Only slightly more than two months ago, Pitt was blowing a three-touchdown lead with four minutes left in the Armed Forces Bowl. It’s already time for the Panthers to start making amends.
Spring practice starts Sunday — NCAA Selection Sunday — and at Pitt there will be more interest in the oblong-shaped ball than the round one.
Sunday’s practice will be Pitt’s first of 15 sessions, culminating in the Blue-Gold game (we no longer can call it annual) at 1 p.m. April 18 at Highmark Stadium.
To get fans talking, AthlonSports.com has released its pre-spring ACC player rankings and, not surprisingly, 2014 ACC player of the year James Conner is at the top of the list, with Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd coming in fourth.
Here is the entire 15-player list:
1. Conner (conducted assault on Tony Dorsett’s school records)
2. Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey (he also can play corner)
3. Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller (ACC rookie of the year in 2013)
4. Boyd (Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons)
5. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook (1,008 yards as a freshman)
6. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (recovering from ACL surgery)
7. Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas (I would have ranked him higher)
8. Virginia Tech defensive end Dadi Nicholas (the highest-ranking senior on the list).
9. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams (will skip spring with hip injury)
10. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya (threw for 3,198 yards as a freshman)
11. Duke safety Jeremy Cash (big-time playmaker)
12. North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett (Only five INTs in 2014)
13. Virginia safety Quin Blanding (Five-star recruit who made good)
14. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy (Missed most of ’14 with knee injury)
15. Clemson cornerback Mackensie Alexander (Most freshman snaps in school history)
Others to watch: Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman, Florida State offensive tackle Rod Johnson, Clemson wide receivers Artavis Scott and Mike Williams, Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne, Virginia Tech offensive lineman Wyatt Teller and Miami running back Joseph Yearby.
A few notes from Pitt’s spring prospectus, which was released Tuesday (without a depth chart, of course).
— The most impressive fact, to me, is this:
Rising senior tight end J.P. Holtz has played in every game in his first three seasons at Pitt. (He’s a senior, already?) As reliable as the sunrise, Holtz has 57 receptions for 581 yards and seven touchdowns in an offense that never went out of its way to highlight the tight ends.
— Jaryd Jones-Smith, a left tackle last season, will get first crack at replacing T.J. Clemmings at right tackle. Adam Bisnowaty stays at left tackle.
— Mt. Lebanon’s Alex Bookser and Bethel Park’s Mike Grimm will tangle at right guard.
— Former linebacker Zach Poker will move to defensive end to try to alleviate a manpower shortage there. Don’t forget about defensive end Ejuan Price, who can be productive if he remains healthy.
— Outside linebackers will be labeled Star and Money under Narduzzi’s system, with Nicholas Grigsby at Star and Bam Bradley and redshirt freshman Jamal Davis at Money.