking last in the nation in sacks allowed. So did quarterback Tino Sunseri, who struggled mightily to grasp the new offense and get rid of the football in a timely manner. The defense showed major improvements as the season wore on, after struggling in losses to Iowa and Notre Dame. Both teams rallied with fourth-quarter comebacks. Aaron Donald was a revelation at defensive end, leading the team with 10 sacks (No. 2 in the Big East).
But the story of the season was the struggles on offense, and Pitt's inability to fix them.
Offensive MVP: Graham. Yes, Graham missed the final four games of the season with a torn ACL, but that does not diminish his worth as the best player on the offense. He finished with 958 yards rushing and nine touchdowns, and was on pace for a 1,600-yard season when he went down. Hands down the MVP.
Defensive MVP: Donald. He was a menace to opposing quarterbacks this season. I mentioned the sacks earlier; he also had a team-high 11 quarterback hurries and 15 tackles for loss. Max Gruder had a good season with more than 100 tackles, and Brandon Lindsey came on strong late in the season to finish with 8.5 sacks. But Donald was the best.
Turning Point: Losing Graham. Pitt was unable to post consecutive wins this season and struggled to maintain leads late in the year without Graham. What a difference it would have made to have him chewing up clock against Cincinnati and West Virginia. Zach Brown and Isaac Bennett did the best they could to fill the gap, but they ended up getting banged up, too. There is no substitute for your best player.
What's next: Pitt became bowl eligible on the final day of the regular season, so the Panthers will head to the BBVA Compass Bowl to play SMU. After that, some hard decisions have to be made about the quarterback position. Will Sunseri return for another season of intense criticism and scrutiny? Will Ray Graham return? Will Chris Jacobson get a sixth year? Who comes in to replace Calvin Magee? Plenty of unknowns headed into the offseason.