If you ask any college football head coach how he would want his season to play out if the .500 record was determined already I think they would want it to unfold much like Pat Narduzzi’s 2017 team is having their’s do this season.
And before you accuse me of jumping the gun to a break-even year I’ll say this: My head tells me we’ll be 5-7, my gut say 5-7 but my Pitt heart says 6-6. Sorry – can’t see any part of my body saying we’ll run the table for a 7-5 finish.Our season has certainly had its ups and downs – with the Downs having more dramatic outcomes than the Ups. We have beaten four teams on our schedule that we were pretty much ‘supposed’ to win against anyway. Using the latest polls (which have us currently at #71) to show what our opponents have been doing so far this year here is some info on our games to date.
Our wins include FCS Youngstown State by 7 points in OT, # 127 Rice by 32 points, # 78 Duke by 7 and just last week we bettered # 41 Virginia by 17 – giving us a 15.8 point margin of victory in those four games.
If you are looking for silver linings to this depressed season then take a look at the current rankings of the teams we lost to; #6 Penn State by 19 points, #9 OK State by 38, #29 Georgia Tech by 18, #48 Syracuse by 3 and then #19 NC State by 18. Those losses were by an average of 19.2 points.
So – armed with that esoteric knowledge what we know for sure is that we still stand at 4-5 on the year with three matches left to play. One of those games, on Nov 9th against the one-win #96 North Carolina, is at Heinz and should be, on paper at least, a victory for us.
But not so fast on that. Even though this is a horrible year for the 1-8 Tarheels they have always played us extremely hard and hold a definite edge in head-to-head games of 8-3 overall and 4-0 in ACC play. But that is the past and I’ll be pretty surprised if we don’t come out on top next Thursday night.
That means going into the end of the schedule we should be 5-5 when travelling to Blacksburg to play #14 VA Tech. Currently VT is 7-1 with their only loss coming from #5 Clemson. If you remember we lost a close 39-36 one to VT last season when their great QB Jarrod Evans torched us for 406 yards and 2 TDs.
Good news is that he’s graduated. Bad news is that his replacement, Josh Jackson, is playing even better QB for the Hokies than Evans did with his 2,32 yards and 13 TDs to 4 INTs. That adds up to a 153.9 passing efficiency and that effeciency success is what has been picking Pitt’s pass defense apart this year.
After VT it is back to Pittsburgh to face the now #11 Miami Hurricanes who have another QB playing well in Malik Rosier: 2071 yards, 17 TDs and 4 INT (144. 9 pass. eff.) but who also can tuck and run with the ball well.
Looking at those two future games and also back at how the Panthers have played over the last three games (and against NC if we get a win there) I have to say we do have a chance against either VT or Miami – slim, but a chance none the less because Pitt pulls an upset almost every season.
So let’s conservatively say we go 2-1 from here in and end up 6-6 and at .500 on the year. Hey, after a 1-2 start then a 2-5 record we have to be pretty happy with the prospect of a balanced W/L ledger when the dust settles.
Which is also why I think any HC who, given the same circumstances Pat Narduzzi has had, would be pretty satisfied with that. Even if those circumstances were tilted toward the negative by Narduzzi’s own actions.
Don’t jump the gun here – I agree 100% with Pat Narduzzi’s off the field work and decision-making. But at the same time I wonder if every other HC would have suspended his top four returning defenders, making two of them gone forever in SR NT Jeremiah Taleni and SR DE Rori Blair. Bear in mind though that some of those suspensions might have been a NCAA mandated loss of eligibility such as a failed NCAA required drug test.
But we fans don’t know that – each could also have been more minor issues that Narduzzi just decided to say “No More” to. Either way it crippled our defense and that sure showed up in the raw when we had to populate the starting D lineup with players of little or no game day experience in their 2017 positions but who are now growing into a better, more cohesive unit.
Right now we are at 4-5 and kind of sitting pretty given what could have happened. The fact that Narduzzi avoided a tanked two or three win season was due to beating opponents we felt were supposed to beat anyway when looking at the schedule in pre-season. Not to take anything away from those wins, but in any other season they would be rather ho-hum victories as opposed to their being season and reputation saving victories this year.
Narduzzi and his staff have done a pretty damned good job of damage control given the suspensions, early season injuries, and poor playing we had in the first half of this season. Let’s hope we keep building on that and get these young players something to hang their hats on for those long eight off season months before fall camp starts again.
That doesn’t have to mean getting a bowl bid or win either. In some ways I’d rather we end up the season at 6-6 (if possible) and stay home than go into a bowl game, lose it, and come out again under the .500 mark at 6-7 – which given HCPN’s track record in bowl games is entirely possible.
No. I say win next Thursday night and then take one of two to end the year and we’ll be OK closing out this year at 6-6.