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Best case/worst case: Pittsburgh Panthers

As the college football season inches closer, we decided to start our annual series taking a look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each team in the ACC. Next up: Pitt.

Best case

The best offensive line in the ACC takes care of business, setting the tone for a major leap for Pitt under second-year coach Pat Narduzzi. Quarterback Nate Peterman plays like one of the league’s best signal callers, as he thrives in his first year under coordinator Matt Canada and develops great rapport with targets like Dontez Ford and Jester Weah, who help the receiving corps collectively make up for the loss of Tyler Boyd. Oh, and the best story in football, James Conner, recovers from knee surgery and cancer treatments to return to his 2014 form, when he was the ACC’s player of the year.

The defense thrives with another year under Narduzzi and coordinator Josh Conklin, as Ejuan Price gets some help on the pass-rush and the Panthers begin to resemble some Michigan State units of recent years. Pitt, the seemingly annual “darkhorse” Coastal contender, breaks through in an improved division in 2016, smoking rival Penn State and beating defending division champ North Carolina, as the Panthers win the Coastal and make their first ACC title game.

Worst case

It turns out that two coordinators in two years is a much bigger transition than expected, especially for Peterman, who had worked with last year’s coordinator, Jim Chaney, at Tennessee before transferring to Pitt last season. Peterman’s play suffers, and he gets no favors from a receiving corps that fails to see anyone step up and replace Boyd, who had been such a huge part of the Panthers’ passing game the previous two years.

Pitt proves to be another year away defensively from truly breaking through, ranking in the middle of the pack in the ACC when a truly dominant unit is necessary to make up for the offense’s shortcomings. The schedule is unforgiving, too, with a trip to Clemson serving as the rotating Atlantic opponent this year. Pitt gets off on the wrong foot in losing to rival Penn State at home in Week 2, the start of a three-game losing streak (at Oklahoma State, at UNC) that is difficult for the Panthers to overcome. They go 6-6 and make a bowl game, but that hardly counts as progress after a strong debut under Narduzzi in 2015.