The Clemson Insider has gone through and analyzed every team in Clemson’s 2016 regular season to find the toughest matchups the Tigers will face. The result? A calculated ranking of every team Clemson plays from easiest to hardest.
Where a team ranks depends on a couple main characteristics like last season’s outcome, prior meetings with Clemson, returning and departing talent, recruiting and changes within coaching staffs.
We continue our ranking with the No. 5 opponent: Pittsburgh (Nov. 12 – Memorial Stadium)
Last meeting: Clemson and Pitt have only met one time before in 1977 when the Panthers defeated the Tigers, 34-3, in the 1977 Gator Bowl.
Last season: Pitt finished the 2015 season 8-5 overall and 6-2 in the ACC. The Panthers made it to the Military Bowl but lost 44-28 to Navy.
Coaching Staff: After completing one season in Pittsburgh, head coach Pat Narduzzi brought in previous colleague Matt Canada from NC State to replace previous offensive coordinator, Jim Chaney, who took a coordinator position at Georgia. Canada and Narduzzi had spent three years working together at Northern Illinois back in the early 2000s.
Returning: The Panthers return 15 starters in 2016 including starting quarterback Nate Peterman who completed 193 of 314 passes for 2,287 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. Pitt also returns its best rushers Qadree Ollison, James Conner and Darrin Hall. Ollison racked up 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2015, while Conner, the 2014 ACC Player of the Year recovered, from a torn ACL.
In December, Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, but on May 23 he announced he was cancer free. On the offensive line, Pitt returns left guard Dorian Johnson and All-ACC tackle Adam Bisnowaty. Star defensive end Ejuan Price was granted a sixth year of eligibility after racking up 11.5 sacks last season and will return to lead the defense.
Additions: The 2016 signing class was headlined by four-stars Damar Hamlin (cornerback), George Hill (athlete), and Keyshon Camp (defensive tackle). Pitt returns plenty of running backs, but added three-star Chawntez Moss as an early enrollee to that mix.
Subtractions: Pitt lost wide receiver Tyler Boyd to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. Boyd led the receiving corps by a long shot with 65 more receptions. Center Artie Rowell is also gone, while the Panthers will not return starting linebacker Nicholas Grigsby, and veteran defensive linemen Darryl Render and K.K. Mosley-Smith.
Why this game ranks where it does: Pitt is not a team to be overlooked. The two have not faced-off in almost 40 years, and the Panthers return a lot of starters from a unit that did pretty well within the ACC last season. To compete with the Tigers, Pitt’s defense will have to be sound after losing talent in the front seven. The Panthers made some adjustments in the spring to aid in linebacker depth, so a key matchup to look for will be Clemson’s strong backfield versus Pitt’s adjusted front seven.