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Panthers know dangers of underdogs

Like many teams, the Pittsburgh Panthers will open their 2017 schedule with an opponent of somewhat lesser pedigree.

For the Panthers, that opponent will be the Youngstown State Penguins, an FCS school whose campus is just 65 miles northwest of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

The nearby teams aren't exactly rivals, but the Panthers have been taught not to take the Penguins lightly.

In 2012, Youngstown State walked away from Pittsburgh with a 31-17 victory. In 2015, Pitt held on for a 45-37 victory while losing star running back James Conner for the season with a knee injury.

When it comes to playing the Penguins who went all the way to the finals of the 2016 FCS playoffs anything can happen. Just ask Pitt running back Qadree Ollison, who got his first playing time against Youngstown State two years ago. Now, Ollison is the leader and the starter, replacing Conner on a full-time basis after the latter was drafted by the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ollison, a redshirt junior, finished 2015 with 1,121 yards in place of Conner. He'll have plenty of help behind him in junior Darrin Hall, sophomore Chawntez Moss and freshmen A.J. Davis and Todd Sibley.

"They're a big pile in there," Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said.

"It's another one of those things, it comes down to game day. Qadree has obviously had more reps back there, and we've seen him do it. Darrin Hall has gotten good. I could throw more 'ors' on there as you want it after that if you really wanted me to do that, but there's some young guys that have really stepped up. I mean, AJ Davis has been impressive."

So the starting job is Ollison's to lose, but as he knows, anything can happen.

"Football is a very physical game and anything can happen any given day," he said. "You have to always be ready to get your name called."


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