Saturday, October 31, 2009

Nice to Have an Off Week

BSo it's been a slow week in terms of football...but in a good way. It's nice not to have to worry about a game for once. Pitt is starting to get some national attention now and as I mentioned before, with a bye week this week and hopefully a win next week Vs. Syracuse, Pitt should be knocking on the door of the top 10 in the polls. One team in front of Pitt already lost earlier this week.

Now, the Notre Dame game isn't perfectly meaningless. It's just not as important as even the Syracuse game because it's a non-conference matchup. I am with Paul Zeise in his assessment that Pitt needs to get to 10 regular season wins this year to be called a success:
ZEISE: If Pitt finishes 8-4 then really what will we be talking about? It would be a huge disappointment at this point given how well this team has played. It would also mean they finish the season without a truly quality win, other than perhaps South Florida, and if that is the case then how much progress has really been made in the past five years? Pitt needs to finish this off and get to at least 10 wins which means win two of those last three over the top teams on their schedule. Pitt has an opportunity to really take a step forward as a program and as that saying goes it is time to seize the moment. Anything less than a 10-2 record will be disappointing at this point.

This is a perfect example of expectations changing. At the beginning of the year, I would have said nine wins would have fine. But with the way they've looked and the start they've gotten off to, a 2-2 record to finish the year would be disappointing.

Earlier this week, the Pitt Vs. Penn State movement got some steam with some looking ahead to a potential BCS matchup. Gene Collier explains it would take the perfect storm to happen. Now, Pitt fans have a horrible reputation for traveling to bowl games, but I think if this matchup happened, there might be quite a few (including probably myself) that would make the trip. But this isn't even worth discussing at this point. *Cough* 12-0 *Cough*

Quick mental note to myself - drop Iowa in the blogger poll even if they go on to win this game. Okay, all done now.

Pitt's pass defense has gotten better while the O-line has looked strong all year:
"It's just awesome," Stull said of the way he is being protected. "For the season to come together like this is very encouraging. We always say it starts up front and ends up front. If they keep playing the way they're playing ... keeping my jersey clean, Dion's jersey clean, Ray [Graham's] jersey clean, it's going to be pretty exciting."

You can say this about any football team, but for this one especially, I think the offensive line play has been the #1 strength of this team. Stull makes mistakes when he doesn't have time to pass. No passing game, and there's no way the running game is as successful as it has been. The defense has been good, but has shown lapses at times.

Meanwhile, BCS and conspiracy theories abound:
Andrew from California writes: Since you keep getting questions about the Gator Bowl, here is an interesting predicament for Pitt. If they beat Notre Dame and then split WVU and Cincinnati they would have a better record than Notre Dame, would have beaten Notre Dame and would most likely still get rejected by the Gator Bowl. If they lose to Notre Dame and split WVU and Cincinnati, Notre Dame could likely make a BCS Game and Pitt would get the Gator Bowl. Since the Gator Bowl pays about $3 million and the next bowl pays about $700,000, Pitt has a $2.3 million incentive to throw the Notre Dame game.

Brian Bennett: You're not really suggesting that Pitt lose on purpose, are you Andrew? We know that will never happen. If I'm a Pitt fan, I root for the Panthers to beat the Irish and to go on and win the Big East, and I wouldn't worry about anything else at this point.

I don't even know how to address this.

Some quick hitters:

Pitt announced its 2009 (yes, 2009...not 2010) senior captains. If someone can explain to me why this just now happened, please feel free to enlighten me.

A look at Mike Shanahan and the wideouts.

Myles Caragein is the focus of this piece on the D-Line.

And I don't know which has been beaten to death more - the stories about Bill Stull struggling or his resurgence. Here's another one.

After setting a personal best with 144 yards, Jonathan Baldwin gets a look in the Beaver County Times.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Hoops

The first preseason ESPN/USA Today Hoops poll is out and to the surprise of virtually no one, Pitt was not ranked. They came in at #37 overall, but I would be surprised if they didn't find their way into at least the bottom part of the poll at some point this season.

Pitt's official website is offering up spotlights on some of the new players this year and has a good article on freshman Talib Zanna. One of the things that jumped out at me were the quality of schools looking at him:

That's the thing that made Pitt stand out when Zanna was looking at different colleges. The 6-foot-9 forward snagged the attention of schools all around the country, including places like Oklahoma, Colorado, Connecticut, Boston College and Georgetown, among others. He wanted to go somewhere new and exciting, where he could continue to grow. The most important thing, though, was finding somewhere he'd be comfortable.

"Pitt has a good basketball program and academics, and I liked the coaches," said Zanna, who is now fluent in four languages. "I talked with coach [Jamie] Dixon and I came to some games. I really liked everything."

The first exhibition game is THIS SUNDAY. While it's only an exhibition, it will be interesting to see how the minutes are split up. I expect to see Pitt go as many as ten deep and I'm curious to see if Pitt will try to redshirt Zanna or JJ Richardson this year.

Dante Taylor was only able to come in at #15 on Gary Parrish's list of top freshmen. A less-surprising snub may be that he doesn't have any Pitt players in his top 25 point guards (though Chase Adams may surprise him), top 40 wings, or top 40 big men.

Pitt has four players currently in the NBA. What, Chad Varga or Antonio Graves couldn't get a look?

Oh, and that NBA thing? DeJuan Blair is off to a great start guessed it, another double-double, going for 14 and 11 in 23 minutes. Surprisingly it wasn't Duncan or Parker who got the bulk of the focus in the AP recap:

Parker walked back to the bench OK after a hard landing in the third quarter, leaving the game with 17 points but with rookie DeJuan Blair and the Spurs already well in command of the New Orleans Hornets in a 113-96 victory on Wednesday night.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said Parker simply had the wind knocked out of him after falling to the court almost horizontally following a layup. Blair, meanwhile, continues enticing the Spurs after a dominant preseason, getting 14 points and 11 rebounds in his NBA debut.

The Spurs spent atypically lavishly this summer to add veterans Richard Jefferson and Antonio McDyess. But so far, it's been the former All-American from Pitt getting the most buzz.

"He's showing really good maturity so far," Popovich said. "You just have to give him credit. He's got a great way about him and let the game come to him."

Yeah, I may have gotten this one wrong as I criticized Blair a bit after the draft day fiasco. Based on what he's shown already finishing 3rd in scoring and 2nd in rebounding among rookies in the preseason (he also finished 1st in FG% among rookies scoring at least 5.0 ppg), if he isn't starting over journeyman Matt Bonner before the end of 2009, something is terribly wrong.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Meaningful Scrimmage?

Normally, I'd say scrimmages are meaningless. But the blue-gold basketball game held yesterday might actually have some importance for Pitt, at least in terms of getting a feel for how players perform against real competition. Sure, they're getting plenty of that in practice, but to be on the court with actual fans in attendance had to be at least a little different.

Personally, I'd like to see March Madness back as it was briefly here in the late 90s. If top programs like North Carolina and Kentucky can do it, then we should be as well. Period.

I digress.

On this night, anyway, newcomer Chase Adams looked like the star, scoring 21 and was surprisingly accurate from 3-point range - at least for someone who was touted as a defensive player. Despite the output, though, he still sees himself as being a defense-first type of guy, which is good for Pitt:

"I definitely view myself more as a defensive player, but as of late I've been shooting pretty well," Adams said. "I've been more comfortable shooting the ball, and coach has been telling me when I have the open shot to take the open shot. I've been trying to establish myself as an offensive player as well."

In Adams, Pitt may have a real leader after the mass exodus of talent:
Long before he transferred to Pitt from a 938-student college in Louisiana, Chase Adams played for one of the top high school teams in the nation.

His Mount Saint Joseph (Md.) team had won a state-record 38 games in a row but lost to traditional power DeMatha (Md.) in the final game of the season.

The team finished ranked No. 8 in the USA Today, but Adams was inconsolable.

"He doesn't like to lose," Mount Saint Joseph coach Pat Clatchey said. "After the game, he was just like after any other time we lost. He wasn't happy."

Said Adams, "I've got a strong competitive nature, and it makes me want to win at all costs. I didn't have any intentions of losing tonight."

Not even wanting to lose in an exhibition game? A game that was so much of an exhibition that some players changed teams in the middle of the game? Sick - I like it.

Make no mistake - I don't think Pitt will be a run and gun offense. They never have been in this recent run of success and without Blair/Fields/Young, may need to be more of a defensive team than ever in order to compete. But with Adams, Gibbs, Wanamaker, Dixon, and Woodall, this team could put up more three-pointers than normal and look to score more outside than they have in the past.

One revelation that came out of the game was that Dante Taylor will play center. Call me crazy, but I think there's virtually no chance he leaves after this year for the NBA. He'd have to have a heck of a year to be considered a lock for a first-round pick. True, Pitt will need to rely heavily on underclassmen this year, but with so many guys getting minutes this year, I think he will have a hard time putting up the type of dominant numbers he would need to in order to be considered for a top pick.

No, I don't base this on the fact that he struggled in this game and had only seven shots. Just keep this in mind - Pitt has always had a tough time letting any one guy take over. Sam Young was really the only person in recent memory who could...and he had to wait until he was a junior. Streaky Carl Krauser and Chris Taft couldn't despite having maybe the most overall talent on their respective teams. A seven-foot Aaron Gray couldn't even average 15.0 ppg despite being several inches taller than many of his opponents guarding him.

Not to say that Pitt SHOULD let one player dominate on offense...and truth be told, Young may have been the closest they've had as a go-to-guy, so you can't fault the coaches in my opinion. But it will be extremely difficult for a true freshman to come in and put up the type of numbers at Pitt to warrant being a lock for a first-round pick. Pitt hasn't had a 20 point scorer and no underclassman has been able to score 16.0 ppg in this recent run of greatness. If Taylor is unable to put up dominant numbers on a team with perceivably no real stars, then I think NBA GMs would have a hard time justifying him as a first-round lock. Yes he's young and yes the potential is there, but I don't know if that's enough, seeing he wasn't a consensus top 10 or even top 15 incoming freshman nationally.

Back to the game - Ray Fittipaldo of the PG who had a live blog running for the game, has a good look at some of the stats showing just how much Pitt's departures will be missed.

The official box score shows plenty of guys had good nights including Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs totaling 36 points. I'm extremely curious to see how the rotation will end up.

And this is a little old, but Gilbert Brown is still apparently on schedule to come back at his earliest possible return date, December 20th.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Perfect Game?

Yes, I know basketball talk is starting up. But I've got to stick with football for now.

First, Pitt is moving on up in the polls.

Pitt was indeed able to reach the elusive 7-1 start they haven't seen since 1982. Not sure what if anything Pitt's detractors can pick out of this game. Pitt played well offensively, defensively and on special teams, covering the kicks and making their field goals. Paul Zeise of the PG goes back to 2001 to find a comparable win.

Pitt's offense was unstoppable, scoring on their first five drives. But USF couldn't seem to get anything going. Their dynamic QB, B.J. Daniels, couldn't seem to get anything going.

Yes, USF shot themselves in the foot with some penalties, but Pitt steamrolled over them all day.

Bob Smizik and Ron Cook are both offering praise to Pitt. And in Cook's column, South Florida linebacker Kion Wilson makes a somewhat intriguing statement when discussing who was the more impressive team they've faced - Cincinnati or Pitt:
"I would take Pitt," Wilson said when asked how the two teams match up. "Because of Pitt's diversity. They can run the ball and take time off the clock. They can pound the ball and pound the ball, which really fatigues a defense. Then, they can throw it at will."

I'm not sure how much stock I'd place in that statement. Pitt had played a nearly perfect game and it just happened to be against South Florida. How often will Pitt play that well? I'll put it this way - I don't know if Pitt has played that well against a good team in recent memory. Let's see if they can repeat it.

And speaking of strong talk, Mick Williams has changed careers. Sure to be much to the chargrin of Dave Wannstedt, he's now in the guarantee-making business:
"We're happy with 7-1," Williams said, "but when we're 11-1, that will be good for us."

Reporter: "Does that mean you'll get to 11-1?"

Williams: "We will get to it."

Somebody please tell Mick that 3 of Pitt's 4 remaining games are against top 25 teams. The competition is only getting stiffer here on out and now, being ranked is only going to put a bigger bulls-eye on your back. Even if you believe that, I'm not sure if it needs to be said.

Personally, I think South Florida coach, Jim Leavitt, got it right:
"They just whooped us," South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said in describing the Panthers' 41-14 destruction of his team before a homecoming crowd of 50,019 at Heinz Field.

All-World defensive end, Greg Selvie, also got it right:
"This shouldn't be happening,'' said USF senior defensive end George Selvie, shell-shocked after watching the Bulls give up 486 yards to the Panthers. "We didn't put any pressure on Pittsburgh. They had their way.''

I honestly don't know if Bill Stull was even knocked down all day.

Looking ahead to bowl games, it's basically BCS or bust because of the crappy bowl situation the Big East is in. I will scream about this until I'm blue in the face. The Big East needs to fix their bowl problem. Now.

Some quick hitters to close it out:

Pitt's mascot turned 100 years old.

Brian Bennett at has plenty of praise for Pitt.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Baldwin forced Wannstedt to use the word sick as a slang term. has an interesting graphic up detailing USF's late season collapses.

And Bill Stull continues his best Dan Marino impersonation.

Dion Lewis' and Bill Stull's big days helped them to stay near the top of college football's best statistically. Blog Poll Week 8

1 Texas 2
2 Florida
3 Alabama 2
4 Boise State
5 TCU 2
6 Cincinnati 1
7 Iowa 1
9 Southern Cal
10 Oregon
11 Georgia Tech 1
12 Penn State 1
13 Houston 1
14 Oklahoma State 1
15 Pittsburgh 4
16 Virginia Tech
17 Ohio State
18 Miami (Florida) 7
19 West Virginia 3
20 Notre Dame 4
21 Central Michigan
22 Utah 3
23 South Carolina
24 Mississippi
25 Arizona
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Brigham Young (#18), Kansas (#20), South Florida (#21), Michigan (#23).

Only a few comments this week:

1. Texas moved up to #1 due to their impressive win against a good team on the road and Florida and Bama sturggling a bit.
2. If anyone watched the TCU and BYU game, you saw just how good TCU is.
3. I moved Pitt up to #15 this week and after the bye and if they can get past Syracuse, could be close to a top 10 team going into the Notre Dame game.
4. No, I'm still not putting Oklahoma in.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Good, Better, Best

During the drive home from the game, I kept thinking about Pitt's insistence that they could play better.

There really are no words to describe this win. I never got to an official prediction this week, but told my wife on the way that I was going with 27-17 in favor of Pitt. I expected Pitt to win a hard fought game, but wouldn't have been all that shocked if they weren't able to get to that 7-1 mark, which has eluded them for nearly 30 years. This game was like the 'alternate universe' game of the Rutgers debacle last year. I was as incredulous of this one as I was that one.

Here's what stood out to me from the game:

- I was kind of surprised at the attendance for the game. We got over to the North Shore for lunch around 10:30 and the lots were only about half full. The announced crowd was 50,000, but that was with the presold tickets. Bob Smizik said the crowd actually there was about 40,000 and I'd tend to agree with that.

- Look what Pitt can accomplish if they play mistake-free football. Yes, Stull had an interception, but Pitt was comfortably ahead at that point. No fumbles either and only two penalties for 20 yards. And it wasn't just that they avoided mistakes - they moved the ball effectively all game, not punting even once. Here were Pitt's drives: TD, TD, TD, FG, TD, INT, FG, TD, and two turnover on downs as they were running out the clock. 7 of 8 of their drives were scoring drives. It would have been hard for ANYBODY to beat Pitt today. They were that good. How good? Well, I can't recall when Pitt played this well of an all-around game vs. a good opponent.

- How complete of a game did they play? The biggest negative was probably that Dion Lewis 'only' had 111 yards because he only played three quarters. It took 1 1/2 years, but Jonathan Baldwin finally had the breakout game that made you say 'WOW.' Yes, he's had some excellent games in the past, but 6 catches for 144 yards is an unbelievable performance and is his highest total at Pitt.

- South Florida looked downright awful. Their running game was non-existent and their passing game was even worse (90 yards passing, three INTs, and a TD with 10 seconds left in the game). One thing I will say - that team has some great athletes. Yes, they could not stop Pitt from moving the ball. But on some plays, their defenders got to the line so quickly. That team has a lot of speed on defense.

- I hope the few remaining people (yes, they are still there) who have questioned Bill Stull were watching today's game when Tino Sunseri missed two wide open throws (including one that should have been a TD). And those throws were not in pressure situations either.

- Nice to see Dan Hutchins get back on track, making both of his field goals today after his crucial miss in the Rutgers game last week.

- I was a little surprised to see Chris Burns come in at running back late in the game. There was a mention in the PG a while back that said he was changing positions.

- Finally, and I'm still a little hesitant to say this because I've not always been in this guy's corner - Dave Wannstedt may be the coach for this team. A caller to the local post-game show hit the nail on the head. He's an excellent recruiter and the coaching has gotten considerably better. And don't forget, last season was the first one in which his recruited players were seniors. How'd that work out? 9-4. This year so far? 7-1. Pitt is 16-4 in their last 20 games and Wannstedt has really developed some good players. Hiring Cignetti looks to have been a good move. Oh, and by the way, they have another very good recruiting class coming in next year. I like to call a spade a spade and the fact of the matter is that he's done as good a job as you can really ask for. As recently as the Sun Bowl, I wasn't so sure about him. But barring a total collapse, Pitt is on their way to having another very good season and has a pretty good shot at getting to 10 wins.

Depending on who loses, with a bye week and a win against Syracuse, Pitt could be knocking on the door of the top 10 heading into the Notre Dame game.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Latest Test of the Year

That's the first thing I think of when I see the matchup this weekend Vs. South Florida. It seems like literally since the beginning of the season, each game has been more important. Not just because of the roll Pitt is on, but because the opponents have almost always been tougher.

Pitt started out with Youngstown State, a I-AA team before moving onto Buffalo. Week three represented another step up against an always tricky Navy team and the following week, Pitt played its first BCS conference opponent in NC State. Yes, you can argue that the next opponent, Louisville, may not be as good as NC State. But it was a conference road game on a Friday night, so you could argue that it was more important. Pitt then played a better team in UCONN and possibly a bettter team in Rutgers. This week, it gets tougher with a visit from South Florida. It's a good thing Pitt thinks more is left in the tank, because they'll need it.

Dave Wannstedt said it after Pitt's 24-17 win against Rutgers Friday night.

So did Mick Williams, Bill Stull, Dorin Dickerson, Dion Lewis and every other player who entered the media interview room at Rutgers Stadium after the game.

"We haven't played as well as we can play. We haven't played our best football yet."

Pitt has been somewhat fortunate in getting by with some crucial mistakes. Just when you think it's going to cost them, they stepped up and fought their way out of it. But I can't help but think that the mistakes are going to cost them in another game down the road.

Head-to-head, the teams are pretty even on paper.

Unknown to Dave Wannstedt at the weekly press conference, Pitt is trying to do something it hasn't in nearly 30 years.

Pitt faces another freshman QB, albeit a redshirt, in B.J. Daniels. Make no mistake, he's pretty good.

Paul Zeise at the PG says Pitt expects a good turnout. To be honest, I do, too. Pitt is 6-1, ranked in the top 20, playing a good team, and it's homecoming. Yes it may be a little rainy on Saturday, the temperature is supposed to be fairly warm in the neighborhood of 60 degrees. The game is televised, but Pitt should get a good draw for this one.

This comment by Bulls' coach Jim Leavitt seems a bit off to me:

"They do everything off the run game," Leavitt said. "I don't see any weaknesses in their offensive line. We're looking at film trying to figure out what to do."

Yes, the running game is strong. But Pitt has shown they can pass when needed. Bill Stull continues to play mostly error-free football this year and if Pitt doesn't turn the ball over, they're dangerous.

A few quick hitters:'s Brian Bennett's latest tidbits include Dion Lewis appearing on some Heisman ballots and picking Pitt to play in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.

Jared Holley has stepped up big time.

Cam Saddler may be back this week. If he is, Pitt will have two dangerous kick returners in he and Ray Graham.

Dorin Dickerson gets some love as a nationally-recognized TE.

The Petersen family steps up again.

Some quotes from Wanny.

Mark Cuban made a guest appearance at Pitt while in town for the Cavs/Mavs exhibition game.

This is old news, but Dion Lewis got some more accolades this week. Pat Forde also has some respect for Dion.

Sunday, October 18, 2009 Blog Poll Week 7

1 Alabama 2
2 Florida 1
3 Texas 1
4 Boise State
5 Cincinnati
6 Iowa
9 Southern Cal 1
10 Oregon 7
11 Miami (Florida) 2
12 Georgia Tech 9
13 Penn State 1
14 Houston 8
15 Oklahoma State 8
16 Virginia Tech 7
17 Ohio State 6
18 Brigham Young
19 Pittsburgh 5
20 Kansas 5
21 South Florida 7
22 West Virginia
23 Michigan
24 Notre Dame 5
25 Utah
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Nebraska (#16), South Carolina (#18), Missouri (#20), Auburn (#25).

Poor Oklahoma. Close, but no cigar. I've had this mediocre team who hasn't beaten anyone this year out of my poll for quite some time. Now at 3-3, I had to chuckle just a bit when I saw that they still garnered enough votes to come in at #25 in the AP Poll over one-loss teams South Florida and Central Michigan and two-loss teams Nebraska and Notre Dame. Yes, Oklahoma lost to three good teams, but other than a mediocre Tulsa team, they've beaten nobody.

I had to move Florida down simply by default. Alabama put together a nice win on the road against a 5-2 South Carolina team, while Florida got some luck with a missed field goal and struggled to beat a not-so-good Arkansas team at home.

Pitt moves up a few spots and I've also got Cincinnati, West Virginia, and South Florida teams in the top 25. As I said at the start of the season when no Big East team was ranked, I fully expected several to be in the polls at some point - we just didn't know who they would be. The conference is better than expected and all four of those teams have a shot at being in the polls at the end of the year.

Wrapping Up Rutgers

With more top 25 losses this week, Pitt was able to get into both polls, moving to 19th and 20th in the USA Today and AP Polls respectively. They're also #5 in something called the ESPNU Fan rankings at the time of this post. I say that because five minutes ago, they were #10. Not sure exactly what that is, but if you look at the rankings, it's clear to see that it's not real indicative of the two main polls. Pitt is also #20 in the (Non-blogger) 120 poll.

After the win, Brian Bennett at give Dion Lewis another weekly helmet sticker and says Pitt might be the one to spoil Cincinnati's season. As he points out, Pitt still has games AT WVU and home against South Florida. Um, let's worry about those two games first as neither will be easy games.

Pitt's win probably meant a little extra to Dion Lewis who was from New Jersey, but wasn't recruited by Rutgers. You can't beat up Rutgers for this - schools miss on kids all the time and it's hardly an exact science. And even though Rutgers' running game could surely use the help, as Jim Calhoun once said, you can't go after every kid. Would Schiano like to have Lewis? Sure he would, but no one recruits perfectly.

Anyway, Lewis and his 180 yards were clearly the story. And Rutgers players were quick to reconigze that he is a real talent.

Sticking with Lewis, Beano Cook doesn't think he's in the top five Heisman candidates yet. Many voters have already shown they're unwilling really to give an underclassman a chance at the Heisman, let alone a freshman. It would be tough for him to even crack the top five unless Pitt would have an unbelievable one or two loss season. And even then, he still might not get much consideration. But raise your hand if at the beginning of the year, you would have even thought this would be discussed this year?

And I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks Pitt is capable of playing much better than they have so far. Paul Zeise in the PG blog also goes over Pitt's many miscues that kept a close win from potentially being a blowout, including the Jovanni Chappel missed interception near the end, which should have been a pick six. If Rutgers goes on to win that game, I think it would have been fair to place just as much blame on him as Dan Hutchins. In a close game like that, you've got to shut the door.

Here are some other links:

Rutgers, while acknowledging the conference crown has probably been lost, was pleased with their effort. A Bergen Record columnist thinks it might be time to change the goals for the season.

Dom DeCicco was able to get a small measure of revenge from his early miscue.

Gene Collier in the PG has a somewhat interesting stat:

When freshman Dion Lewis took one 58 yards around right end for a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter, it did a lot more than fulfill one quirky requirement of this still very promising Panthers autumn -- Pitt needs either a 100-yard game from Lewis or a 100-yard game from wideout Jonathan Baldwin to secure a victory; the only time it got neither it absorbed its only loss.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Averting Disaster #2

Wow, what a nightmare. I'm not even sure where to begin with this but I wanted to post a recap while the game was still fairly fresh in my mind.

- I don't say this to be a jerk, but Rutgers wasn't very good tonight. It seemed like when Pitt really focused, they had control of the game. They couldn't stop Pitt from moving down the field. Taking out the last drive where Pitt simply kneeled to end the game, 7 of Pitt's 10 drives were at least 35 yards long or resulted in scores. But two lost fumbles, two missed FGs, and a blocked kick kept the game close. Conversely, their offense had lots of problems. Their running game was disastrous (36 yards) and while they did pass for some yards, they had a real problem moving the ball for sustained drives. Here were Rutgers' possessions: Fumble recovery and 11 yards for a TD, punt, interception, 3 and out, 3 and out, long drive for FG, punt, 27 yards and missed FG, 3 and out, 49 yards for TD, and a turnover on downs. They really only moved the ball well twice all game.

- Stull was terrifyingly average. Another game without an INT (though he did have the very costly fumble) and overall, a decent game. Yes, he had the woefully inaccurate throws, but he didn't kill the team. Definitely more of a game manager tonight, but that was fine.

- Dion Lewis is an absolute monster. Even though it seems incredulous at someone who is for now, the NATION'S LEADING RUSHER, I find myself more and more impressed with him each week. Look, there's barely a chance he'll even sniff the Heisman this year, but man, what numbers so far. 180 yards and 2 TDs? The funny thing is, I'm more impressed with the way he carried the offense at the end of the game that I am at his overall numbers. He held onto the ball and moved the chains to eat up clock and made a great rushing night even better.

- Tom Savage will be a very good quarterback. He's already pretty good as a true freshman and has a chance to be great. I was really amazed at his poise during the whole game even though he did make some mistakes. He easily could have had more than one INT, but he didn't play all that bad against a good defense. Pitt had him in their grasp several times and couldn't get the sack. He's bigger than you think and I respect him for not just going down to avoid a fumble or whatever. He was always trying to make a play.

- I don't really know how to address the Dan Hutchins issue. Two missed FGs that were both within his range is kind of scary. The fact that he missed the short FG at the end (and it wasn't even that close) was a killer. I hope there aren't any lingering issues with this because Pitt won't always be able to escape those types of mistakes. No, had they lost, it wouldn't have been all his fault. But you can't miss that kick. Period.

- I can't tell you how loud I screamed on that punt return where Dom DeCicco allowed the ball to hit him. The entire time BEFORE the kick, I was just hoping they would get out of the way. We couldn't allow any dumb mistakes that close to the goal line and of course, one was made. You've got to be more aware there.

- THE DUMB PENALTIES HAVE GOT TO STOP. Way too many dumb mistakes. John Malecki pushing the Rutgers player well after the play was over is inexcusable. That's the type of thing that should get you temporarily yanked from a game. No way that crap should be tolerated.

- Oh, and that Jonathan Baldwin catch? Ridiculous. It was surprisingly his only catch, but it was huge. Rutgers really seemed to key in on him and covered him pretty well. I was disappointed not to see more deep attempts to him, but I think part of it was probably due to the coverage.

- Ray Graham only had two carries tonight, and I hate to say it, but despite what he's shown so far, he may be getting phased out just because Lewis has been playing out of his mind. It was nice to see him on kickoff returns, though. And Henry Hynoski was a bulldozer tonight after that embarrassing goal line situation last week.

- Good win, good win, good win. That's what I'm just going to keep telling myself despite all the mistakes. And how bad does that NC State loss taste now? A 7-0 record would put them likely in the top ten by now and Lewis could REALLY be gaining Heisman steam...even though there's no way he'd win it because he's a freshman.

It only gets harder from here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Final Rutgers Analysis

So it's the day before the Rutgers game. All week, there's been talk about important topics in the media...the play of Rutgers freshman Tom Savage, Pitt running back Dion Lewis...Sweet Caroline.

Seriously, though. My feelings have been already discussed about this dopey song. But I don't know how anyone could attribute this song to Pitt's comeback win this past weekend. Sure, the fans may enjoy it. But I have a hard time believing Pitt's defense was even slightly motivated to play better because of it. And if they were, then there's a serious coaching issue. Over/under on the number of games Pitt plays until they bring Neil in to sing it live? I'll go with ten, saying it will happen sometime next year.

I wouldn't place too much stock in Rutgers' rushing defense since the only time they've played a quality team (Cincinnati), they gave up 160+ yards. Pitt also did just fine against another good defense last week in UCONN. If the flow of the game doesn't dictate that Pitt needs to throw every down to catch up, I would expect the running game to do well as they have all season. I will say this though - I don't think Lewis and Graham will run absolutely roughshod as they have most of this season.

Pitt's passing game could also be facing the most pressure they've faced all season. This is where more of my concern lies. Stull has been able to play the role of an actual quarterback this year and not just a game manager. But with the different defensive looks Rutgers is sure to provide, I'd quite honestly take a lesser, but mistake-free game from him. The offensive line is really going to have to be on their game as well as the running backs/fullbacks that will need to pick up rushers in passing situations where they're staying at home.

Oh, and if there wasn't enough to worry about, there's that embarrassing game from last year where the secondary was torched. Yes, Rutgers is playing with a freshman quarterback. But he looks to be a good one and is yet to throw an interception all year. That, friends, is how you win games - mistake-free football.

Make no mistake, though. Even though the stories this week have understandably focused on what Rutgers can do, Pitt can do a few things of its own. For starters, Dion Lewis is only 8 yards away from being the top rusher in all of college football. Jonathan Baldwin, if he gets the chance, can play like one of the top wide receivers in the country. And Bill Stull has one of the top five passer ratings in the country. Oh yeah, the defense (at least the front four and linebackers) can play pretty well, too. Pitt's keys to win are simple if you ask me:

1. Offensive line, offensive line, offensive line. If they block well as they have all season, and Bill Stull has time, his mistakes have been limited. And if they force Rutgers to respect the pass, the running game will have an honest chance.

2. Get Baldwin the ball. This goes with #1. Again, as last week, I think Pitt needs to take its shots deep if only for the fact that Baldwin and Dickerson have shown they can come up with the ball more times than not if the throw is accurate.

3. Get Rutgers QB Tom Savage to make bad plays. This may seem difficult because he's been so poised thus far. But if Pitt can get a turnover or two, it will go a long way.

4. Keep the defense off of the field. The defense has looked tired at points when Pitt's offense has stalled this season. Pitt needs to sustain drives (even if they don't score) and get the defense some rest.

5. Score touchdowns, not field goals. No TDs on four trips inside the ten as they had last week is not good enough. Yes, I know the last drive was more about running out the clock, but you get the point. You've got to punch it in and capitalize.

Now, I really don't want to make a prediction here...mostly for the fact that I hate picking against Pitt and I think there's a strong chance they could lose this game if they turn the ball over. But I'm also encouraged by the fact that Pitt has already experienced a Friday night game on the road this year.

Brian Bennett and calls for a narrow Pitt win, so I will too. I got Pitt's total of 24 points right last weekend - here's the call:

Pitt 27 - Rutgers 20

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Non-Rutgers Stuff

Lots of links appropriately titled.

Tickets to the Pitt/Duquesne basketball game on December 2nd are on sale this Friday. Or, if like me, you're on Ticketmaster's mailing list, you had the opportunity to get them on a pre-sale today. Like I said earlier, I actually would have preferred this game to be played at Duquesne again. The last game was unbelievably cool with the small-gym atmosphere. But this is a good opportunity for basketball fans who normally have a hard time getting to see Pitt to go to a game. Tickets are also affordable - I think some were in the $10-$15 range.

As you've probably heard by now, the Pitt/South Florida homecoming game is at noon. Yuck. Way to ruin homecoming weekend for out of town fans (which I am not), Pitt. Many people in from out of town will probably be having a long night Friday night. Bad move if it could have been avoided.

More bowl propoganda. I hope I'm not the only one not buying this nonsense about the Big East having a solid bowl lineup. At least the commish is happy:

"We are very pleased to continue our relationship with the Meineke Car Care Bowl," Marinatto said.

"The people at Raycom Sports have always put on a first-class event and the Big East is proud to be a partner. Our schools and their fans have had great experiences in Charlotte."

Yeah, because being in Charlotte, in December, for a bad bowl is what the fans want. What a load of crap. I remember this one time, in Charlotte...

Seems to me that the PG is a tad early for a basketball preview, but what the heck.

Speaking of previews, here's another one from for Insider subscribers.

The opener is just one month away...

Meanwhile, the women's team is hosting a Basketball 101 event complete with a tour, drills, food, and a silent auction. Looks like reservations may be required.

And in the NBA, DeJuan Blair leads ALL rookies in scoring with 17.7 ppg. Sam Young is fifth. Overrated stick figure Hasheem Thabeet? 4.2 ppg.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rutgers Week - Q&A With Bleed Scarlet

I was fortunate to hold a brief Q&A with Jon over at Bleed Scarlet on the upcomning game this Friday with Rutgers. Below are his answers to my questions. Please visit his site, Bleed Scarlet, to view my answers to his questions.

1. Tom Savage was regarded as one of the top incoming recruits in the Big East this year. He's yet to throw an interception so far this year. What else can you tell us about him? Has he met/exceeded fan expectations?

It's hard to talk about Savage without contrasting him with the competition at QB. Jabu Lovelace is only used in option packages. Dom Natale is accurate and can scramble a little, but he has a weak arm, and makes poor decisions. His turnover meltdown turned the opener with Cincinnati into a blowout. Natale could move the ball a little, but at this point, the staff is so scared of him throwing a pick that they don't trust him to throw the ball at all.

Tom Savage is the team's best option at the moment. He has good arm strength, and as you noted, has managed not to turn the ball over to this point. He helps merely in virtue of teams respecting his arm to the point where they're no longer crowding the LOS, as they do with Natale.

Has he met expectations? Some fans see the press clippings and expect him to be John Elway from day one. I'm satisfied that he hasn't been a complete disaster as a true freshman. Savage has mostly been used as a game manager, with the occasional deep strike to Tim Brown, or a nice run every so often. They're trying to protect him - lots of handoffs, and WR screens from the Shotgun. He's shown flashes, showing some poise, and fits of inconsistency. He is far ahead of where Mike Teel was at this point in their careers.

2. Rutgers came out of the gate losing to the conference favorite to date, Cincinnati. Their level of competition hasn't been all that great since that game, but they've responded with four wins. Do fans still think that the conference championship is still a real possibility this year after that first game? How have expectations changed since starting 0-1, now being 4-1?

I think most fans are cautiously optimistic, although there was a lot of knee-jerk anger after the loss in the opener. Because of the recent schedule, it's hard exactly to get a handle on how the team has improved over the past month. I still see the Big East as wide open, and Rutgers as having just as much a chance as any team to finish near the top of the conference. I expected Cincinnati to be the best team in the Big East this year, and for Rutgers to finish third, and I'm going to stick with that for the moment.

My main reason for optimism is how exactly Cincy won the opener. Dom Natale had an epic meltdown under center, and Cincinnati's gameplan took our defense completely out of its element. The strength is with the front seven, and an aggressive dose of blitzes to hit the QB, and speed up his throws. They need to be attacking and moving forward. It's not that the pass rush played poorly in the opener; they didn't even have a chance. Cincy's offense was spreading out, Pike took three step drops, and quickly released the ball to whichever receiver receiver beat the zone coverage.. I don't see anyone else on the schedule with the personnel or schemes to mirror that strategy.

That's not to say everything looks great. The OL and secondary have shown improvement, but are still works in progress. RU hasn't found a third receiver to replace the injured Mason Robinson (sort of our version of Dickerson, a big time talent who has yet to stick at a position). Certain units still look out of sync at times, and need to develop better chemistry. It's a young team, and they're still meshing. The game on Friday will be a useful barometer for accessing just exactly where everything is at by this point.

3. The schedule really broke well for Rutgers this year as they get many of the top conference teams at home. What do you see left as their toughest remaining game as we look at what teams have done to this point? And if you had to make a gut prediction for a final record, what would it be?

I'm not sure what to expect from West Virginia going forward, but the Mountaineers have had RU's number in recent memory, and they have been the best program in the Big East as of late. Until proven otherwise, the road to the BIg East championship still goes through Morgantown. From top to bottom, Pittsburgh does have by far the best roster in the conference. I'm in awe of Jonathan Baldwin. Him and Michael Floyd are my two favorite receivers to watch in the country. I always find myself watching Pitt games and cursing the team for not getting Baldwin the ball more. Have to give my props to Romeus too.

Rutgers will obviously beat Army, and I'm not expecting much trouble from road dates at Syracuse or Louisville. Everything else is a tossup, so I expect to finish between 8 to 10 wins, which is mostly an indictment of how bad the team's OOC schedule was this year.

4. Senior wideout Tim Brown wasn't really seen as an All-Conference performer this year and looks to have been overlooked. His production has already almost exceeded last year's. Was Rutgers expecting this type of output from him or was it completely unexpected?

If you look at his statistics from the past few years, Brown was fairly productive as a slot receiver. He more than earned a starting job this year, although I was concerned about how his small frame would hold up taking more hits. Part of his high yardage total owes to the weak schedule, but Brown is good. Not in the same neighborhood of Baldwin or Kenny Britt, but he's a lot better than Tiquan Underwood. Brown will drop a ball here or there, but makes up for it with his explosive speed. He also shows surprising leaping ability for such a little guy.

Now, if only another young receiver would step up besides Mohamed Sanu...

5. After Greg Schiano's 11-2 season in 2006, the team has posted two more solid seasons of 8-5. Even though Rutgers has now strung together four consecutive winning seasons, do the local fanbase/media feel that they've garnered more national attention or do they think it is going to take a few more similar years before the program is recognized nationally?

The team's profile is steadily increasing, but that can be a double edged sword, especially in the New York City/New Jersey marget. Sometimes being under the spotlight can magnify wrinkles too. The Rutgers football program seems to be in that generally solid, occasionally threatening, top 40 range, and that's about where they deserve to be before they can start showing more consistency. Forget years; it takes decades to get true national recognition. That isn't going to happen overnight. As long as the team keeps showing steady progress, as long as fan support keeps improving, that's the way to sustain manageable and realistic growth.

Monday, October 12, 2009 Blog Poll Week 7

I just realized that I had somewhat of a blunder, ranking a Cal team that had lost two in a row last week. I've corrected the error in time for this week's poll, which is below.

I still am not buying Oklahoma. Sorry. They haven't beaten anyone yet and are 3-2 when there are still a lot of one-loss teams. Again, that's the problem with preseason polls. Voters have preconceived notions in believing that they can only drop a highly touted team so far when they lose. Why should a 3-2 Oklahoma team that lost to a team (BYU) that was steamrolled by a team (Florida State) be ranked higher than a 5-0 South Florida team that beat that same team (Florida State)? I'm aware that you can't use 'bread crumb' trails in determining rankings. But Oklahoma has beaten absolutely nobody and there is no real justification for ranking them higher at this point in the season, which voters in both of the main polls have done.

I also hesitantly put Pitt back in the top 25. There were a lot of teams close to each other who have played similar types of schedules so I found space for Pitt because they had one more win than some teams out there. When it comes down to the bottom of the polls, a lot of teams look the same. If their schedules aren't vastly different, 5-1 is better than 4-1.

I still have LSU ahead of some other teams such as Virginia Tech, USC, and OSU based on the fact that they have the 'best' loss according to my poll, which was against #1 Florida. They also have solid wins on the road against Washington (who, by the way, beat USC) and Georgia. Again, another problem I have with poll voters is penalizing a team for losing later than another team - even if the strength of that loss is better than said team.

Lastly, not to jinx Boise State or anything, but I'm real interested in seeing how things will play out for them. They got up into the upper tier of the poll early enough this season and if a few of those teams in front of them end up losing, will they be playing for a national championship? I still don't know if voters are ready to give them the nod over, say a one-loss Florida or one-loss Texas team.

1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Alabama
4 Boise State
5 Cincinnati
6 Iowa 2
8 LSU 2
9 Virginia Tech 1
10 Southern Cal 1
11 Ohio State 1
12 Penn State 1
13 Miami (Florida) 1
14 South Florida 1
15 Kansas 1
16 Nebraska 3
17 Oregon 4
18 South Carolina 5
19 Notre Dame
20 Missouri 3
21 Georgia Tech
22 Houston
23 Oklahoma State
24 Pittsburgh
25 Auburn 16
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Wisconsin (#18), Mississippi (#20), California (#22), Stanford (#24), Michigan (#25).

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Win of a Different Variety

This one was a little different. For starters it was the largest comeback Pitt has had since Dave Wannstedt became the coach.

I was a little surprsied to see that if only for the fact that 15 points isn't really all that much.

Two Post-Gazette guys have remarkably different viewpoints. Bob Smizik has a pessimistic viewpoint on Pitt's fast start. However, I think he summed it up correctly:

It was a win and the record looks good, but at home against an opponent that is average, at best, it was not impressive. The Panthers will have to get better if they expect to win more than their share the remainder of the way.

Yes, UCONN was 3-1. Yes, they have a pretty good defense. But at home, as a potential conference champion, it was really a game Pitt should win. And make no mistake, while a win is nice, Pitt WILL need to play better to beat the likes of West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati.

Ron Cook on the other hand uses Pitt's win to talk about the character of the team - and its fans:

It's hard to knock the many fans who left Heinz Field in disgust late in the third quarter yesterday when Connecticut was spanking Pitt by 15 points. The Panthers had broken their hearts too many times on the North Side lawn since the stadium opened in 2001. Home-field advantage? What home-field advantage? Pitt was a pedestrian 35-18 in the facility going into the game, a downright pathetic 19-15 against opponents from BCS conferences. Clearly, this had the feel of another of those rotten days, another of those crushing defeats.

Of course, you can't blame those fans for bailing.

As I noted earlier, in my section there were some fans that left. I didn't get a good look at the stadium to see how many others actually did - I was a bit baffled at the interception and subsequent return instead. But I will say by the time the game ended it was easy to see, a good number of people had left. Again, it was only 15 points and only in the third quarter. I didn't really understand why someone would leave the game at that point.

Joe Starkey in the Trib also plays the 'character' card:

Credit the players' character, more than anything, for the comeback. On both sides of the ball, Pitt players rebounded from potentially devastating plays to make critical ones.

You could tell that the players were tired after this one.

The defense played a bit part in the comeback, limiting UCONN to zero points after the 79-yard touchdown early in the 3rd quarter.

Two of Brian Bennett's five helmet stickers go to Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin and he discusses the good and bad of a still somewhat unknown Pitt team.

And while he probably didn't deserve one of those helmet stickers, kicker Dan Hutchins played no small role in that he was 3-3 in field goals and kicked the game winner. He might have a shot at conference Special Teams Player of the Week, though.

Next up - get ready for another Friday night game in Rutgers. I'll be doing a Q&A with Jon over at Bleed Scarlet this week - look for it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Averting Disaster

Okay, so would it really have qualified as a disaster if Pitt lost? If they had been thoroughly outplayed, I would say maybe not. But Pitt really was the better team on the field today. Let's start by going over my keys for the game:

1. UCONN really didn't seem all that bothered in their first true road test until Pitt began their comeback. When Pitt got behind by 15, the defense really shut UCONN down the rest of the game.

2. The carries weren't split all that equally between Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. I was kind of surprised by that given that both backs had the same YPC (6.6) and during the pre-game chat with Dave Wannstedt, he basically said we'd be seeing a healthy dose of Graham. Lewis carried 24 times and Graham 8. However, the result was just fine as they racked up 200+ yards. Lewis had another huge game with 158 yards and could have had more if one of his long runs (about 50-60 yards) weren't wiped out by a penalty. Part of me thinks that Lewis had the bulk of the carries after Pitt got behind because Wannstedt was afraid Graham would turn the ball over. Plus, Lewis had shown the ability to break longer runs (even though many observers said the opposite during training camp).

3. Bill Stull did indeed have some slip-ups in this game. But he really bounced back nicely to make some nice passes, including the key 2-point conversion. The two picks were really bad and people in my section were calling for Tino Sunseri, which would have been the wrong move. His deep ball has been significantly improved and he had another nice one to Dickerson late in the game for a TD.

4. Pitt was able to get to the quarterback while UCONN could not. The official stats aren't out yet, but Pitt had two forced fumbles (which I think were both fumbled by UCONN's QB). They had several hurries and got to the QB a lot. UCONN conversely pressured Stull very little.

5. Dan Hutchins did in fact get to kick a field goal - three in fact. A lot of people sitting around me were calling for Pitt to go for it early in the game when Pitt kicked their first field goal, a 42-yarder. I was actually glad to see them kick it. Hutchins to that point had only one field goal on the year and it was under 30 yards. It was good to see him get in there in a somewhat pressure situation to get Pitt on the board. I also think Wannstedt didn't want to come away with nothing early in the game as Pitt did in the Louisville game when they went for it on 4th and 5.
EDIT: Hutchins had four field goals coming in, not one. I incorrectly read a stats page that said he had four coming in as four after this game. It was still nice to see as it was his only field goal of more than 40 yards this season.

6. The secondary looked decent, I suppose. There was of course the 79-yarder and UCONN only ended up with 197 yards passing. But there was a lot of short to mid-range passes where Pitt just wasn't playing close enough to the receivers. They did make some nice plays, but weren't lights out. It seems like we might have to expect the big pass play will be there every game, but they were lights out when Pitt began the comeback.

7. Don't remember how many times Jonathan Baldwin was targeted deep. They seemed to focus on the little screens again, which did okay. Baldwin ended up with 8 passes and 104 yards - I'd say probably 3-4 of those catches were of the screen variety. No long catches, but a solid day he was for him. Receivers have a hard time winning the award, but I think he could be considered a long-shot for the Heisman next year if they can manage to get him the ball.

Other things about the game:

- Pitt had serious red zone issues - one interception, and twice when they got inside the five, they had to settle for chip shot field goals. You've got to capitalize there. People, including myself, have wondered why they don't go to the fade more often, but if you saw Stull's throw today, that should answer the questions. For some reason, they just have a hard time connecting on that pass - it might be best to let it go.

- That last drive had me nervous. Particularly when they got down to 3rd and 1 and tried a QB sneak. I would have given Hynoski the ball again, but it worked out. With Stull having the ball, I was afraid of a fumble.

- For the first time this year, I was seriously questioning a lot of the offensive playcalling. The fade to Baldwin on 3rd down, too many rushing plays on 2nd down leaving them a lot of 3rd downs (Pitt had 15 compared to UCONN's 9), the QB sneak near the end of the game when we just needed to hold onto the ball. Again, it worked out but there were a lot of calls I didn't agree with.

- I didn't see Nate Bynam's personal foul on Lewis' long run, but man, what a killer. Not sure if it was hands to the face or whatever, but even from my seats in the uppers, you could see Wannstedt was not happy. You can only say it so many times without it getting old, but these penalties have to stop.

- Stull could easily have had three picks today - he went to throw the ball away on an attempt, throwing it at a defender's foot, but left it a little high.

- I actually saw a decent amount of people leaving after Stull's 2nd pick to give Pitt a 15 point deficit. A bit early considering it was still the 3rd quarter.

A good win for Pitt. This got them to 2-0 in the conference and they showed they can come back and win against a good team. Next week's game against Rutgers on the road will be another test.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Keys for Tomorrow

Here are a few keys or things to look for tomorrow:

1. This is UCONN's first true road test of the year. That should give Pitt at least a small advantage.

2. It will be interesting to see how the carries are split up between Dion Lewis and Ray Graham. I expect Dion Lewis to still get the most carries, but if Ray Graham holds onto the ball, I think he'll see his fair share. You would think this should benefit Pitt as each guy will be doing his best to stay on the field.

3. Can Bill Stull continue his torrid pace? Throughout the whole season, not likely. But let's see what he does tomorrow. I'm also interested in seeing how the crowd will treat him if he starts slowly. Yes, he deserves unquestioned support based on how he's played all season, but the fans sometimes aren't the brightest. I can understand the booing in the first game, but it should take a catastrophic performance tomorrow to hear any boos.

4. Can the defense keep the pressure on and get to the QB? Similarly, will UCONN be able to as well? Both teams rank in the top five in the country in sacks (Cincinnati's also in the top five). Which team will be able to get to the QB?

5. Will Dan Hutchins get to kick a field goal? I have to admit I was surprised that Pitt didn't attempt one in the first quarter last week on their first drive. Then I heard Dave Wannstedt say that Hutchins tops out at about 45 yards. That's kind of scary and if Wannstedt says it's 45, I wouldn't be surprised if it's closer to 40. I know the other kicker could be brought in for longer distances, but he hasn't played all year and I'd hate to see him come in during a clutch situation without having kicked in a game all year.

6. How will the secondary respond? Last week, they played pretty well - let's see if they can duplicate that.

7. How many deep looks will Baldwin get? It's clear that if the ball is thrown anywhere near him, he has a solid chance at pulling the ball down. If the flow of the game dictates it, I'd like to see Pitt go deep to him at least three times.

This really is a must-win for Pitt in my eyes. They still have what are probably the three toughest conference tests - Cincinnati, South Florida, West Virginia - on their schedule along with Notre Dame. I think Pitt really needs to get to ten wins this season, and they could do that with a 9-3 record in the regular season and a bowl win. Pitt could easily have two losses out of that group, so they really need to beat the UCONNs and Rutgers of the world (though that Rutgers road game probably will be no picnic) if it wants to get to 10 wins.

Prediction: Pitt 24 - UCONN 13

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Barrel 'O Links

Lots of non-Louisville game stuff to mention that happened over the past week or so:

Some ESPN encyclopedia fails to rank Pitt's basketball program in the top ten in the 2000s. Now I'm not going to debate the top 25 of all-time list (in which UCLA isn't even #1, Duke is somehow 47 spots above UCONN and Pitt ranks 60th behind powerhouses such as Nebraska and Iowa State), which is nonsense in itself. And I'm certainly not going to debate teams that have won chapmionships this decade that are in the top ten - UNC, Michigan State, Duke, UCONN, Kansas and Florida. But I WILL say that over the past nine years, Pitt matches up very favorably against the other teams ranked that have not won titles - Kentucky, Illinois, Arizona, and Texas. The latter three all made at least one Final Four, but if that's the measuring stick, then how does UCLA (who made at least two if my memory serves me correct) get left out?

*Stepping off of my soapbox*

Pitt somehow is still managing to land QB recruits - the latest is a fairly low-rated one - Mark Myers out of Cleveland. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Next year, Pitt will have five QBs (Bostick, Sunseri, Gray, Gonzalez, and Myers) who all have at least two years of eligibility. Bostick will have two and the other four will have at least three. I'm thinking someone is in for a position change...shhhh, don't tell them that.

Joe Starkey of the Trib has an excellent article on Chris Taft and his life after injury. Glad to hear he's doing well. It's hard to fault his logic for coming out early, but there's no way he was ready.

Bill Stull's performance of 242 yards passing with 3 TDs nets him Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Jamie Dixon deals with yet another loss of a family memberand also holds the first-ever Basketball Fan-Fest and Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair.

With so many one-loss teams, a 4-1 start isn't enough to get Pitt more than a few votes in each poll.

More spin about how the new Bowl Game at Yankee Stadium is a real coup for the Big East. Sure it is.

Sunday, October 4, 2009


That might be the best way to sum up a tidy win. Pitt looked particularly sharp in the 2nd half - something that had been missing. The defense pitched a shutout, led by stellar defensive line play, and Bill Stull was master of the deep ball.

Speaking of Stull, he's been making most of us doubters, including Ron Cook of the PG, eat our words:

Stull has played well enough for Pitt to be 5-0 and ranked in the top 25 instead of 4-1 and -- to this point -- not even an afterthought in the minds of the AP poll voters. He has thrown 11 touchdown passes and just one interception.

I wish I would have predicted that before the season.

I feel a bit foolish about now for thinking Stull was going to be Pitt's weak link. Not that I was alone. Even Wannstedt gave him a lukewarm endorsement before the season.

How much fun Stull must be having proving all of us wrong. He doesn't look at all like the quarterback who was so bad in that Sun Bowl fiasco.

I'm more than happy to admit I had this one wrong. While I wasn't sure that Stull would flounder this year, I was more than happy to give someone else a shot at the beginning of the season.

Mistakes got the better part of Pitt in the first half, but they came back to play a strong 2nd half.

"At the half, we knew we really made too many mistakes to score points," Pitt quarterback Bill Stull said. "But we cleaned some things up and took some shots and made the two big plays to sort of take control of the game a little. It was nice to finish this one after the way things went last week."

Last week? Oh yeah, almost forgot - don't remind me. This is one of the things Pitt does to us diehards. They can lose games they should win and win games they should lose. Right now, truth be told, Pitt should be 5-0. A 14-point lead late in the third quarter of a game should net you a win. But alas, this is Pitt. Not that I want to be too hard on them, but it is frustrating when you consider they could realistically be a top-15 team had they won that game.

And by the way, looks like NC State's quarterback, Russell Wilson ended his interception streak one week late.

As I alluded to yesterday, Bob Smizik points out that Stull is indeed one of the top passers in the country statistically- at least in terms of passer rating:

NCAA statistics posted this morning on its web site show Stull to be fifth in the nation in passer rating at 167.49. He has completed 77 of 116 passes for 988 yards. He’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and one interception.

If he keeps this up, Pitt could be looking at a 10-win season...or better.

Meanwhile, down in Louisville, one columnist goes so far to say that this was their program's worst home conference loss.

And Louisville just a 'couple of plays away?'

"We're just a couple of plays away," Froman said. "We had a good game plan. We knew what they were going to do. We just didn't execute."

Not sure I buy that one. 35-28? Sure. 35-21? Maybe. But you can't score zero points in the 2nd half of a 25-point loss and proclaim it was pretty close.

Pitt didn't get through the game completely unscathed. There were some injuries.

Meanwhile, Brian Bennett at calls Cincy and South Florida the class of the conference so far. Hard to argue with that.

It appears my pleas did some good - the Pitt/UCONN game next week has a 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

In a somewhat unrelated note, the Big East announced its partnership for a new bowl game. Yep, exactly where I want to be in December - New York City. What a joke.

And some personalities make early projections for bowl games, putting Pitt in the oh so interesting International Bowl or the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Big East is really tied into some bad bowls. With the Champs Sports Bowl not until next year, it really is BCS or bust in my opinion. Blog Poll Week 6

More changes this week - a few notes:

- Oklahoma proved they're not as good as everyone thinks. While the main polls still have them ranked, at 2-2 having beaten nobody, I'll pass.

- I essentially have two groupings of undefeated teams. The first group has all beaten at least one quality team. I've placed these teams ahead of one-loss teams such as USC, OSU, VT, and PSU. After the quality one-loss teams, I have a second group of undefeated teams who are without a very strong win as of yet.

- No, I couldn' rank Pitt again. Too many teams have only one loss with better wins. Beating UCONN to get to 5-1 might be enough, though.

1 Florida
2 Texas
3 Alabama
4 Boise State
5 Cincinnati 1
6 LSU 1
7 TCU 1
8 Iowa 1
9 Auburn
10 Virginia Tech
11 Southern Cal
12 Ohio State
13 Penn State
14 Miami (Florida) 5
15 South Florida 1
16 Kansas 1
17 Missouri
18 Wisconsin
19 Nebraska 2
20 Mississippi 2
21 Oregon 2
22 California 2
23 South Carolina
24 Stanford
25 Michigan 11
Last week's ballot

Dropped Out: Houston (#7), UCLA (#18), Oklahoma (#20), Oklahoma State (#25).