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WATCH: Clemson wins national championship with dramatic touchdown pass on final drive

Clemson won the national championship with a clutch final drive.

>> Nick Saban reacts to Alabama's heartbreaking national championship loss to Clemson

Quarterback Deshaun Watson connected with wide receiver Hunter Renfrow for a 2-yard touchdown pass with one second left to beat Alabama 35-31 on Monday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.

>> PHOTOS: Clemson beats Alabama to win College Football Playoff national championship

On the previous drive, Alabama took the lead with a wild drive of its own, capped by an athletic touchdown run by quarterback Jalen Hurts. But it wasn’t enough for the Crimson Tide to claim a second consecutive national title.

>> Read more trending stories

Alabama looked to be in good shape entering the fourth quarter with 24-14 lead. But it wasn’t meant to be, and Clemson earned the right to celebrate during a memorable night in Tampa.

>> Click here to watch the video

Ball. Game. pic.twitter.com/duegg5jcAN— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) January 10, 2017

Panther of the Week: Jamel Artis

A week that went up and down saw two 20+ point performances from Jamel Artis for Pitt

Pitt had a strong upset win over Virginia and then a first half letdown against Syracuse to go 1-1 this past week in the ACC. Through both, it seemed that senior Jamel Artis stayed consistent on the floor and therefore, takes home the Panther of the Week award. Michael Young, Sheldon Jeter, and Cam Johnson also put up some nice numbers, but none better than Artis.

In Pitt’s thrilling OT victory over UVA, Artis led all Pitt scorers with 24 points. He struggled from the free throw line, but nailed 6 of 7 shots from three point land. He chipped in seven rebounds, four assists, and one block. His hot three-point shooting included a dagger three to extend Pitt’s overtime lead to nine.

The Baltimore, MD native followed that up with another solid performance, in a game that most Panther fans would like to forget. While most of the Pitt players took the first half off Saturday, Artis poured in 23 points for the game along with five rebounds and 1 assist. He help Pitt claw back into the contest throughout the second half as well to make the score respectable. The 11 point loss locked a ton better than it actually was for the Panthers.

I think we’ve made it very clear, on this site, that Pitt needs more than Artis and Young to step up and become a real threat. So far this season, it hasn’t happened like they need it too. The week that you see someone other than Artis or Young in this space for Panther of the Week is either going to be a very good or very bad week for Pitt. Let’s hope for the first option there.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

WATCH: Georgia Tech swim team does laps in snow after meet canceled

Swimmers from Georgia Tech wouldn’t let a little snow stop them from doing what they do best.

The swim team’s meet Saturday at Virginia Tech was canceled due to snow, so the swimmers were stuck at their hotel.

>> Read more trending stories

Members of a relay team decided to go through with their event – but in the snow.  

The video was shared on the Georgia Tech Facebook page. 

>> Check it out here

<script>(function(d, s, id) {</span><br /><span>  var js, fjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];</span><br /><span>  if (d.getElementById(id)) return;</span><br /><span>  js = d.createElement(s); js.id = id;</span><br /><span>  js.src = "//connect.facebook.net/en_US/sdk.js#xfbml=1&amp;version=v2.8";</span><br /><span>  fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, fjs);</span><br /><span>}(document, 'script', 'facebook-jssdk'));</script> Georgia Tech Men's Snow 4X50 RelayWhat happened when the Georgia Tech swim team got snowed in to their hotel and their meet at Virginia Tech was cancelled.Posted by Georgia Tech on Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pitt needs more from sixth man Ryan Luther

Pitt's basketball team has seen its ups and downs lately. The Panthers had to score 112 points against a Marshall team that put up 106. There were some blown leads in a last-second defeat at Notre Dame. Then, Pitt upset No. 11 Virginia before losing to a down Syracuse team lately.

In that stretch, Pitt hasn't gotten nearly enough from its sixth man, Ryan Luther.

In case you didn't see it, the Panthers got nothing from their bench in yesterday's loss to Syracuse. Luther, Damon Wilson, Justice Kithcart, and Jonathan Milligan combined for 28 minutes and exactly zero points to go along with three turnovers. Luther is easily the most capable of those players of producing anything but was barely noticeable in his 16 minutes on the court.

What has been noticeable, though, is Luther's drop in the team's last several games. It's even more glaring considering what Luther was doing just last month. The Pitt junior had a tremendous run back in early/mid December, you might recall, and four games against Buffalo, Penn State, Rice, and Omaha, he could do no wrong.

All three of his games where he got into double figures in scoring came in that stretch and he put up a career-best 20 against Rice in that game where he was 8-8 from the field. He also had seven rebounds in two of those contests and despite playing nearly 24 minutes a game, he only averaged a little more than one turnover. Over those four games, he averaged 11.8 points, 5.3 rebounds and an assist per game while shooting a whopping 78% from the field. Remember these numbers because I'm going to reference them later.

By all measures, Luther appeared to be taking the next step as a player and threatening to challenge for major minutes in the rotation. There were calls by some to insert him into the starting lineup over Sheldon Jeter and his rebounding prowess. Since then, though, Pitt has struggled with his utilization and he isn't producing nearly as well as he did to start the season.

Some of this isn't entirely on Luther, mind you, since his minutes have dipped considerably. And being on a team where the starters have been playing so many minutes and eating up so many of the shots at the offensive end, it's easy for the bench to see very limited opportunities. That level of competition is also increasing, of course.

Through the team's first 12 games, he averaged nearly 22 minutes a game. In these last four, he's played about 15 per contest. Even considering that, though, his production hasn't been commensurate with the time he's gotten. And while the starters (particularly Michael Young and Jamel Artis) do take a lot of the shots, as Luther showed in those four games I mentioned, he's capable of getting involved - and that includes other areas like rebounding.

In Pitt's first 12 contests, Luther was scoring about .35 points a minute and over the last four, that's been cut in half. Similarly, his rebounding per game has taken a hit, too (down from .22 rebounds per minute in the first 12 games to about .16 boards in the last four). During that same stretch, one thing that's up is the number you don't want to be - turnovers. Despite not playing very much, Luther's still had seven of those in the last four games and his turnover rate per minute has nearly doubled in those games compared to the first 12.

Remember those four games I talked about where Luther excelled? Compare that to his numbers in these last four - 2.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, .8 assists per game while shooting 36% from the field.

Like I said, the level of competition has to do with a lot of this since three of the team's last four games have been ACC games. But his scoring and turnover numbers on a per-minute basis have been cut in half and doubled, respectively - a large swing. Imagine if, for example, players like Young and Artis had experienced similar cuts in production. The team would easily be 0-4 instead of 2-2.

To be fair, Luther did play a strong game against Virginia with eight points (4-6 from the field) and four rebounds with a pair of steals in only 20 minutes. But Pitt needs him to have those kinds of games all the time and not just sporadically. Plus, Luther also managed three turnovers (tied for his season high), which is simply too many for those types of minutes.

Part of the reason Luther's production is important to track isn't just for this year - it's for next year when he'll be one of the leaders on a pretty depleted team. In 2017-18, the Panthers lose four of their key players in seniors Young, Artis, Chris Jones, and Sheldon Jeter. Luther almost assuredly will not only be thrust into the starting lineup but should be one of the team's top players. Cameron Johnson, the Panthers' No. 3 scorer and a pretty good player, should assume the mantle of best player, but Luther will be right behind him.

Pitt needs him to be productive this year to gain some momentum that will carry over into next season when he's expected to do much more. For that reason, it's imperative that Pitt continue to find ways to get him onto the court and into positions where he can be successful.

Luther has shown he's capable of big things, so it won't be surprising when he gets back to having some better games. He won't ever be a superstar in the mold of a Young or Artis this season, but he is capable of being a big weapon off the bench this year and a solid starter next season. The Panthers have a third wheel in the form of Johnson this year, but they need Luther to provide a little more depth off the bench.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt beaten by Syracuse, 77-66

Sometimes the final score of a game isn't truly indicative of how things went. That was sort of the case today as Pitt lost to Syracuse, 77-66. While the final will look pretty respectable, most of the game, the Panthers simply weren't competitive. For much of the contest, the lead was up over 20 points, in fact. Syracuse had a 20-point lead under five minutes in the game until Pitt sort of had a flurry at the end to cut it nearly in half.

Syracuse did it with only six guys playing, too. The Panthers went much deeper into the bench but got zero production from those guys. Four guys played off the bench for Pitt but they took only three shots and made none of them. The bench hasn't been particularly deep for Pitt this year but I don't know that they've gone scoreless before without looking it up.

Jamel Artis and Michael Young gave Pitt their regular 40 points today (23 from Artis and 17 from Young). But, like the rest of the team, they didn't shoot too well, making a combined 12 of 29 shots. Others were far worse, though, in terms of efficiency in shooting the ball. Sheldon Jeter had a double double with 12 points and 11 rebounds, but also another 3-10 game (he was also 3-10 in that Notre Dame game last week, you might remember). Cam Johnson was an awful 2-10. Those were the four guys taking the bulk of the shots and when none of them are particularly on, that's going to be a problem.

In all, Pitt shot about 35% from the field while Syracuse was up over 50%. You hate to oversimplifly but sometimes the game really is as simple as who shot the ball better. Today, it wasn't even close and the way the teams shot the ball was easily the story of the game.

One thing everyone should be thankful for is the Virginia win. With two losses to start the ACC season, things aren't great. Three, and it might be all out panic mode. Granted, none of these games were easy - you had two ranked teams and a traditional rival of sorts on the road that was desperate for a win. But 1-2 at this point is far better than 0-3.

Losing this game is a bit frustrating because Syracuse has been down this year. But all teams simply have games like this and sometimes, there's no amount of preparation that can help. Blaming a loss like today on head coach Kevin Stallings is silly. The team not only had plenty of open looks, often, they were completely alone. This was all about players not being able to shoot and having an off game. Jamie Dixon, Roy Williams, or Coach K wouldn't have salvaged this hot mess. You almost always have to shoot reasonably well to win and today, Pitt didn't do that.

Could Pitt come out and defend a little better since Syracuse shot about 52% from the field? Sure, I guess. But if the Panthers shot even respectable today, that would have gone a long way to helping. They also outrebounded Syracuse (+8) and each team had about the same amount of turnovers, so I'm not sure this is really an effort situation. Plus, Syracuse was 52% from long range, too, making 14-27 there. Pitt wasn't only ice cold but the Orange were also red hot. That's an ugly combination.

And in terms of wanting to win this one, it's easy to forget that Pitt wasn't even expected to win. The Panthers were 3 1/2-point underdogs coming into the game so it's not as if they flubbed an easy one here. This was a desperate Syracuse team that absolutely was in more need of a win than Pitt. Not to say that Pitt can afford to give games like this away but their resume coming into the game was also much better than that of the Orange.

This is the ultimate get on the bus and move onto the next one type of game. Unfortunately, though, with a road game against Louisville, things don't exactly get easier. The schedule does let up a little later on, but as we all knew, the ACC slate is a very difficult one.

That's part of the reason you want to win a game like today against a team that's been struggling. And if you're going to completely lay an egg, you can argue it would be more beneficial to do so against a great team when you're not necessarily hoping to win. But that's not the way it works and sometimes those eggs come in otherwise very winnable contests.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Against the Odds: Syracuse slight favorites over Pitt

Vegas isn’t that impressed with Pitt’s upset over Virginia, as they give Syracuse an edge.

If Pitt wants to up their record, they are going to have to prove Vegas wrong again this afternoon. Pitt will travel to upstate New York to take on Syracuse today. The game will tip at noon at Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. Despite coming in with a 9-6 record, Syracuse is a 3 12 point favorite over Pitt today.

The Panthers are coming off a strong upset win over the 11th ranked Virginia Cavaliers and came, oh so close, to knocking off Notre Dame before that, who are also ranked. Vegas doesn’t seem to be impressed and has shown as much with the Orange being the favorite. Syracuse has experienced some difficult losses this season, as they have fallen to UConn, Georgetown, St. Johns, and BC. Let’s hope the trend of the Orange losing to former Big East foes continue today.

One person that has to share in Vegas’ confidence in Syracuse is head coach Jim Boeheim. That’s because the coach that has tortured him so much the last several years is now gone at Pitt. Jamie Dixon is no longer in Oakland and that has to be a relief to Boeheim, whose teams always struggled against Dixon’s teams. Kevin Stallings hopes to pick the brain of his seniors to continue Pitt’s recent dominance over Syracuse.

Every win counts right now and the win over UVA has to give Pitt a lift going into this one. If they want to keep opening eyes around college basketball, and inch closer to the NCAA Tournament, they need to win games like these. The Carrier Dome is never an easy place to play and Syracuse is still a name that commands respect around the country. Pitt’s conference schedule won’t be any easier in the coming weeks, so a win today would be ideal.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author@BrunoPittsburgh

Tale of the Tape: Pitt at Syracuse

Breaking down the Pitt/Syracuse matchup

Point Guard

John Gillon 6’0” Senior 8.8 PPG // 4.7 APG // 1.8 RPG

vs.

Jamel Artis 6’7” Senior 21.4 PPG // 3.5 APG // 5.9 RPG

Syracuse did not have a true point guard last season. Jim Boeheim brought on Colorado State transfer, John Gillon, to help fill the void this season. Gillon’s season has had some mixed results. He played very well against Miami the other night with 8 points and 11 assists and played 39 minutes, although he did have 5 turnovers. There have some games he has been held scoreless as well. You aren’t always sure what you will get from Gillon. He has the ability to make three’s and you can’t sleep on him from the outside. He’s at best probably the third or fourth option on offense.

Jamel Artis is the second leading scorer in the ACC currently. The senior is really the driving force behind Pitt’s high scoring attack. Although Artis is not a true point guard, he has been effective this season. This game in particular is a nice matchup for Artis. He’s had success attacking the Boeheim 2-3 zone in past seasons, and that’s how him playing point guard came into being.

Shooting Guard

Tyus Battle 6’6” Freshman 8.4 PPG // 1.9 RPG // 1.7 APG

vs.

Chris Jones 6’6” Senior 6.7 PPG // 2.9 RPG // 2.6 APG

Tyus Battle was a top 50 recruit nationally last season. He came to Syracuse with high expectations, and has performed OK to this point. While he isn’t one of the stars of the freshman class, he’s still a very talented player that’s coming along slowly. Battle is knocking down three’s at a 42% clip, and he provides a nice scoring option on the perimeter. He’s not one of Syracuse’s stars at the moment, but you still have to account for him.

Chris Jones is certainly the fifth option in the staring lineup currently. While Jones has displayed the ability to knock down shots in his career, he hasn’t done much of it this season. Jones has raised his assist numbers this year, and seems to be doing some little things more. It’s worth noting as a sophomore, Chris Jones scored 19 points in a road win against Syracuse. So he’s had a big game in the Dome before, maybe keep an eye on him today as well.

Small Forward

Andrew White III 6’7” Senior 15.7 PPG // 4.6 RPG // 1.5 APG

vs.

Cameron Johnson 6’8” Sophomore 12.7 PPG // 4.9 RPG // 2.3 APG

Andrew White III is a Nebraska transfer, and the leading scorer for the Orange this season. White is on his third school already, as he started his career for Kansas and was a one time top 100 recruit coming out of high school. He is a very talented player, and is the focal point of this offense. He takes the most shots and is expected to do much of the scoring. He has scored 22 points in each of the first two ACC games, and he played all 40 minutes against Miami on Wednesday. He will log a lot of minutes and take a lot of shots, he is the player Pitt has to worry about the most today.

Cameron Johnson has emerged as Pitt’s third option on offense this season. The lanky shooter from nearby Moon Township has developed into one of Pitt’s best outside shooters in the past few seasons. Johnson made four three-pointers on Wednesday against Virginia, and is hitting a 43% clip from behind the arc this season. Johnson also rebounds well despite his thin frame. He had 24 points in Pitt’s last meeting with Syracuse in 2016. When he’s hot, he is tough to stop.

Power Forward

Tyler Lydon 6’9” Sophomore 13.5 PPG // 7.9 RPG // 1.8 APG

vs.

Sheldon Jeter 6’8” Senior 7.7 PPG // 7.7 RPG // 1.6 APG

Tyler Lydon has posted four double-doubles this season. He is one of the most talented sophomores in the country. Lydon is a versatile forward that is able to score from all three levels. His signature performance this season was a 29 point output in a loss to Georgetown, but he went an astounding 12-13 from the floor that game. He is dangerous, and can certainly fill up the stat sheet any time he steps on the floor.

Sheldon Jeter has had a rough start to his senior season, but it has picked up in recent games. Jeter is averaging 14 points and 10 rebounds in Pitt’s last three games. He is the team’s top rebounder and best shot blocking presence. His shooting has not been very good this season, but it has been better in recent weeks. Jeter has played very well against Syracuse in his career.

Center

Taurean Thompson 6’10” Freshman 8.9 PPG // 3.6 RPG

vs.

Michael Young 6’9” Senior 22.7 PPG // 7.6 RPG // 3.4 APG

Taureen Thompson started last game, but only played 5 minutes. We’ll see if Boeheim tinkers with the lineup again today. Thompson is a true freshman and he’s coming along. He’s reached double figures seven times this season, but there’s been other games he’s been almost non-existent. He’s a talented player, and looks like he will be big time player for the Orange moving forward.

Michael Young is the ACC’s leading scorer this season. The senior currently is sitting on career highs in scoring, rebounding, and assists. He’s having a fantastic season, and has to be one of the favorites for ACC Player of the Year to this point. For as brilliant as Mike Young has been in his career, his best games have not come against Syracuse. The zone really packs it in sometimes, but Young has been floating outside the paint more this season and he could have a better game this time around against the Orange.

Bench

Tyler Roberson 6’8” Senior 6.4 PPG // 5.1 RPGDaJuan Coleman 6’9” Senior 6.4 PPG // 5.3 RPGFranklin Howard 6’5” Sophomore 6.3 PPG // 2.3 RPG // 5.6 APG

vs.

Ryan Luther 6’9” Junior 7.1 PPG // 4.3 APGJustice Kithcart 6’1” Freshman 1.9 PPG // 1.8 APG // 1.0 RPGJonathan Milligan 6’2” Junior 2.7 PPG

Tyler Roberson is virtually a starter, and has been one in the past. His usage is down from the past two seasons, but he’s still a good player. He is an energy guy that gets after it on the glass. DaJuan Coleman is another option for depth on the inside. He too has starting experience and can help clog the middle against Pitt. Frank Howard has started most of the games this season, but did not start last time out against Miami and only played one minute. I’m not aware of an injury, and perhaps Boeheim was trying to send a message.

Pitt’s Ryan Luther is almost interchangeable with the starting lineup. He plays the most minutes off the bench, and is a productive player. Luther is shooting 56% on the year, and leads the team in that department. Justice Kithcart is the only other bench player to play in every game. Kithcart is there mostly to spell the starters and to handle the ball. He has not been much of a factor in the scoring department. Beyond that, Jonathan Milligan is most likely to play some minutes. He’s able to knock down some three’s if given the opportunity.

Former Pitt QB Tom Savage out with concussion, will miss NFL playoff game with Houston Texans

Former Pitt quarterback Tom Savage finally got his chance to start in the NFL this season, replacing Brock Osweiler and then being named the No. 1 option for the Houston Texans. In his time as the starter, he found success, leading Houston to a pair of wins and helping them to the NFL Playoffs.

Savage, though, won't be playing for the team in their first postseason game this weekend against the Oakland Raiders. He'll miss the contest with a concussion he suffered in the last game on New Year's Day against the Tennessee Titans. Savage was knocked out of that game and the Texans went on to lose, 24-17.

Savage was named the backup to Osweiler for this week after that injury and it was believed he could still come on as the backup this weekend. But on Wednesday, head coach Bill O'Brien, said he was still in the concussion protocol and would be out for the game.

That's a really tough blow for him. Savage has already been through a lot in the NFL and has had to claw his way up the depth chart in Houston. Now that he's there, he gets knocked back down.

Disappointing, too, is that Savage could have been in line to pick up a playoff win. The Raiders are without starter Derek Carr and are not only starting a rookie in Conner Cook, but it's Cook's first NFL game. The 12-4 Raiders suddenly look more beatable and it's a shame Savage won't get his chance to be on the field.

The good news is that he has shown he can be a capable starter and should get another shot. Savage hasn't been incredible but has been solid in leading the team to wins over Jacksonville and Cincinnati. In those two games, he's completed 63% of his passes throwing for 436 yards. He did not throw a touchdown in those games but did not toss any interceptions, either.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter@PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt upsets #11 Virginia in overtime 88-76

The Panthers improve to 1-1 in ACC play

Pitt defeated the Virginia Cavaliers by a score of 88-76 Wednesday night. It took an extra frame to decide the outcome, but hot shooting in the overtime period led to a big lead that Virginia was not able to overcome to give Pitt their first ACC win.

The Panthers were led offensively by senior Jamel Artis, who finished with 24 points including six three-pointers. Mike Young chipped in 19, while Cam Johnson and Sheldon Jeter provided 16 each. It was Sheldon Jeter’s two overtime three pointers that provided Pitt with the separation over Virginia to pull away late. Jamel Artis hit one in the extra frame, and the Panthers cruised with foul shots the rest of the way.

It felt as though this game was heading down the same path as Saturday’s game against Notre Dame. Pitt held a three point lead late in regulation, and after a Mike Young miss, Virginia’s senior point guard London Perrantes calmly drilled a three pointer to send the game into overtime. The resilient Panthers asserted control in the overtime period to not let a second home overtime loss happen.

Pitt played a solid game throughout, and held the lead for much of the contest. The Panthers appeared to take control late in the game, but poor foul shooting and turnovers kept the Cavaliers in the game. Pitt was 17-28 from the line, and committed 14 turnovers, with many coming down the stretch.

It was a hot shooting day all around for both teams. Nine players finished in double figures among the two teams, and it was more of an offensive minded game, which favored Pitt. Virginia shot 49.3% from the field, and made 8’s. Pitt had the upper hand however, as they shot 53.7% from the field. The difference was clearly Pitt’s three-point shooting, as Pitt went 13-21 (61.9%) from behind the arc. Pitt also held a commanding lead in the rebounding margin, 38-24.

We have learned early on in ACC play, that the games will be difficult and there is a ton of parity in the league. We are less than a week into ACC play, and 13 of the 15 teams already have a loss. It’s going to be a grind to get through this league, and the Panthers will head up to the Carrier Dome on Saturday to take on Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.

2017 Defensive Depth Chart Prediction

Predicting Pitt’s starters for 2017

Like with offense yesterday, I’m going to take a guess at who will be starting on defense next season. Pitt once again loses a lot of senior starters, and unlike on offense, that may be a good thing. Pat Narduzzi needs to upgrade the talent on defense and his recruiting efforts have reflected that.

Like with yesterday’s article, I’m not including any of the recruits that are unsigned. I think we all know there’s one player on Pitt’s commitment list that could very well start next season.

Defensive End

Projected Starter - Dewayne Hendrix, Rori Blair

Top Contenders - James Folston, Allen Edwards

Pitt will be without all-everything Ejuan Price next season. Price was one of the best defensive players in college football in 2015 and 2016. He recorded 13 sacks this past season, and his presence will be missed big time in the pass rush. They will have some experience returning and some promising younger players competing for snaps.

Rori Blair has been in the mix at defensive end for the past three seasons. He has totaled 10 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in that stretch. His best season was his freshman year, and the past two have been a bit inconsistent. The staff needs him to take a leap for his senior season. Pitt fans will finally get to see Dewayne Hendrix in action. The Tennessee transfer was expected to give Pitt a lot this past season before a season ending injury in the opener. Hendrix was a big time recruit out of high school, and Pitt needs him to play like one in 2017.

Allen Edwards and James Folston both rotated in at defensive end this season, and will again next season. Neither player made huge impacts, but Edwards did make a few nice plays against Clemson. Two players I have an eye on will be redshirt freshmen Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver. We’ll see if they can unseat any of the upperclassmen.

Defensive Tackle

Projected Starters - Jeremiah Taleni, Amir Watts

Top Contenders - Shane Roy, Keyshon Camp

Pitt will lose starters Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto. Jarrett missed time down the stretch that opened the door for some younger guys. Soto probably had the best season of his career in his first year playing inside instead of at defensive end. Both players seem replaceable however, and there’s some exciting young players in the program.

Jeremiah Taleni only played in seven games, but finished with three sacks in 2016. He had a great game against Clemson and made some big plays that game. Going into his senior year, I think he has the leg up on a starting nod. Still not a sure thing however. Amir Watts played as a true freshman, and didn’t make a huge impact after fighting some injuries. He was a four-star recruit a year ago, and obviously Narduzzi thought he was ready to play. I expect he will be a big part of the defense next season.

Pitt brought in two other big time defensive tackles with Watts in the last recruiting cycle, and look for Keyshon Camp and Rashad Wheeler to be involved in next year’s rotation. Mike Herndon and Shane Roy will be entering their junior seasons, and they will be in the mix as well.

Linebacker

Projected Starters - Quintin Wirginis, Saleem Brightwell, Elijah Zeise

Top Contenders - Seun Idowu, Chase Pine, Anthony McKee Jr.

Pitt is set to lose Matt Galambos, Mike Caprara, and Bam Bradley. All three players logged a lot of snaps the past four seasons, and the Panthers will have a new look at linebacker this season. Pitt needs more athleticism at this potion, and that’s exactly what the staff has been recruiting. They brought in three linebackers last year, and they have three committed currently. It’s a position that certainly needs an upgrade.

Senior Quintin Wirginis should assume the role as starting middle linebacker. I’ve always felt he deserved more playing time than he received, and I look for him to have a solid senior campaign. He’s more athletic than Galambos, and that extra speed should help the defense all around. Wirginis recorded four sacks this past season in limited playing time.

Saleem Brightwell made some huge plays this season, and I think he locks down one of the starting jobs next year. Brightwell was a solid recruit a few years ago, and I think he’s ready to be a full time starter in 2017. He had a huge interception against Clemson that he returned 70 yards that helped lead to the upset over the Tigers. He also had a pair of sacks and 28 tackles this year.

There was a competition last season between Oluwaseun Idowu and Elijah Zeise for the starting job that went back and forth, but Zeise won it in only to get injured in the Villanova game. Idowu finished third on the team in tackles as the full-time starter at Pitt’s “Star” position. He will have a chance to retain his job, but it’s not set in stone.

The trio of Chase Pine, Kaezon Pugh, and Elias Reynolds all took redshirts last season, and should be competing for jobs this season. There’s talks Pugh could play defensive end next season, but Pine looks like he should have a chance to compete at linebacker. Anthony McKee Jr. is another name to remember, as he was a big recruit a few years ago.

Cornerback

Projected Starters - Avonte Maddox, Damar Hamlin

Top Contenders - Dane Jackson, Therran Coleman

This position has been highly discussed all season. It was flat out terrible, and there’s nowhere to go but up I guess. Pitt will move on without Ryan Lewis, but everyone else is back. There are a lot of promising young players in the fold, and they should get every opportunity to play.

Avonte Maddox had an injury riddled season in 2016. He had some good moments, but other times where he got picked on by bigger and better receivers. Maddox will have every chance to start at one corner, but could shift to nickel if a younger guy seizes the job. I’m going to say a healthy Damar Hamlin grabs the one job. He was injured most of the season and never got into the flow. He was Pitt’s prized recruit last year, and will be given every chance to play next year. He has the talent to take the job.

Dane Jackson appeared in 12 games as a redshirt freshman. He will be in the mix to win a starting job as well. Jackson, like most of the other corners, had moments but was inconsistent. I’m also looking for Therran Coleman to make an impact. He redshirted this past season, but he looks like he can be a very good player.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Henry Miller. He was a big recruit, in terms of both size and ranking. Miller is a 6’3” corner, and many have speculated a position change could come for him.

Safety

Projected Starters - Jordan Whitehead, Jay Stocker

Top Contenders - Dennis Briggs, Bricen Garner

Jordan Whitehead is Pitt’s best defensive player, and they will need him to play like it all season long. Whitehead had a slow start to 2016, but returned to his freshman All-American type self towards the end of the season before injuring himself against Clemson. Whitehead is a special talent, and will likely be on many preseason watch lists.

Opposite of Whitehead will be one to monitor, Terrish Webb and Reggie Mitchell are both gone leaving that position wide open. Dennis Briggs may have a leg up, but I’m projecting Stocker passes him up. Also like I mentioned before, I’m not including recruits that aren’t signed yet, but you can take a guess who eventually will be starting next to Whitehead.

I’m looking forward to seeing Bricen Garner. I think he is going to be a good player, and he could be in the mix after taking a redshirt in 2016.

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