Daniel Greenwald: This particular battle isn’t exactly clear cut. The leading stoppers for both teams compiled similar numbers last season. Penn State’s Jason Cabinda recorded 98, tackles 5.5 for loss and 2.5 sacks. While Pitt counterpart Matt Galambos reached similar totals. If tackles light your fire Cabinda’s your man, Galambos posted 88 to Cabinda’s 98. If disruptive plays that stymie offenses are more your style it’s Galambos. My nod goes to the latter, who accumulated five sacks and 10 tackles for loss, doubling up the marks for Cabinda, 2.5 and 5.5, respectively. Galambos was able to play fundamental sound ball without sacrificing explosive plays. Penn State returns its other starters alongside Cabinda, but Pitt’s got most of the crew back as well. Seniors Mike Caprara and Bam Bradley are both in the mix again. As are Elijah Zeise and Seun Idowu, two converted receivers who bring intriguing athleticism to the star linebacker spot.
Jarrod Prugar: Penn State returns each of their starting linebackers from last season and gets Nyeem Wartman-White back from injury this season. Pitt returns two seniors in Matt Galambos and Mike Caprara as well as sophomore Oluwaseun Idowu to their linebacker core. Barring injuries, this match-up should provide the most competition among position groups for these two squads.
ADVANTAGE: Penn State. Now is not the time to go against Linebacker U and the linebacker corps look primed to make sure they don’t ever lose that description.
JP: Pitt and Penn State return a majority of their secondary units from last season, Penn State losing only Trevor Williams to graduation and Pitt returning standout Jordan Whitehead. While the Nittany Lions don’t quite have an athlete in the secondary quite like Whitehead with his big play ability, they have an experienced group who are solid all around.
ADVANTAGE: Penn State. As a unit Penn State has more depth, if it were based on a single player, Pitt would get the nod, however, the players surrounding Whitehead are not at the same level as those in the Penn State secondary.
DG: The best defensive back and possibly best overall defender on either team will be rocking blue and gold on Sept. 10. Jordan Whitehead is a baaaaddd dude. Last year he finished third in the ACC, racking up 110 tackles … as a true freshman. Whitehead also took home ACC Freshman Defender of the Year honors, and split the overall ACC Freshman of the Year distinction with teammate Qadree Ollison. Returning safety Marcus Allen and corner Grant Haley are marginally to decently talented for Penn State. They just can’t touch the star power and playmaking juice that Whitehead provides to the Panthers. He, along with junior Avante Maddox, who submitted a fine campaign last year, enters his third year of action at corner, set a solid base for Pitt. Meanwhile, Terrish Webb and Reggie Mitchell both played last season and are jockeying for the starting safety job opposite Whitehead. Webb has got the first crack at it, and rewarded the Panthers with an interception in their season opening win over Villanova.