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Ranking the Toughest Games on Pittsburgh's College Football Schedule in 2015

Tyler Boyd

Tyler Boyd

There is good news surrounding the University of Pittsburgh's 2015 schedule; there really isn't an unwinnable game on the slate.

The bad news is the Panthers have lost to every single team on their schedule at one point or another, including Youngstown State and Akron.

Such is the inconsistency that haunts fans of the Pitt Panthers. New head coach Pat Narduzzi helped turn around Michigan State as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator and hope springs eternal in Oakland behind promising quarterback Chad Voytik, record-setting running back James Conner, and wide receiver Tyler Boyd, or shall we say the North Shore and South Side as that's where the team plays and practices?

Related: Ranking the Top 15 Players in the ACC for 2015 (Experts Poll)

Regardless, here's how the Panthers’ schedule stacks up in 2015, from easiest to most difficult matchup.

12.  Sept. 5 vs. Youngstown State

Yes, the last time the Panthers had a new coach he lost to the Penguins in his first game. Not going to happen again. Interestingly enough Narduzzi's father Bill paved the way for YSU to become a Division I program in the 1980s. Boyd, who caught 76 passes for 1,261 yards, won't play in the game because of an offseason DUI, but that might even be beneficial as it gives another Pitt receiver the chance to emerge.

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11. Sept. 12 at Akron

Yeah, another school Pitt should beat without a second thought in recent times, but instead lost to. And why so many fans are happy Paul Chryst left for Wisconsin. Terry Bowden is just 11-25 with the Zips and the school recently cut baseball. Will that mean more money for football or Bowden has to win now to leave the sinking ship?

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10. Oct. 24 at Syracuse

Remember when Syracuse had the third-longest streak of winning seasons in college football from 1987-2001? Since then they've had three winning campaigns. And whereas during this streak Pitt lost 11 straight to the Cuse from 1991-2001, the Panthers have now taken nine of 10 from their former Big East and Lambert Trophy rivals. Quarterback Terrel Hunt returns from a broken leg to lead what was one of the most anemic offenses in FBS last year.

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9. Oct. 10 vs. Virginia

The Cavaliers lost lots of pass-rushing talent to the NFL draft. Offensively junior Taquan Mizzell becomes the Hoos' feature back. He was once a 5-star recruit, but wouldn't you rather have James Conner?

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8. Sept. 19 at Iowa

The "High Octane Offense" couldn't hold a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in 2011 and last year the Panthers lost a 17-7 halftime lead to fall the Hawkeyes 24-20. C.J. Beathard, the quarterback who engineered Iowa's comeback last year returns, but is one of only four starters coming back. Conner can also feast on four newcomers in the Iowa defensive box. Beating the Big Ten is important to win recruiting battles, and a victory here would be Pitt's first against the conference since 2008. It would also likely give the Panthers a 3-0 record as they approached ACC play.

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7. Nov. 14 at Duke

Pitt followed a 58-55 victory against the Blue Devils in 2013 with a 51-48 loss last year.

For comparison's sake, Jock Sutherland's last game at Pitt was a 7-0 loss to the Blue Devils. The two teams won't spend the day exchanging punts in Durham as they did in 1938, and they probably won't push 100 points since Blue Devils starting quarterback Thomas Sirk was only the short-yardage quarterback last year. But we can hope this matchup continues to be as fun to watch as the previous two games.

College Football Top 25: Miami

6. Nov. 27 (Friday) vs. Miami

A little known fact is the Hurricanes' football program was originally shaped by Pitt's success during the Jock Sutherland era. Miami president Bowman Foster Ashe had previously taught at Pitt, pushed for the program's varsity creation, and hired former Panthers Jack Harding and Andy Gustafson to coach the program from 1937-64. Ashe even pushed for the construction of a stadium as grand as Pitt Stadium, the Orange Bowl, for the Hurricanes to play in. Now both structures have been razed and the two programs play off campus as secondary tenants to the local pro football teams. The thought here is former glories at both schools may not be revived until they get their own yards again.

Three starters return on offense for the Canes from a 6-7 team that dropped their final four games of 2014, including a 35-23 loss to Pitt. Frankly, this is a game the Panthers should win. As mediocre as they've been in recent years, Pitt's program is likely better than Miami's now.

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5. Oct. 29 (Thursday) vs. North Carolina

Sometimes Pitt feels like an odd fit in the ACC. Then a matchup like this comes up that surprisingly revives memories. The Tar Heels' 17-7 victory against Pitt in 1979 ultimately prevented the Panthers from playing for a national championship. Three decades later, Pitt earned its first 10-victory season since with a 19-17 Belk Bowl victory over North Carolina in 2009; and the two teams even met at Three Rivers Stadium twice. The first coming when the top-ranked Panthers beat the fifth-ranked Tar Heels to kick off the 1982 season. The other came in 2000, as Willie Parker and Jeff Reed engineered a 20-17 UNC victory on a day when the quarterback who engineered the aforementioned 7-6 triumph, Dan Marino, was honored. North Carolina's defense was atrocious last season but the Tar Heels still managed a 40-35 victory. UNC will now be utilizing seven men in the box instead of a 4-2-5 defense. How will that affect Conner?

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4. Nov. 21 vs. Louisville

Is anyone else disturbed Bobby Petrino is back in a major conference? Opponents are, as the Cardinals went 9-4 last year. With Conner, Boyd, and Voytik Pitt likely has more offensive weapons than Louisville, which actually ranked higher defensively than offensively last year despite the presence of a new head coach.

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3. Oct. 3 at Virginia Tech

Once upon a time this was a game in which Pitt hung its hat on to make their season — 1997, 2001-03. Now, after two 6-6 regular seasons the last three years and a 21-16 victory last year, Pitt may see the Hokies as a team they can overtake in ACC hierarchy. But Virginia Tech returns eight starters from a strong defense. Chances for victory may be determined on Hokie quarterback Michael Brewer's inconsistency, as he threw 11 interceptions in the first six games of 2014 and twice failed to produce a touchdown in the final six regular season matchups. But if a victory is found, Pitt will likely be nationally ranked in the second week of October.

2. Oct. 17 at Georgia Tech

The Ramblin’ Wreck is looked at as a dark-horse contender in the ACC, as quarterback and 1,000-yard rusher Justin Thomas returns from the nation's No. 2 rushing attack last season. But the starting running backs don't, and there's always the chance the Yellow Jackets might overlook the Panthers as they play Florida State the following week.

Notre Dame Logo

1. Nov. 7 vs. Notre Dame

There is a natural tendency for Pitt fans to have an inferiority complex to Notre Dame; look at Beano Cook. But the Panthers have actually had a longer streak of consecutive bowl seasons than the Irish, have split their last six meetings, and have won only five fewer games than Notre Dame since 2007.

What makes the Irish such a fashionable pick for success in 2015 is they have 10 starters returning on offense, including 1,000-yard receiver Will Fuller, strong lines on offense and defense, and corner KeiVarae Russell to cover Boyd. Still, Notre Dame was only 7-5 last year in the regular season. Irish fans blame that on injuries that caused the team to lose its last four, but this game is being played in November as well.

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson has been a contributor to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for 15 years. He has covered the Steelers, Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.