Pittsburgh Panthers looking to play spoiler in the ACC in 2015


The Pittsburgh Panthers play in a tough and rugged ACC but could surprise their division and play spoiler for the rest.

It has been far too long since the Panthers have been mentioned as contenders stemming back to their final days in the Big East conference. Entering their third season in the ACC, those in the media that vote still do not give the Panthers a fighting chance to contend in the far weaker coastal division of the ACC.

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Call me a homer, but I expect the Panthers to be a dark horse to contend in their division as early as this season.

The staff in 2015 is new but still offers a wealth of experience and unparalleled camaraderie. Some new faces on the sidelines will be offensive coordinator Jim Chaney, defensive coordinator Josh Conklin, linebackers coach Rob Harley and head coach Pat Narduzzi.

The various backgrounds of the coaches should pay off as well. Chaney is an SEC based coordinator with professional ties who is highly regarded as the creator of Drew Brees while at Purdue. Conklin is an outside protegé of Narduzzi who resurrected the Florida International team last season and created one of the countries most physical and aggressive defenses.

Related: Pittsburgh Season Preview and Prediction

Harley has worked directly with Narduzzi and shares his courageous optimism and enthusiasm that is constantly on display on the recruiting trail. Narduzzi was labeled as one of the best assistant coaches and won the Art Broyles award in 2013, given annually to the nation’s best assistant coach, during his time as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State.

The hard-nosed approach is exactly what the team has yearned for since the Elmer Fudd-like coach in Paul Chryst departed for his home base in Wisconsin.

Best yet, Narduzzi inherits a team that is already strong on offense but needs focus on the defense. Great, considering the mind of the team is largely on that side of the ball. I believe that focus is the sole missing ingredient for the defense that was a mere 20 points away from finishing the season 11-2. Rather the “go through the motions approach” that led them to a 6-7 record that ended with an embarrassing defeat in the Armed Forces Bowl to Houston. A game that saw the Panthers blow a 31-6 lead in the fourth quarter.

The cupboard doesn’t have the same star power as the offense, but it isn’t bare either with linebacker Matt Galambos, defensive tackle Khaynin Mosely-Smith, and cornerbacks Lafayette Pitts and Avonte Maddox. All of whom are capable of providing the leadership needed on the field to make sure the continued focus at all levels of the defense.

Heisman hopefuls James Conner and Tyler Boyd are going to do their part to propel the team forward, including quarterback Chad Voytik. It is up to the defense to account and look out for each other to provide the fourth quarter wins that the staff is looking for, not the head-shaking defeats. I understand Pitt was picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the coastal but it acts as a gross representation of what the Panthers can show from the get-go in 2015.

Next: Ranking the ACC QB's Entering 2015

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