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Could Pitt Have Another Late Season Surge?

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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With every team in the Coastal halfway through its schedule, just one game separates six of the seven teams in the division.

The expectation heading into the 2019 season was that the ACC Coastal division would be another wild race this year. Even with that belief, the division might be more helter-skelter than originally anticipated.

With every team in the Coastal halfway through its schedule, just one game separates six of the seven teams in the division. Georgia Tech is the only team in the Coastal without an ACC win, so they are the least likely to win the division, but even the Yellow Jackets are just two games out of first place.

Because of how close each team is to the others in talent, the littlest things could decide the Coastal division title this fall. The most obvious entity that will impact the race is each team’s remaining schedule.

Again, given how much parity exists in the Coastal and ACC overall, it’s even difficult to make game-by-game predictions. But when broken down, the remaining schedule leans to the possibility of another late-season surge from Pitt.

The Panthers rode their running game to a 5-1 finish in the ACC a year ago, which was enough to win the program’s first Coastal division title. In those six games, Pitt averaged 286.3 rushing yards per contest.

Pitt has yet to reach 200 rushing yards in any contest this year, but the schedule will give the Panthers every opportunity to climb to the top of the Coastal standings.

Interestingly, Pitt is the only Coastal squad with six ACC games remaining. That could turn into an advantage or detriment to the team.

My initial reaction is Pitt will benefit from the extra ACC game in the final month and a half of the regular season because it means they have the ability to gain more ground in the standings. However, it could also mean too many meaningful games in a row, thus mentally or physically wearing down the Panthers.

Looking at which teams are on the schedule, though, Pitt really shouldn’t “wear down” in November.

Pitt will play Syracuse next on the road Friday night. It’s a rivalry game, but the Orange are one of two remaining ACC teams without a conference win. Even in the Carrier Dome, Pitt is a bad matchup for Syracuse; the Orange have been dealing with injuries and depth issues on the offensive line all season, and Pitt is tied for first in the ACC with 27 sacks. The Panthers should handle their rivals from upstate New York.

After that, of Pitt’s remaining five conference games, three of them are at home against Miami, North Carolina and Boston College. The other two contests are on the road at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Heading into Week 8, North Carolina is the only team of those five with a winning record in the ACC, and it should help the Panthers a lot that that matchup is at Heinz Field.

Again, it’s hard to project strength of schedule in the Coastal because things change very quickly in this chaotic division. Three weeks ago, Duke looked great after destroying Virginia Tech by 35 points, but then one Saturday later, the Panthers knocked off the Blue Devils in Durham, and the Hokies upset Miami on the road.

That opened the door for Virginia to become the clear-cut favorite in the Coastal, as they were in August. But then last week, Miami shocked Virginia with a, 17-9, win.

The Atlantic Division isn’t all that much different. Just as Wake Forest was emerging as a serious contender, Louisville defeated them in a wild affair, 62-59.

In the ACC, there is no “Team A beat Team B, and Team B defeated Team C, so Team A will knock off Team C too.” Sports often don’t work that way, but that’s particularly true in the ACC this season, as very little separates most of the league, and everyone outside of Clemson will beat up on each other down the stretch.

But at least on paper, Pitt has six very winnable games, and five contests that, as of right now, I wouldn’t classify as “difficult.”

Of the three teams ahead of Pitt in the standings, Virginia, North Carolina and Duke, all of them have at least three contests against teams with winning ACC records heading into Week 8 -- the Tar Heels could have four if Pitt moves to 2-1 on Friday night against Syracuse.

Duke actually has three road games remaining against programs with winning ACC records -- Virginia, North Carolina and Wake Forest. All three of those teams play each other as well while Pitt has already faced Virginia and Duke, going 1-1.

There’s the potential for Virginia, North Carolina and Wake Forest to go 1-1 against each other. If Pitt then beats North Carolina, the Panthers will have an excellent opportunity to move up the standings.

The biggest concern Pitt has it won’t hold the tiebreaker with Virginia because of its Week 1 loss against the Cavaliers. With Virginia still the favorite in a lot of analysts’ minds, that could come into play, but that’s the only thing not working in favor of the Panthers.

In the chaotic Coastal, anything is possible, but if weakness of schedule counts for something, the defending division champions, ironically enough, are the team to watch.