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2015 MAC football non-conference previews: Pittsburgh Panthers

Pitt looks to avenge last year's loss to the Zips.

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Akron's best win last season came on the road at Pittsburgh, shutting down the Panther offense en route to a 21-10 victory. It was a great moment for Zips fans, as the upset began a 3-game win streak that would raise their record to 4-2. Unfortunately, they would lose five of their next six contests and finish a mediocre 5-7. One thing Akron does want to see again this season is another win over Pitt. The Panthers will be looking for revenge this season, as their loss to Akron tallied as their second of the season and ultimately ended the momentum they had built from starting 3-1.

This year's version of Pittsburgh Panthers football will feature a seasoned team with eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense. Junior QB Chad Voytik started all 13 games in 2014. He passed for 2,233 yards and 16 TDs. Not only is Voytik a threat in the air, but the Akron defense will have to contain him on the ground too. He rushed for 466 yards, finishing second on the team behind junior running back James Conner.

Conner had himself a strong season last year, rushing for 1,765 yards and an ACC-record 26 touchdowns. Conner was named a first team All-American and ACC Player of the Year. With all of these decorations, Akron's defense held Conner to a minimal 92 yards last season. While he did not do much against the Zips last year, he will still be the Akron defense's main priority.

Another returning impact player is junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd. Boyd is the first player in ACC history to receive over 1,000 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons. A ACC first team selection, he racked up 8 touchdowns with 1,261 yards on 78 catches. Sophomore Zach Challingsworth and JUCO All-American transfer Rafael Araujo-Lopes will provide additional depth at wide receiver.

In last year's loss to Akron, the Pitt defense gave up 382 yards, including 148 yards on the ground to Conor Hundley. Pitt ranked 33rd in the country last season as a defense, but were simply unable to keep up with Akron. The Akron defensive front returns senior tackles Khaynin Mosley-Smith and Darryl Render. Mosley-Smith picked up 27 tackles last year. Render started for the first time last year and had 32 stops and a team-leading 6 tackles for loss.

While the line appears strong, the secondary seems to be rebuilding. The Panthers lost both of their top tacklers from last year in linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas. The returning starter will be junior Matt Galambos, who had 72 tackles a year ago. Stepping into the open spots will likely be senior Nicholas Grigsby and junior Bam Bradley. Senior Lafayette Pitts and sophomore Avonte Maddox will be keeping close eyes on the Zips' passing game from the cornerback position.

Pitt has a very solid returning squad featuring dangerous offensive weapons and a hungry defense. Akron will need to take control of the game just as they did last year. The Panthers are a threat to Akron both through the air and on the ground. However, these threats are by and large the same threats the Zips dominated a year ago. Look for a tough battle to take place on September 12th at Akron's InfoCision Stadium.