Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and Virginia’s Bryce Perkins are both entering their second season as starters. Though Perkins’ numbers were a bit better through the air last fall, Pickett may be the more natural passer. He’s nowhere near the athlete Perkins is, though, which makes him far easier to prepare for. Edge, Virginia.
Virginia and Pitt are both rebuilding their backfields and replacing a 1,000-yard rusher (two in the Panthers’ case). The Cavaliers turn to an unproven committee, led by junior PK Kier and sophomore Wayne Taulapapa. Pitt turns to a couple of slightly more experienced backs in A.J. Davis and V’Lique Carter, who may be the most explosive of the bunch. Edge, push.
Pitt probably has the more explosive duo in Maurice Ffrench and Taysir Mack, who averaged more than 22 yards per catch a year ago. Virginia has the deeper unit, though. Senior Hasise Dubois caught 53 passes last fall, and fellow fourth-year Joe Reed joins Ffrench as one of the ACC’s top kick returners. Virginia can also turn to junior Terrell Jana, speedy sophomore Tavares Kelly and graduate transfers Terrell Chatman and Dejon Brissett. Edge, Virginia.
Virginia returns three starters on the line, led by Dillon Reinkensmeyer, who moved to right guard and was replaced at center by Air Force transfer Olusegun Oluwatimi. Ryan Nelson started every game last season at left tackle and Chris Glaser made several starts at left guard. Pitt returns two starters: center Jimmy Morrissey and left guard Bryce Hargrove. Edge, Virginia.
There may be enough healthy bodies this season for Virginia to be able to actually rotate defensive linemen. The Cavaliers finished last season with four. Freshman Jowon Briggs will make his first career start at nose tackle and ends Richard Burney and Mandy Alonso are back from injury shortened seasons. For Pitt, Amir Watts will eat up space in the middle, but without top pass rusher Rashad Weaver (torn ACL), the Panthers have to rely on Patrick Jones II and a host of youngsters on the edge. Edge, Virginia.
Both units are deep. Virginia is led on the outside by 6-foot-7 junior Charles Snowden, who led the nation’s linebackers last year with nine pass breakups, and by tackling machine Jordan Mack on the inside. Pitt also has a dearth of linebackers, led by Saleem Brightwell and Elias Reynolds in the middle and sophomore Cam Bright outside. Edge, push.
Again, both are stacked. Pitt cornerback Dane Jackson and safety Damar Hamlin will both find themselves on NFL rosters next fall, and safety Paris Ford was a four-star recruit and the No. 51 overall prospect in the country in 2017. Virginia has what looks like a first-round lock in the 2020 NFL Draft in cornerback Bryce Hall, who led the nation last fall with 22 pass breakups, and a couple of emerging stars in safeties Joey Blount and Brenton Nelson. Edge, push.
Last season, Ffrench led the ACC with 27.35 yards per kick return, and this fall, he’ll also handle punts for Pitt. He’s joined on the kick return team by another explosive athlete in Mack, and the Panthers return kicker Alex Kessman, who went 13-of-17 on field goals a year ago with a long of 55 yards. Virginia returns the ACC’s second-leading kick returner in Reed (27.19 ypr) and kicker Brian Delaney, who claimed the job mid way through last season and went 12-of-16 on field goals with a long of 46 yards. The Cavaliers are still waiting for a consistent punt returner to emerge. Edge, Pitt.