Paul Chryst has been to the postseason in each of his first two seasons at the helm in Pittsburgh. He won six games in his first tour and upped the total to seven a year ago — even if the statistical data was actually worse, especially on defense.
But with four starters back along the offensive line and some elite skill weapons on the outside (See: Tyler Boyd), Pitt’s offense has a chance to be the best it has been since at least 2009. This is Chryst’s bread and butter, of course, as the quarterback guru and offensive mastermind has more tools to work with than in either of his first two seasons.
This is why fans and media critics are bullish on the direction of the Panthers' program. This team has a chance to be the big surprise in the ACC Coastal Division, but talent and coaching are just two of the reasons energy is surging through The Steel City.
The schedule also plays a prominent role in projecting Pitt for a big breakthrough this fall.
2014 Pitt Schedule Analysis
Pitt should be able to roll through Delaware (Week 1), FIU on the road (Week 3) and Akron (Week 5) in non-conference play. But a win over Iowa at home, a Big Ten West Division contender, would not only give Pitt a perfect 4-0 record outside of the ACC but would give the Panthers loads of momentum heading into October.
There is a good chance Pitt could start the year 6-0. The first two ACC games of the year will be at Boston College (Week 2) and at Virginia (Week 6). Not only are those both very winnable games — BC will be taking a small step back this year — but Pitt will then finish the season with four of its last six at home. Iowa, along with the Eagles and Cavaliers, won’t be easy games but Pitt could be favored in all three. This means Pitt will be a favorite to win the first six games of the season. A 5-1 start is more likely but 6-0 isn’t out of the question, in which case, all bets are off in the Coastal Division race.
One of the reasons there is a lot to like about Pitt this year is the crossover play with the Atlantic Division. Florida State, Clemson and Louisville are all absent from the schedule, while Boston College and Syracuse show up. It’s not NC State (predicted sixth) or Wake Forest (predicted seventh), and both Cuse and BC are pegged to get to a bowl game, but as far as crossover play goes, this is a pretty manageable twosome.
Pitt will get three key divisional games at home this year. Duke, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech all have to visit Heinz Field this year in consecutive games (there is a bye week between Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech), giving Chryst a shot at making a run at the divisional crown. The Panthers scored 58 on Duke in a bizarre three-point win while both Tech schools handled Pitt with relative ease. Chryst’s offense scored just 19 points total against the Jackets and Hokies. If Pitt can win two out of the three, Panthers fans could be eyeing nine or 10 wins.
November road trips
Pitt lost to both Miami (41-31) and North Carolina (34-27) at home last year and if the Panthers want to compete in the division, it will have to likely win at least one of these two November games. Both will take place on the road in the final three weeks of the season. These two games may be the toughest two tests of the entire season for Pitt and a win in either one of them could make for a special season.
Related: 2014 Pitt Panthers Team Preview
There is a lot to like about the Panthers' schedule. There are enough challenges to prove Pitt is a quality team without having to face any superpowers. The schedule is easily compartmentalized with an intriguing and favorable six-game start to the year before three straight home games within the division. The final three weeks of the season feature the toughest two road trips against two division contenders. Is nine or 10 wins within reach for Pitt? Yes, but an 8-4 season is more likely and would have to be considered a step in the right direction.