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2021 Pitt college football preview: Pickett leads the Pitt superweapon one last time

After a rollercoaster 2020 season, Pat Narduzzi and his Pitt Panthers are looking for the program’s first season without five losses since 2009.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 Pittsburgh Panthers’ football season was emblematic of 2020 the year as a whole.. a rollercoaster.

A quick 3-0 start for head coach Pat Narduzzi’s group gave way to a four game losing streak that included one-point losses to NC State and Boston College, respectively and a 45-3 drubbing at the hands of Notre Dame. Nevertheless, the Panthers were able to shake off the midseason swoon by winning three of their final four to finish the season above .500.

Now entering the 2021 season with a super senior quarterback once again under center, the question will be if Pitt can accomplish something more substantive within the ACC other than the temporary high of the yearly “superweapon” making a victim out of a top-20 opponent.

2020 Season Review

  • 6-5, 5-5 ACC, 7th in ACC
  • Pitt had record of 4-0 as an underdog in 2020.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 29th
ESPN Returning Production: 73% overall (50th): 82% offense (28th), 64% defense (86th)
Returning Talent Index: Negative, 7th in ACC
Returning starters: 7/11 offense, 6/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Kenny Pickett (Senior)

That’s right, Kenny Pickett.. still here! Since his true freshman season of 2017, Pickett has started 36 of his 39 games while donning the Pitt script jersey, racking up 8,552 yards of total offense throughout his career and is within a season’s worth of stats from taking down Alex Van Pelt’s program records at QB.

Pickett, who missed the Miami and Notre Dame games last season, started nine contests in 2020 and compiled 2,408 yards on a 61 percent completion percentage with 13 touchdowns and nine picks.

Offense (non-QB): RB Vincent Davis (Junior)

The Panthers’ put out a bottom-20 rushing attack last season and there’s potential for a rising tailback like Davis to elevate them in 2021. The third-year playmaker out of Fort Lauderdale exploded for 247 yards on 25 carries and a touchdown in Pitt’s season-ending 34-20 victory at Georgia Tech.

Defense: DE Deslin Alexandre (Senior)

Pitt’s front seven was one of the deadliest groups in the nation, leading the country with a 22.4 percent havoc rate last year. That came in large part to All-Americans Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver, both of whom became mid-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.

That opens the door for veteran Deslin Alexandre to step in and wreak havoc in an even larger role. The Panthers will need him to up his production from 2020, where he totaled 18 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, three sacks, and a fumble recovery.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 41st overall: 86th offense, 27th defense, 5th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 43rd overall: 65th offense, 36th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +50000
To win ACC: +5000
Win total: 7 (Over -125, Under +100)

2020 Against The Spread: 5-6
2020 Point Total: Over 8-3

2021 Pitt Schedule

2021 Pitt Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV Spread/Total
Saturday, Sep. 4 vs. UMass 4:00 p.m./ACCN N/A
Saturday, Sep. 11 at Tennessee 12:00 p.m./ESPN N/A
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Western Michigan 12:00 p.m./ESPN3 N/A
Saturday, Sep. 25 vs. New Hampshire TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 2 at Georgia Tech TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 9 Open TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Virginia Tech TBA N/A
Saturday, Oct. 23 vs. Clemson TBA Pitt +18.5
Saturday, Oct. 30 vs. Miami TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Duke TBA N/A
Thursday, Nov. 11 vs. North Carolina 7:30 p.m./ESPN Pitt +6.5
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Virginia TBA N/A
Saturday, Nov. 27 at Syracuse TBA N/A