Quarterbacks: This was quite an iffy position for the first half of the season. Redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik struggled passing in his first season as a starter, but he compensated some by running well. In the second half of the season, however, Voytik's passing improved while he continued to be successful running also.
In the first six games Voytik was 84-143 (58.7%) for 949 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He also ran for 169 yards. In the final six games Voytik was 74-109 (67.9%) for 1,062 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions while running for 257 more yards. For the season Voytik completed 62.7% for 2,011 yards, 15 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and ran for 426 yards. He was also only sacked 19 times. He ranked 30th nationally in passing.
Voytik clearly got better as the season progressed, even more impressive when considering the fact that the competition was tougher. Voytik got more confident as he gained experience. He's also tough as nails and a great leader.
Behind Voytik there was virtually nobody else and the Panthers dodged a major bullet with Voytik staying healthy. Former walk-on Trey Anderson completed 11 of 18 passes and threw a touchdown. Adam Bertke successfully redshirted.
Bottom line: Voytik made strides though he still isn't capable of winning a game by himself. That day may come, though, if he continues to improve. With the lack of depth and a starter that can't win games by himself, the grade can only be so high, but the future with Voytik is bright.
Last Season's Final Grade: B-
Preseason Grade: C-
Midseason Grade: D+
Final Grade: C
Running Back: James Conner had an All-American caliber season and had more votes than any player on the ACC all-conference team. He was virtually unstoppable when the offensive line and the threat of Voytik gave him any chance at all. On the season he ran for 1,675 yards and an impressive 6.0 yards a carry. That was the fourth highest total in the country. He was also second in the nation with 24 TDs, which also broke Tony Dorsett's school record. Not much more to say then he's a superstar.
As if Conner wasn't enough, backup true freshman Chris James displayed lightening speed and a tantalizing future by rushing for 404 yards and a 4.9 average. He also had 4 touchdowns. Isaac Bennett ran hard and averaged 5.3 yards a carry and 255 yards. He also caught 12 passes with an impressive 10.4 yards a catch. He had both a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Rachid Ibrahim was even more impressive with 221 yards rushing and an incredible 7.9 average. He also showed his normal great hands out of the backfield with 9 catches. If that wasn't enough Jaymar Parrish is one of the best blockers in the nation. He's technically an H-Back but he is often in the backfield as if he's a traditional fullback.
Bottom line: This is my first ever final grade of an A+, and for good reason. An All-American caliber 250-pound record setting halfback, lighting speed with James, tough runner with Bennett, versatility with Ibrahim, and a devastating blocker. The Pitt backfield is the real deal.
Last Season's Final Grade: C
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A
Final Grade: A+
Wide Receiver: This unit has a superstar in the fantastic sophomore Tyler Boyd, and then an enormous drop off. Even with the passing game struggling for much of the season, and no other viable options to throw to, Boyd still came up with 69 catches for 1,149 yards, a 16.7 avg., and 8 touchdowns. As Voytik progressed, so did Boyd. In the first half of the season Boyd had 428 receiving yards. In the second half of the season he had 721 yards receiving yards.
Manasseh Garner was the other starter for most of the season though injuries cost him the last three games. Even before that, though, his season was a disappointment with 17 catches for 211 yards (11.8 avg.), and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Dontez Ford filled in for Garner but has only 3 catches for 50 yards on the season. Kevin Weatherspoon chipped in 12 catches for 149 yards. Ronald Jones has 9 catches for 79 yards but he's back in the doghouse and he hasn't played in the last four games. Adonis Jennings inexplicably had his redshirt burned for 6 catches and 55 yards.
If you're counting at home that means Boyd had 69 catches and the other six wide receivers that caught a pass totaled 48.
Bottom line: Boyd is one of the best Pitt Panthers ever but the rest of the unit was extremely weak this season.
Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C
Tight Ends: Every time I get to this unit I am disappointed. The talent is there, but unfortunately they don't get to show it. Unless of course you watch them block. The starter, J.P. Holtz, had just 18 catches for 166 yards, and 3 TDs. But he continues to be a devastating blocker. Injury prone Scott Orndoff continues to disappoint and had just 3 catches on the season. The H-Back Parrish added 4 catches for 25 yards.
Bottom line: I used to give this unit the benefit of the doubt but with Orndoff disappointing so much I finally have to lower their grade. But Holtz and Parrish are such wonderful blockers that it still gets a positive grade.
Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B
Final Grade: B-
Offensive Line: It seemingly took forever for the Panthers to have a good offensive line again but that day has finally come. Right tackle TJ Clemmings completed his transformation to defense by becoming All-ACC First Team and a possible fist round draft pick. Guard Matt Rotheram made third team and had a good year. The other three starters were more hit or miss, but thankfully more hit than miss.
Starting center Artie Rowell went down very early but redshirt freshman Alex Officer proved that he could be an all-star in the future. He didn't have the experience or leadership qualities of Rowell but he still didn't miss a beat because he is more physically talented than Rowell.
The other two positions were divided by redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, true sophomore Dorian Johnson, and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith. The youth is evident, but the talent is there. Bisnowaty started at left tackle, but would rotate to guard in place of Johnson, and Jones-Smith took over for Bisnowaty. All three were inconsistent at times, especially in the middle of the season when even Clemmings had some bad moments, but the fact that the Panthers are No. 14 nationally in rushing and Voytik was sacked just 19 times is all you need to know.
Bottom line: Finally the day has come and it was worth the wait. And the best part is, the unit should be even better for years to come.
Last Season's Final Grade: D+
Preseason Grade: C+
Midseason Grade: B-
Final Grade: B
Overall: It's pretty obvious that the offense was mostly Conner and Boyd, but it worked. The coaches used them as often as they could, they stayed healthy, and they didn't buckle. They lived up to their lofty reputation as players and leaders. And when Voytik noticeably improved as the season went on, Conner and Boyd improved even more. The offensive line also improved as did the great blocking from Holtz and Parrish.
Put it all together and the Panthers were No. 41 in total offense, No. 14 in rushing, No. 28 in first downs, No. 13 in fourth down percentage, No. 21 in 3rd down percentage, 23rd in red zone offense, and 12th in tackles for loss allowed. Put it all together and that's an offense that's much better than average. And this is with a quarterback that's not a finished product, one passing target, and a majority of the line that's still very young. What does it all mean? Mostly that Paul Chryst has built a very good offense, but it's still only half built. It should only get much better.