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DeCock: Panthers’ talented freshmen making mark in ACC

By Luke DeCock - staff columnist
Luke has worked for The News & Observer since 2000. He covered the Carolina Hurricanes and the NHL before becoming a sports columnist in August 2008. A native of Evanston, Ill., he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.
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Virginia is about to become the next team to find out what Duke discovered last week: Not only is Pittsburgh dangerous, the Panthers are going to be dangerous for a long time.

In freshman receiver Tyler Boyd and freshman running back James Conner, Pittsburgh has a one-two offensive punch that is going to make ACC coordinators cringe for the next few years. The Panthers’ two other playmakers – receiver Devin Street and quarterback Tom Savage – are seniors, but Boyd and Conner give Pittsburgh an offensive foundation that will endure.

Boyd had three touchdown catches and 154 receiving yards against the Blue Devils to give him five total touchdowns and 407 total yards in three career games; Conner has supplanted Isaac Bennett as the Panthers’ go-to back after running for 173 yards and a touchdown against Duke, averaging 6.9 yards per carry on the season.

From the beginning, ACC expansion has been an unending chain of unintended consequences. Miami won an ACC basketball championship before it played in a football championship game. Virginia Tech, shoved into the league by Virginia politicians, has been a rock-solid addition. Even Maryland’s unexpected departure led to an athletic upgrade with the addition of Louisville.

In this latest round, Pittsburgh was supposed to help improve ACC basketball – and will down the road – but the Panthers are in the midst of some significant roster turnover on the court. Their immediate basketball prognosis is uncertain. In football, with Boyd and Conner, their future is unquestionably bright.

DeCock:, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947
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