Saturday, September 25, 2010

New Site

"We've moved"

I'm proud to announce that Cardiac Hill has officially joined the SB Nation network. You can view the new site at

There will be no further posts on this site so head on over there.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jeremiah Bryson To Pitt

Pitt received its 18th verbal commitment overall and second running back commitment today from Jeremiah Bryson out of Tennessee. Bryson is a two-star recruit as rated by Scout and a three-star as rated by Rivals.

Bryson reportedly had offers from eight schools including Pitt, North Carolina, Maryland, Illinois, and others.

Linebackers coach Bernard Clark, who played in college down south at Miami, was the recruiter.

The big story on Bryson is that he's trying to rebound after an amazing freshman year, when he rushed for nearly 1,300 yards and had 17 touchdowns. We all know message board fodder needs to be taken with a heaping tablespoon of salt, but this Tennessee Vols' board lit up after his freshman year and four touchdown/170 yard performance in the state championship game. He 'only' had about 1,450 yards in his sophomore and junior season combined, failing to reach 1,000 yards in each. Injuries have limited him in the passt a bit over that time.

Since then, he's been focusing on being more of a straight forward runner instead of going side to side:
Jeremiah Bryson's teammates have made a request of the Smyrna standout senior.

They want the old Bryson — the one who ran for nearly 1,300 yards as a freshman and was a key cog in Smyrna's second Class 5A state championship.

And that starts with his running style.

"My teammates have talked about it," Bryson said. "They want to see the Jeremiah from my freshman year. My sophomore and junior year I thought I could run outside. I'm trying to take it back to my old self. Instead of going east and west I want to go more north and south."
Looks like he's doing just that so far this season as he's averaging about 100 yards per game, his highest total over his career. In his last game, he had 125 yards and two touchdowns. He also is doubling as a defensive back this year.

I'm not saying that Pitt is desperate for running backs at this point. They've got Ray Graham for at least one more year next season and Jameel Poteat is a four-star recruit coming in next season as well. But this looks like a pretty good get for someone rated so low. The rating (particularly the two-star) is most assuredly due to the somewhat down seasons he had as a sophomore and junior. But if he gets back up to over 1,000 yards this season, that rating will likely improve.

Women's Basketball Schedule Includes Home Games Vs. UCONN and Duke

The Pitt women's basketball team schedule has been released and it's highlighted by home games against UCONN and Duke. Pitt is also participating in the Las Vegas Hoops Classic and will play two games, facing Texas Tech and Texas Arlington.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Previewing Miami

I don't know why...don't ask. But I've had a real problem getting up for this game. Maybe it's because my expectations are lowered since the Utah game. The more and more I think about this game, the more I can't help looking ahead to Pitt's real season - the Big East schedule. If Pitt were undefeated and in the top ten, I'd feel much differently.

But any way you look at it, it's still a game of significance.

For starters, the game will have pre- and post-game shows on the new Pitt network.

Okay, so these schools do have some history including the epic 1997 game:
The Panthers and Hurricanes, of course, used to be Big East brothers before Miami bolted for the ACC. Pitt only beat the the Hurricanes once during their Big East days, also on a Thursday night in 1997.
I was at that game as a student and remember it being a pretty big deal around campus. Because the game was on a Thursday, I think total attendance in classes that Friday campus-wide was somewhere in the dozens. Even though Miami wasn't the Miami of old, they were still ranked somewhere around #17 or #18 and it was considered a big win.

Then of course, there's the history between the two coaches:
Even deeper than that, though, is the connection between the two head coaches. Pittsburgh's Dave Wannstedt helped recruit Miami coach Randy Shannon out of high school when he was the Hurricanes' defensive coordinator under Jimmy Johnson. Wannstedt then went on to the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, which drafted Shannon in the final round.
Later, when he became coach of the Miami Dolphins, Wannstedt promoted Shannon on his staff. He also helped him land the defensive coordinator job with the Hurricanes from there.

And then there's Pitt linebackers coach Bernard Clark, who played at the U - he'd like to see his linebackers step up:
His main concern is production and big plays. The linebackers have yet to produce a sack or a tackle for loss.

"I've been their worst critic, probably harder on them than they are on themselves," Clark said. "We have a lot more to go, they've played good, I'll say, but not to the level we think they should play at but each week they are getting better. I thought from the Utah game to the New Hampshire game, they got better."
So Pitt and Miami are familiar with each other. What else?

Well, speaking of linebackers, Coach Wannstedt says Dan Mason may not play. At all:
Sophomore middle linebacker Dan Mason, demoted to second team last week, may not play against Miami, according to coach Dave Wannstedt. Max Gruder is starting at middle linebacker, and Tristan Roberts will make his first career start at weak-side linebacker. Greg Williams will move to strong-side linebacker. When asked how the Panthers will use Mason, who was in Jason Douglas' car during a recent arrest, Wannstedt said, barring an injury or some other factor, "I don't know if we will. As of right now he is not on the depth chart as a starter, and he's not starting on any special teams," Wannstedt said.
Personally, because of his role in the Jason Douglas/DUI incident, I'm not sure he should be playing. But since he's not suspended, I'd be surprised if he didn't play at all. I think he sees some time, even if it's only limited.

Dave Wannstedt also covered a lot of ground in his press conference. Out of everything, this is what may have stuck out the most to me:

“He’s got it all. The second play of the game, if he’s forced to play, he’s capable of doing that. We don’t have anything different for Dion (Lewis) than we do for Ray. They’re both interchangeable.”
Um, interchangeable? Really? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Funny what a difference two games can make. Lewis was a Heisman trophy candidate and two games into the season and we're ready to call it a wash between he and Graham. Wow...not sure I'm buying that just yet. In looking at the entire context of the quote, I don't know if he really meant to use that specific word or that he's saying Graham is as good as Lewis. But just the fact that we're talking about them being interchangeable parts shows just how true 'What have you done for me lately' really is.

Meanwhile, on the Miami side of the ball, it's hard to get a handle on just how good Miami may be. Like Pitt, they're 1-1 and  lost their one challenge of the year and handily won against a weaker opponent.

One thing we know is that they have a somewhat dangerous quarterback, but one prone to mistakes:
Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown for four touchdowns and four interceptions through two games this season, and in 2009 he hit on 24 scores but also threw 17 picks.
That may be true, but we'll have to see how Pitt's secondary responds. They haven't exactly been world beaters. Some good news is that the secondary may get Dom DeCicco and Andrew Taglianetti back.

Also on an anciliary note, Pitt will be bringing back several hundred players, enough to rival the approximate 500 that helped close Pitt stadium:
Some of the players that are already confirmed include Tony Dorsett, Jimbo Covert, Bill Fralic, Ruben Brown, Al Romano, Randy Holloway, Jim Sweeney and former Pitt head coach John Majors.

“It was my job to get in touch with these guys, which we have over 330 guys (coming in),” Clancy said. “We had guys call in (Thursday). I talked to Ruben Brown, he’ll be in. We’re going to get close to 375 guys, 300 to 400 guys. There’s going to be some guys who call up, last couple of days like they always do. I’m surprised we have this many, this early.”
Should be a fun night.  Well, if the Panthers win, anyway.

Pitt TV - Bringing You Quality Broadcasts Of Games Vs. Division II Foes

Seriously, despite the sarcastic title, this is good news for Pitt. I've long been a kicker and screamer when it came to not being able to see every Pitt game. And now with the 'Pitt Network', it looks like that problem is solved.

Well, at least if you have Comcast. If you have FIOS like me, you're out of luck.

Other Big East schools have apparently done this as well:
Pederson said other schools in the Big East Conference such as Connecticut and Syracuse have announced similar initiatives, and that it is seemingly the way many athletic departments are headed.
To start, this isn't a full-blown network. From what I understand, it won't be 24/7 coverage like an actual television station. But it will have regular coverage of basketball games and other Pitt stuff.

And by the way, this is really an extension of something Pitt has done in the past.  They've used the channel 188/210 before to televise games that otherwise couldn't be seen. It just wasn't on a regular basis.  It looks like this will cover any non-televised basketball game as well as things like pre- and post-game shows, press conferences, etc.

“What we’re trying to do is look at where we are right now,” Pederson said. “Things like that, like a (Big East) network, are a number of years away. “We have a great partner in Comcast. We have fans who love content. We’re going to go ahead and push forward as an institution, everything that we can find to put on the air for our fans. This is additive program that we haven’t been able to bring our fans before, and we’re very excited about that."
Stuff like this Pitt network are great for fans, but as far as putting actual dollars into Pitt's pockets, I think it probably does very little. A Big East network, something I've pushed for a great deal, is really what needs to be done if the Big East wants to have a more secure future. And soon.

FIU Gametime Announced, Crickets Chirp As Game Not Televised

The Pitt/FIU football gametime has been announced as 3:30 p.m.  It was previously announced that the game would either be at 3:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m.

FIU's lost two tough games so far and had they gotten off to a fast start, it might have made a little more sense to play it as a night game. But an 0-2 start likely helped kill that and, really, as long as it's not a noon game, this is fine.

FIU's slow start also killed any remote chance it would make it as even an ESPN3 or Gameplan game. It's been confirmed that the game will not be televised.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

So Penn State and Temple have again renewed their series. No big surprise here - they've been playing for a while and since Penn State can sucker Temple into a 2-for-1, it's easy money. I don't begrudge for Penn State at snubbing Pitt, I just wish they would admit it's about not getting a 2-for-1.

Penn State AD, Tim Curley, a while back said that not renewing the Pitt series was partially about needing to appease alumni from all over. In case you don't remember, here were his nonsensical quotes:
"That is one of the challenges I am struggling with as we contemplate going to nine conference games," Curley said. "That reduces your ability to move around the country to make these games happen."

Games that are scheduled include visits to Temple next year and Virginia in 2012. Penn State also recently announced a game against Syracuse in 2013 in the New Meadowlands in East Rutherford, N.J., and a home-and-home series in 2020 and 2021.

"There are 500,000 Penn State alumni, and, depending on where I am, whatever part of the country, I am catching it everywhere," Curley said. "Our alums on the West Coast, which we have a lot of, want us to come out and play out there. We have a great base in Florida, and they want us to play there.
"We had a really great series with Pitt and, certainly, with all our alumni in (Western Pennsylvania), we do hear it."
As I pointed out before, if this were really about spreading the wealth, than why is Penn State playing the same opponents year after year? Sure there are some new opponents, but Temple and Syracuse, long-time doormats have repeatedly been able to get onto the Nittany Lions' schedule, while Pitt is constantly left off.

Again, I don't mind that they don't want to play...just wish they'd come clean about it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So, Uh, Where You Been?

Good question...wish I had a good answer.

Real life has reared its ugly head and all I can say is it's been hectic lately.  I won't insult your intelligence by recapping the Pitt-related stuff that's dropped over the last few days.  I've always said this blog's goal is less about breaking news (I'm no reporter and definitely not in the loop) and more about providing commentary about actual news that does break.

At any rate, I'll be checking in tomorrow with some updates, including (hopefully) a preview of the big Thursday night game against Miami.

You can also check out SB Nation Pittsburgh for some updates as well.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Greg Romeus Back Sooner Than Expected?

Dave Wannstedt sounded rather optimistic about the possibility of Greg Romeus' return:
Wannstedt said he coached a pair of NFL players who underwent similar surgery and they were back in the lineup in "four to six weeks."
Asked whether he expects Romeus back in time for the regular season or a bowl game, the Pitt coach said, "Regular season."
"I have been involved with players, in fact all defensive linemen, who have had surgery and have gotten back and finished out the season," he said. "They were (out) four to six weeks."
Added Wannstedt, "The plan is it's not a season-ending surgery. How many games he will get back for, we will just have to take that week to week. But I am very confident when Greg gets back, he will be playing at a high level and finish up a great senior year."
That's really good news not only for Pitt, but also for Greg. It will allow him to hopefully get back to the point so that NFL scouts feel secure enough to still risk a high-round pick on him. Of course, there's always the chance that Wannstedt isn't being completely honest in his assessment. But that seems unlikely for the reason that the sooner Pitt gets to the six-week point, that he'd merely have to answer questions about why Romeus is improving so slowly.

Assume he misses six weeks from now - that places him on target for the Oct. 30 Louisville game a few days later. If he stays on that schedule, you'd assume he'd miss that game since Pitt has a bye the following week and can rest him before the road game at UCONN on Nov. 11.
If that is indeed the scenario, it's a good one for Pitt as he would be back for the meat of the Big East schedule - road games at UCONN, Cincinnati, and South Florida as well as the home game against West Virginia.

Dan Mason Moved To 2nd Team

The first shot was fired as coach Wannstedt bumped Dan Mason from his starting spot, moving him to the second team. I'm not sure if this means he won't miss any games at all, but the move is apparently indefinite and he won't get his starting spot back until Wannstedt believes he's earned it.

There will be some shuffling around, but essentially Max Gruder will move over to MLB and when it's all said and done, Tristan Roberts will now start.

"Jason has been suspended indefinitely," Wannstedt said. "He has a hearing [Thursday] but the likelihood of him returning to this team is seriously in jeopardy."
Personally, I don't expect him to be back.

Website Issues

Just a heads up, I know some of you have been having trouble getting to the website. When I access it from my desktop at home (which for some odd reason still has IE 6 on it), it seems fine. But on my laptop, which has a newer version of IE, it tells me it can't find the address.  However, simply revisiting the address again brings it up. Firefox also seems to work as well.

Not sure what the issue is, but hopefully it's resolved soon.  It's lasted several days.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Good And Bad Of Scheduling

A couple of scheduling notes - if both are true, I consider one good and one bad.

The first is confirmed - Pitt's game against Florida International on October 2nd will take place either at 3:30 p.m. or at 8:00 p.m. That's light years better than having a noon or 1:00 p.m. kickoff, which is what I was anticipating.

The game will be somewhere on ESPN, though it's unlikely (at least to me) that it'd be on ESPN or even ESPN2. I think we'll see this on GamePlan or the dreaded ESPN3.

The second, which is unconfirmed, is not so good. Ray Fittipaldo of the PG (Plus have a few free page views before they ask you to subscribe) says the Pitt/UCONN basketball game could be scheduled for December 27th, while calling it 'not a bad stocking stuffer.'

Um, sure, it might not be so bad if you live in Pittsburgh and are staying home for the holidays. But if you're like me and you'll be out of town, this is terrible news. Plus, students will be on break, so what kind of atmosphere will you even have? Fans and most importantly, Pitt, would be much better served if the game were against a lesser opponent. Pitt won't have the same home court advantage it normally has and could make the game a little tougher.

Let the debate about coming home early from visiting relatives begin. 

Greg Romeus To Have Back Surgery

Looks like the rumors and speculation was true - Greg Romeus will have back surgery, as reported by the Post-Gazette and Tribune-Review today.

The surgery will rob him of the majority of the season and while Dave Wannstedt says he will be back for the "conclusion of the season," it's pretty obvious that he'll miss most if not the rest of Pitt's games.

"Our top priority is doing what is best for Greg," Wannstedt said in a prepared statement. "After consulting with him, his family and our medical staff, it was determined that immediate surgery is the best option for Greg both personally and athletically."
Romeus has already used up his redshirt and his Pitt career may end after this season. He could try to get a sixth year of eligibility as Adam Gunn did (Gunn also played in one game the season he was injured and had previously used a redshirt), but since he's projected as a high NFL Draft pick, I don't know that he'd want to risk coming back to school anyway.

The good news, if there is any, is that Brandon Lindsey appears to be ready to step in and play. I've heard a lot of talk about how well he played last week, but that was against an FCS-School offensive line. I think he'll be fine, but definitely a downgrade from a fully healthy Romeus.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Greg Romeus Still A Question Mark

Another day and more questions about Greg Romeus. The questions have been going on since training camp and haven't really stopped.

For starters, Paul Zeise said he looked like he had a hard time staying loose against Utah.

And then there was this week, when he was absent entirely. Pitt and Dave Wannstedt didn't really clarify if it was injury or something else that caused him to miss the game.
Coach Dave Wannstedt said Romeus, the 2009 Big East co-Defensive Player of the Year, was excused "to go home for personal reasons."
It seems pretty clear that this is injury-related and he's not completely healthy. No news there. At some point, just come clean about the injury.  I don't see why it's such a huge deal.

This is, of course, leading to mass speculation.

And Jabaal Sheard, after the New Hampshire game, made it sound like we can expect to see Romeus away for a while...and tried to paint a rosy picture at the same time:
"We know we have to step it up without Greg," Sheard said. "We are definitely going to miss Greg, we will definitely miss him because he is a leader, he pushes all of us and he's a great player. But guys like Brandon and Nate Nix stepped up and made a lot of plays.

"I know Greg is happy at home watching this game but we'll be fine without him until he gets back. Brandon is a great pass rusher, he is actually probably faster than Greg, and we saw that last year against Syracuse and I hope that he continues to play at a high level."
It's hard to get a good handle on this and there's no way to determine (at least on the outside looking in) if he'll be ready to play against Miami. From the sound of things, I wouldn't count on it.

Still Not In The Polls

The Panthers remained at 30th in the USA Today Poll and even fell a spot in the AP Coaches poll, being leapfrogged by idle 0-1 Oregon State.  Not sure I get that one.  I guess if voters were more impressed with Boise State, some may have taken that into account when considering Oregon State's loss to them. But meanwhile, Pitt's loss to Utah is looking less terrible as the Utes are now up to #14 in both polls.

It's hard to understand the logic of voters sometimes, but again, those are the perceptions of the Big East.  I wrote a brief post on this over at SB Nation Pittsburgh.

It will be interesting to see how the bye week treats Pitt in the rankings.

Backup Running Back Suspended

Pitt's third-string running back Jason Douglas has been suspended from the team for his involvement in a car accident on Sunday, which was apparently a DUI...particularly of note because I don't believe he's of age.

It will be interesting to see if he misses any time.  Jabaal Sheard did not for his previous issue this Summer, but it was also in the offseason.  Douglas actually did see some time on Saturday with three carries, but isn't expected to be a significant part of the offense barring injury to Dion Lewis or Ray Graham.

Overall, a fairly minor note. But given Pitt's recent troubles with Sheard and Elijah Fields in the offseason, Pitt players aren't exactly doing a good job of staying out of trouble.

EDIT: Okay, scratch that minor note thing.  The Trib has more on the story, and, well, yeah it's not good:

For starters, the accident was not him striking another a car - it was striking a person...and it appears serious.

And then there's this:
A tow truck driver with McGann and Chester caught up with the sedan near 18th Street in the South Side and followed it until the sedan's driver parked on Sarah Street, where arriving police officers ordered the driver out of the car.

The driver, identified as Douglas, stumbled from the sedan and nearly fell, according to the affidavit. His breath smelled strongly of alcohol, and officers had to help him stand, the affidavit states.

"Hey I play for Pitt football. ... Please don't arrest me," Douglas told the officers, according to the affidavit.
Douglas' eyes were also bloodshot and glassy.
Definitely not good.  This sounds like the type of thing that can get you kicked off a team...especially if you're only a third-string running back.  Not that it should matter, but we all know it typically does.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Pitt Back On Track

Pitt, as expected, won today's game against New Hampshire.  The game finished fairly close to what I predicted over at SB Nation Pittsburgh (actual score was 38-16 and my prediction was 30-13).  I expected Pitt to have little trouble with this matchup and that's basically how it played out.

Tino Sunseri came out and posted better numbers than his first start. Obviously, playing an FCS school at home should help with that. All in all, I think he looked fairly good again.  He seemed to be a little more comfortable and his final stats (24-34 for 275 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT) were solid.  In actuality, he very well could have ended up with two interceptions as one of his passes was thrown right to a defender who dropped it.  There were also a few instances of him simply making poor throws that should have resulted in completions.  But again, for only his second start, I think he's progressing nicely.

Pitt's defense played fairly well despite the absence of starters Greg Romeus and Dom DeCicco. I honestly don't know what to make of the whole Greg Romeus thing.  He sat out all of camp, even with Dave Wannstedt appearing as if the injury was nothing more than stiffness/soreness. Then he played in the first game last week, but clearly wasn't himself.  So he sits out again today, presumably to try to get him healthy for the Miami game.  Sitting him for this game was obviously the right move as Pitt didn't need him, but it'd be nice to know what his status really is...especially in light of the fact that Pitt has apparently decided it will not be complying with that whole Big East injury report thing.  This has been going on since the beginning of camp and at this point, it's easy to wonder if this is going to be a season-long thing.

At any rate, New Hampshire's star running back, Dontra Peters, who rushed for nearly 200 yards the week before had a long day, going for only 15 yards on 11 carries.

And speaking of star running backs not having great days, that takes us to the story of the day - Dion Lewis.  Lewis again struggled to find rushing room, finishing for a career-worst 27 yards on only ten carries. To his credit and something I didn't hear mentioned on the post-game radio show during my drive home (not to say it wasn't...just not while I was listening), he did have five receptions out of the backfield for 52 yards. 

I'm not ready to panic on Lewis yet.  While I expected him to have a big day, I also didn't expect the coaches only to give him ten rushing attempts.  I think Wannstedt wanted to get Ray Graham some work after missing last week's game and some time at camp.  I expect that he believes he might need both backs against Miami and really needed to try to get Graham up to speed.

So no, I'm not jumping on the 'running back controversy' thing, which is surely to get rolling next week.  Lewis struggled a bit, Wannstedt needed a spark and also to get Graham some time.  And once Graham got going, why would you take him out?  I had no problem with Wannstedt's use of Graham today because, well, you know, it worked.

But one thing I will say is that without a miraculous comeback, the Dion Lewis for Heisman talk is officially dead.  He was going to have a tough time as it was convincing voters that he's the man for the award.  Now, after two subpar games, including one against an FCS foe, he's got no shot.  Want me to put it in perspective? Even if he averages 150 yards per game over ten more regular season games and a bowl game, he still will finish short of his 2009 total of 1,799 yards...a total, by the way, that garnered him virtually no Heisman consideration at all.  So, yeah, I'd say it's safe to call it a wrap.

That doesn't mean he can't have a productive season and I still expect that to happen.  But any chance of repeating his incredible freshman season seems lost.

Pitt now gets a bye week to prepare for a home game against Miami on the following Thursday night.  I would have gladly taken 2-1 after the first three games and if Pitt is able to do that with this schedule, I'd qualify that as a very good start to the season.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Thoughts On Villanova

So there was the news that came out about the Big East inviting Villanova to join the conference as a football member.

Go ahead and make all the jokes you want about this being insignificant.  About this adding nothing to the conference in terms of quality.  The fact is that it does matter.  Before anything happens, though, there are several key things to consider:

For starters, we've seen this back in 1997 when the school was made the same offer.  They rejected it then, but the school might be more willing to make the move now. The school won a championship last season and that could be seen as the first step towards wanting to taking the next step to Division I.  Villanova is also a big fish in the basketball conference, widely considered as the best in the nation.  While a basketball-only conference could still survive the Big East extinction, why mess with a good thing?

As blogger Brian Bennett mentions, the problem the Wildcats have with not having a large enough stadium per the Division I rules is easily alleviated by playing at either Lincoln Financial Field or even in the school's soccer stadium, which, solmewhat surprisingly, seats more fans than the football field. Also according to Bennett, the earliest the school could join as a football member would be 2014.

Now if you're one of those criticising this invitation, you're missing the point. The Big East isn't doing this to add quality to the conference.  It's doing it, in part, so that it can survive.  The Big East was on the edge of destruction this year until the Big 12 remained intact, thus delaying major moves across the board.  Had everything played out, the Big East could have stood to lose several of its teams to other conferences.  If the Big East lost three teams, that very well may have signaled the end of the conference.

A key thing to remember is that if Villanova accepts, it's hardly cause for celebration.  The conference needs to get up to 10-12 teams to stave off extinction - and even that's not assured depending on what teams might depart.

I've made this point before, but if Syracuse, Rutgers, and someone like Louisville left, the conference can stay alive.  It's still got teams like Pitt, WVU, and Cincinnati to build around and losing those football programs wouldn't be the end of the world.  However, say it's Pitt, WVU, and Syracuse that leave.  The Big East would have a much harder time remaining relevant, and more importantly, keeping its BCS bid.

If Villanova accepts, I also don't think it necessarily means the door is permanently shut for teams like Memphis who would do almost anything to join a BCS conference.  If the Big East truly wants to be proactive, it needs to add more than just one team.  A three-team purge, if it happens, will just start the process of looking to add teams all over again in the future.  Unless only one team defects, a one-team addition does little to fight off elimination.

Teams like Memphis, Temple, and East Carolina may add little in terms of quality.  But if they can keep the Big East afloat, the conference may have no other choice but to open the doors.

Polls Not Working...Again

My patience with the Blogspot polls is wearing thin. More issues with the votes not being recorded, so if you're having problems registering the votes, I think it might be a Blogspot issue once again.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Pitt Vs. Upside-Down Vermont

Sorry, I couldn't resist.

So how does this weekend's matchup shape up for Pitt?  Well, put it this way - New Hampshire is actually one of the better I-AA FCS schools out there.  They laid a 30-point beatdown on fellow FCS school Central Connecticut State this past weekend.  For their efforts, they were rewarded by moving up five spots in the coaches poll to #5 in the country.

Four of the Big East's schools have scheduled FCS foes this weekend and's Brian Bennett says Pitt will have the stiffest challenge.

And New Hampshire knows all about not only playing I-A teams, but beating them:
Dating back to 2004, the Wildcats have won FBS games at Rutgers in front of 31,000 people, at Northwestern in front of 20,000, at Marshall in front of 27,000, at Army's historic Michie Stadium in front of the Corps of Cadets, and last year in front of 12,000 under the lights at Ball State's Scheumann Stadium. But this is the first NFL stadium they've visited since 1999, when they lost 42-41 in OT to South Florida at Raymond James Stadium, home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
 So what makes New Hampshire so good?

It all starts with the running game.  Dontra Peters rushed for nearly 200 yards, two touchdowns, and averaged more than 10 yards per carry in the opener.  Part of that is that the team runs the 'oh-so-fun' triple option.  The good news for Pitt is that they stop the run a lot better than the pass.

Pitt sophomore running back Dion Lewis knows what to expect from New Hampshire's defense at Heinz Field.

"Eight in the box," he said. "Nine in the box."
Welcome to stardom, Dion.

This weekend won't be the one in which to judge Lewis. I fully expect him to get off in this game, even if New Hampshire puts 11 in the box. The better week to judge if he's fully recovered from that Utah debacle is against Miami when he'll face another good defense. One thing we've all likely been a little spoiled by was the 150-yard performances he regularly put up last year.  To expect that on a routine basis this season is foolish.  Pitt is starting a new quarterback and defenses know that the passing game will struggle at times. Everyone is focused on stopping Lewis.

But back to stopping the pass, injured safety Dom DeCicco is making progress, but Dave Wannstedt is pretty tight-lipped about his condition:
DeCicco is now officially listed as day-to-day but when asked him today Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said simply "he's doing fine" and then added "I'm not going to get into day-to-day injury things. He is doing fine. He is doing better, I should say."
This sounds like Greg Romeus part deux.  And about Romeus - don't forget he's still just now getting into game shape with all the time he missed in camp.

And on somewhat of a minor note, this was one thing that caught my eye about New Hampshire's game last weekend:
UNH missed two extra-point attempts (one blocked) and a chip-shot field goal.
Pitt loves getting after punts and kicks so look for the special teams to be aggressive.

Bottom line is that Pitt needs to, and should, win this game.  If they don't, look out.

Steven Adams Shoots Up. Way Up.

It seems that Pitt 2012 Commit Steven Adams has gotten exponentially more recognized since it was announced he was coming to the Panthers.

He's still not listed in Scout's system from what I could find, but he's starting to show up elsewhere.

It's safe to say I was a little surprised/skeptical to see NBE Basketball put him in their top 50 for 2012.  Not only top 50, but how does #26 sound?  They have him as the fifth-ranked center.

But that wasn't all.

Rivals calls him an astounding top 50 prospect and a four-star recruit (#46)- holy leapfrog, Batman.  They have him as the 8th rated center.  He's listed there as 6'10" and 210 pounds so it probably wouldn't kill him to gain a little weight.  But he's clearly been impressing.

It's still really early at this point and players obviously can fall down the rankings a bit over time (see Isaiah Epps).  But top 50?  If he's really that good and no other schools found out about him then you've got to give Jamie Dixon's staff a lot of credit.

I hadn't seen this out there yet, but Draft Express has some nice video of him from the Adidas camp and he's giving an interview over top of it. Just watching the video, nothing jumps out about him - at least nothing to make me see why he's a top 50 don't expect to see some freakishly athletic kid in it.  But from the little bit of video there is, he looks like Pitt's type of player - rebounder first with some scoring skills.  I was pleasantly surprised by the post moves he displayed and if he can get his shot off against Big East defenders, it looks like he has a consistent shot.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dave Wannstedt Talks About...The Call

Dave Wannstedt opened his press conference with a brief mention of the Utah game before, obviously, turning his attention to New Hampshire. Sure he talked about Ray Graham, Dom DeCicco, etc., but I think what we were all waiting for was the explanation of running on third and long late in regulation instead of taking a shot at the end zone. Of course the media wouldn't let him get away that easily and the question came up about Pitt's offense on that final drive in regulation:
“We discussed that (to run or pass on third down). Obviously every call stops with me — offense, defense or special teams. Where we were at with the third down-and-ten, the one thing you don’t want to do in the red zone, which we obviously did in overtime, was to turn the ball over and you don’t want to knock yourself out of field goal range.

“On the third-and-ten they were bringing a lot of pressure. If it’s third-and-three, third-and- four or third-and-five it’s obviously a whole different call. All you have to do is look up the percentages in the third-and-ten situations when you’re thinking in the back of your mind that you have a young quarterback and he can’t hear himself talk, you want to make sure that you’re making the right call. Plus, we thought if we went into overtime that we would win the game.
“On top of it all, you’re handing the ball to a great player. We did the same thing last year against South Florida when Dion Lewis went for 50 yards. Two years ago, if you remember the last play before the half against Navy down there, we handed the ball to LaSean McCoy on the draw and he went 50 or 60 yards. I think they’re anticipating the pass, but you’re also giving the ball to your best offensive player.”
I think I've made it pretty clear that I've switched over to the side of Wannstedt. I was always a bit in between on him, but I think he's really got Pitt going in the right direction.

That said, I still disagree with him on playcalling from time to time, and especially so in this case. Pitt was on the road and really needed to try to avoid overtime at all costs.  I understand not wanting to make a mistake, I really do. But there would have been nothing wrong with asking Tino Sunseri to throw towards the sidelines and let Jon Baldwin try to make a play. Sunseri had shown signs of heating up as the game went on and he became more accurate. I think you've got to go to the end zone in that case. And while it's true that Dion Lewis is your best offensive weapon, to pretend like you have a realistic chance of getting ten yards on that play when Lewis had been held in check all night (and perhaps the most of his career) is unrealistic.

Wannstedt referred to the pass rush and I think he was more concerned about taking the sack. Tino had been sacked twice (I think) and while I understand there was the threat of it happening again, I think if you pound it into his skull that under no circumstances can he take a sack, you'd be okay.

Further, as Dan Hutchins proved after that when he missed the second attempt after Utah called a timeout immediately before it, that the field goal they had was no chip shot. Why not take a shot at paydirt?

The play shouldn't have caught anyone by surprise. Wannstedt is conservative by nature and it definitely showed there. Still, I think he made a mistake in not passing in that situation.

Duquesne Announces Consol Center Games - No Pitt

Duquesne announced it will play three of its men's basketball games at the Consol Energy Center. Surprisingly (at least to me), the Pitt game wasn't one of those.

The Ciy Game against Pitt will take place on December 1st at the Pete. So what's the deal? There's no Pens game and there's nothing else scheduled that night according to the arena's website. I can't imagine that Pitt wouldn't return the favor since Duquesne willingly moved its home date to play one final game in Mellon Arena.

To be honest, I'm sure there's some logical reason, but I don't know what it is offhand.

At any rate, the Dukes' three games at Consol will be against West Virginia, Dayton, and Xavier.

EDIT: So what's the reason the game won't be at the Consol Energy Center? Apparently there isn't any. The Post-Gazette's Duquesne blog has a conflicting report that says the game will indeed be played there. Frankly, this makes a lot more sense so I'll go with that report.

Pitt Stumbles Right Out Of The Polls

Despite losing this past week to Utah, I was a bit surprised to see Pitt fall out of the AP poll completely.

I figured they'd drop down to near the bottom, but didn't think a loss to a top 25 team on the road would make them fall more than ten spots. Utah, for the record, rightfully moved into the polls at #20. Pitt came in third in the dreaded "Others Receiving Votes" category, good for 28th overall.

Frankly, I don't see how an overtime loss to a now top 20 team on the road should bump a team down 13 spots, but so be it. The rankings don't necessarily mean all that much to Pitt now and the goal is to win the Big East.

Still, it was a big shock to me that they fell that far.

That said, maybe it's just me -'s Big East blogger Brian Bennett also thought Pitt should have fallen out as he didn't rank them in his top 25, either.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Moving On To NFL Cut Day

Several Pitt players made the final cuts as teams trimmed their rosters down to 53 players:
Sixth-rounder Nate Byham is part of the 53-man roster of the San Francisco 49ers, and seventh-rounder Dorin Dickerson survived the cut with the Houston Texans.
Undrafted free agent cornerback Aaron Berry escaped Saturday's cuts after the Detroit Lions released former Pro Bowler Dre' Bly and Eric King, both cornerbacks.
The news was not as good for defensive tackle Mick Williams, an undrafted free agent who was one of the Chicago Bears' final cuts on Saturday.
Also, previously cut were OL John Malecki and Bill Stull lost out on the third string QB job to former Panther Tyler Palko.

Mick Williams made it down to the end and I expect he'll get another shot somewhere else. I was also surprised to see Aaron Berry land on an NFL roster - beating out Dre Bly, no less.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Aftermath

The morning after isn't any easier, even right before a three-day weekend. Okay, so maybe the long weekend makes it a little better. Still, plenty to complain about.

For starters, as I noted before, Pitt has nothing to gain by scheduling these types of 1-1 series with a team like Utah. As Chas at Pitt Blather correctly points out, college football is a different animal entirely from the NFL. I'll take it a step further and also throw college basketball in the discussion. You have playoffs in those two leagues where as college football is essentially one and done - at least for teams in leagues like the Big East where respect is already an issue.

I've been on the record as saying it was a bad move to play Utah. If the goal is a national championship, it just makes little sense from Pitt's end. The schedule this season is already difficult enough with road games at Notre Dame and UCONN and home games again Miami and WVU. Pitt still probably wouldn't run the table even without the Utah game, but that isn't the point. The point is that you want to give yourself the best chance of winning a championship and scheduling games like these, while nice for the fans to see, is akin to chopping off your right leg before attempting to run a marathon.

There's a reason that Ohio State opened up with Marshall. There's a reason Miami opened up with FAMU.

I know, I know, it's easy to kick and scream about this after a loss. But the fact is I've been beating this drum for a while (most recently briefly questioning it in my look ahead to 2010 after last year's season ended).

Bob Smizik of the PG, while not agreeing completely, discusses the fact that playing Utah in an opener is less than ideal. But it's after the fact, so let's move on.

"We didn't play good enough to win. We really didn't," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "Down the stretch Utah made less mistakes than we did."
I couldn't have said it better myself. Pitt played alright, but as I said last night didn't make enough big plays and gave up too many.

And the more I think about it, the more I can't praise Tino Sunseri enough. He got better as the game went along:
And Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who grew up a little bit as the game wore on, had a chance to etch his name in Panthers history by leading a dramatic come-from-behind victory after they trailed most of the game and had not looked very good for a lot of it, either.
Sunseri calmly led the Panthers to two first downs and then hit Mike Shanahan with a 20-yard pass to the Utes' 14 to set the Panthers up with a first down-and-10 with 40 seconds to play.
I think his play was the biggest unknown heading into the game. We knew the offensive line and secondary were going to struggle at least a little bit (it turned out to be a lot on both fronts), but really had no idea what to expect from Sunseri. He wasn't great, but there were signs of a good QB in the making. Playing in that environment off the bat should, if nothing else, make the rest of the games much easier. Sure, there was the costly interception, and Sunseri just didn't make the throw he needed to:
"Shanahan was open," Sunseri said. "I missed it inside. It was my fault. I take the blame. Everyone put us in position to win and I've just got to finish."
No one can (and I haven't heard this) blame Sunseri for this loss. He played about as well as he could given the circumstances and I was pleased with what he gave the team. Before his long TD reception, Jon Baldwin couldn't do a good enough job of getting open and on the balls thrown his way, he couldn't make the big play. One in particular stood out to me where he completely mistimed his jump and despite having a shorter man covering him, couldn't get the jump ball. On the one big play he did make on that TD, it was due to a complete defensive breakdown - not so much from anything he did. And the team will need to get more from Dion Lewis who could average no more than three yards a carry. Look, both will be fine. But on this night, neither played particularly well.

And then there was the fact that Pitt's vaunted defense, even with an offensive lineman built more like a large safety, couldn't get a single sack on the night.

Oh yeah, by the way, let's not forget that Utah didn't play particularly well either. That's got to make the loss a little more troubling. In a year Pitt is supposed to take that next step, they couldn't pull out a win despite a Utah team that, at times, couldn't get out of it's own way.

To me, it wasn't so much the fact that they lost, but how they couldn't capitalize on Utah's many mistakes:
"I'm very proud of the way our guys hung in there," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, whose squad overcame three turnovers, a blocked punt and 11 penalties.
The miscues, he added, were all things that can be improved upon before the Utes open their final Mountain West Conference campaign Sept. 11 at home against UNLV.
"We made enough mistakes tonight so we'll have plenty to work on," Whittingham said. "We had unintelligent penalties at inopportune times. But the good thing is that all of these mistakes are correctable issues. It's always better to work through these issues after a win."
That was the key. As Wanny said, the team played well enough, just not well enough to win. For the Utes, they got the 1-0 start coveted by every team in the country. For Pitt, it's back to the drawing board.

Well, That Thoroughly Sucked

Not much more to add to the title, but I'm sure this post will go on for quite a while.

So Pitt lost tonight against Utah. Unfortunately, I predicted this dead on in my Q&A with Block U earlier this week. I don't know, I figured Pitt would play well but I thought there would be something that kept this team from winning.

Had you told me that Tino Sunseri would play pretty well and Pitt would win the turnover battle, I would have expected a win. During the game, they mentioned that Pitt wins 89% of its games where they win the turnover battle. I would have figured the team would hold serve.

Problem is, the team just gave up too many big plays and didn't make enough of their own. For starters, I'm not entirely sure who kidnapped Frank Cignetti and replaced him with Matt Cavanaugh in the first half, but Pitt's offense played about as unimaginative as they possibly could. I understand the need to simplify things for Tino Sunseri's first start. And frankly, I would have done the same thing. But I expected the team to throw a few more passes that were, you know, longer than five yards. Part of the problem was that even though the offensive line started off okay, they got progressively worse and Sunseri had less time to throw. But Pitt was stuck in some sort of time-warp, Johnny Majors 1990s playcalling funk. I saw very little creativity and it seemed the offense was dumbed down too much.

And then there's the secondary. Oh, boy.

What a disaster from basically start to finish. Jarred Holley managed to get a key interception in the end zone to keep the game close before the half, but other than that, it was a complete train wreck. All the talk in camp was that the unit should be markedly better than last year's. Maybe it was just me, but I didn't see it. Sophomore QB Jordan Wynn went for nearly 300 yards and 3 TDs. Fellow soph DeVonte Christopher, who had a grand total of two catches last season looked like Randy Moss on steroids. Eight catches for 155 yards? Jerry Rice thinks that's a career day.

You might be thinking to yourself, "Well, self - at least they shut down the main guy instead."


The defense also gave up five catches and 87 yards to big-play guy, Jereme Brooks. Worse, however, was the number of big passes: 19 yard TD, 24 yards, 32 yards, 46 yards, and then the 61 yard TD bomb.

One thing that stuck out at me in looking at the play-by-play was the progression of those plays. That's the exact order in which they happened. Yes, there were shorter passes in between, but as the game went on, the secondary got worse, giving up progressively bigger plays.

The thing that killed the team more than anything was getting inside the ten-yard on successive possessions in the 3rd and 4th quarters and only getting six points out of it. If Pitt scores a TD on one of those, they possibly win. Who knows how the game plays out, but they would have had a good look at it. You can't, can't, can't, can't, can't, can't, can't, CAN'T get that close and come away with FGs. Period. Heck, on one of the possessions, they had a first and goal from the four. FROM THE FOUR.

Another killer was obviously the penalties. Too many times the team had drives stalled because of penalties. 12-75 was simply too many. But, it's the opener, so you hope it gets better from here.

Moving to the offensive side of the ball, Pitt's stars were really held in check. Dion Lewis had not only a pedestrian night, but a below average one of only 75 yards on 25 carries.  The offensive line really didn't help that and Utah was stacking guys at the line giving him virtually no chance to succeed. He'll be fine. Jon Baldwin was virtually non-existent early on and only made an impact late in the game when secondary coverage broke down, leaving him wide open for the long TD catch.

And I heard the comment about Ray Graham not playing really affecting the team. I don't know. Yes, he's a change of pace back, but if Lewis had that much trouble finding room to run, I think Graham would have fallen into the same problems. Utah just stacked the box and made running extremely difficult.

A bright spot for me was the play of Tino. He struggled a little early, but I don't place any blame on him. A few of his early passes were off, but he was under pressure as the first half went on and the playbook was really limited. He avoided mistakes until the final, extremely-costly, interception and looked like a leader out there. I really think he's going to be good and I think the QB position is in good hands for the next few years. He was an assassin late in the game, and made two great throws to Baldwin on that last TD drive. He came right back and got Pitt within in field goal ranging making another great throw to Mike Shanahan. It was only one game, but he's looking like he can play.

And the good news is that this doesn't severely damage Pitt's season. All of the silly talk about the team going undefeated and winning a national championship can officially stop now.  If this team goes 9-3 and wins the Big East, mission accomplished. The key thing to remember is that things get easier from here. Miami and WVU will be difficult but Pitt will at least have the luxury of playing at home. This is one of Pitt's toughest games on the schedule and the team will get better as the season moves on.

Still, it was a bit of a disappointment to see Pitt lose this one.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

College Fantasy Football. Seriously?

It's true. You may have noticed the Florida Gators link down in the list of blogger friends.  What's that all about?

Well, James Brown of the awesome Gators blog, Gators First, asked me to participate in a college fantasy football league. He's got a whole roster of bloggers and I'm representing the Big East.

My first foray into college football was not a good one. First, getting used to's draft platform was rough.  Three times, the computer autodrafted for me because, well, I didn't know what I was doing.  In addition, I'm not all that familiar with players in other leagues...even stars.

Add it all up and it means a crappy draft.  Heck, I even only managed to land one Panther...and it was the kicker, Dan Hutchins. Anyway, here's my roster.  I'm going to try to mention how I do each week, though I anticipate a heavy dose of losses:

QBs - Jake Locker (WA) and Tyrod Taylor (VT)
RBs - Anthony Allen (GT), Daniel Thomas (KS ST), Armando Allen (ND), Victor Anderson (LVILLE), Delone Carter (SYR)
WRs - Keith Smith (PUR), Owen Spencer (NCST), Alexander Torres (TXTCH), Damarlo Belcher (IND)
K - Dan Hutchins (PITT)
DST - Nebraska

SBNation Pittsburgh Vs. Utah Game Thread

I'll be using the storystream thread over at SBNation Pittsburgh to update the Pitt-Utah game.  There will be updates before, during, and after the game.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pitt's Nike Uniforms Revealed

Nike revealed its Pro Combat System jerseys, which will be worn by ten schools including Pitt. The jerseys will only be worn for one game. Pitt and West Virginia will wear theirs during the Backyard Brawl.

Personally I'm not a fan, but I don't think they're awful. When I got the news that they were going to be all blue I thought they'd be terrible. But I think they could be, say, Miami's. Was pretty impressed with WVU's. Again, not great, but considering it's mostly white, not too shabby. And their helmets are incredible. Man, does it pain me to say that.

Chas over at Pitt Blather also made the trip to New York City to see the unveiling and he's got some great photos and stuff over there. SBNation got an invite, but due to real-life stuff, I couldn't get away to make it. Be sure to check out his site to see the material.

Isaiah Epps On Campus

While incoming freshman point guard Isaiah Epps isn't the key to Pitt's 2010-11 basketball season, it's still a mild relief to know that he has qualified academically.  And even though Epps didn't participate in the famed Greentree Summer League games or in the scrimmages in Ireland, he doesn't feel like he missed all that much:
"I don't feel like I missed out on that much," Epps said. "The coaches will be able to see me play at practice."
Epps might not see it as a big deal, and it really isn't. But I'd beg to differ on his stance that says he didn't miss that much. While Epps was working on his academic situation, fellow incoming freshmen J.J. Moore and Cameron Wright were suiting up against other college and professional players. Both participated in about a dozen games and several practices - probably somewhere around the equivalent of about 1/2 of a full season's worth of games (minus practice time). To say that's not missing much is a little off point.

Will it matter in the long run? Not likely. But the fact that he's been out of the loop for so long could lead to a redshirt, something that was in the article and something I mentioned before as a possibility.  When he first committed, he was so highly touted, that a redshirt would have seemed unlikely.  But the fact is that Pitt can very easily go in that direction. They can either start Gibbs at PG and use Wright as a backup or start Woodall and use Gibbs as a backup. I think the latter is probably more likely. Based on the reports in the scrimmages, it seemed Wright had a good deal of work to do.

Epps could still surprise and do enough to get in the rotation, but it will take a lot of catching up.

Official Pitt Preview

Just a heads up to check out my Pitt football preview over at SBNation Pittsburgh. Considering the season is only a little over a day away, it's a bit late. Still, check it out if you get a chance.

There will also be a joint roundtable piece with Penn State and West Virginia writers, Jeff Junstrom and Aaron Hawley up there soon as well.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Views From The Enemy

So with gametime merely two days away, I thought I'd take a look at what they're saying out in Utah:

Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham discusses the game in his press conference on Monday. Overall, he seems really confident and it sounds like the Utes will be ready to play.

The Utes offense features a 1,000 yard rusher in senior Eddie Wide. Wide is a true star and he averaged more than five yards per carry on the ground last year. But the receivers are looking to be featured on Thursday as long as sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn does his part:
“We are ready to go,” said senior wideout Shaky Smithson. “We came into camp this year with the attitude that no one can contain us on the outside or going across the middle. We will make any defense that lines up against us pay for underestimating us. As long as Jordan (Wynn) can get us the ball, and he will, we will make plays.”
Whittingham also thinks the receivers will be ready:
“Knowing that we can throw the ball down field to capable, athletic players opens up so many doors for any coach preparing a game plan on the offensive side of the football,” Whittingham said. “Our receivers seem to rise to the occasion every year, I don’t see any reason why this year will be any different.”
Meanwhile, it's understandable for Utah to bring up the 2005 Fiesta Bowl debacle. That's likely the last time many of them have watched Pitt play. Still, it doesn't sound like Whittingham is using that game as any kind of point of reference:
"It's a whole new coaching regime, a whole new program," he said. "There are no similarities with this Pittsburgh team as opposed to the one we played in '05. It's a complete transformation."
He also, correctly, pointed out that this year's Pitt team is much better than that 2004-05 team in that press conference audio link above. I don't blame Utah for mentioning the game. It really helped to catapult them to getting into the conversation as seriously belonging in the BCS. And in a lot of ways, it helped open the door for teams like Boise State and TCU to get serious shots at BCS bowls. If Utah loses that game, no telling how much it affects the influence of voters.

But back to this week's game. Dave Wannstedt is being taken to task (somewhat) for his comment about Tino Sunseri winning a high school state championship:

Wanted to talk to Utah offensive lineman John Cullen about his debut with the Utes and the challenge he in particular faces Thursday. Unfortunately the Utes have him on media lockdown and won't allow him to do interviews.
I was told Monday he was getting too many requests and the coaches want him to focus on the game. During several years of covering Utah, the Utes have made similar bans before with certain players, usually quarterbacks, but not with linemen. Kind of tells you right there what the Utes think of Pitt's defensive line, doesn't it?
Preventing an offensive lineman from speaking to the media? Wow, that's some kind of focus.

Wrapping Up The Q&As

Just as a follow-up to my Q&A with the Utah blog, Block U, Sean has my answers to his questions up on his site.  You can view them here.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Obstacles Await

Here we are, three days away from possibly Pitt's most challenging test of the season. The good news for Pitt is that a defeat will not mean all that much in the grand scope of things.  Pitt wants to (and needs to) win the Big East this year and get to a BCS bowl game. This game will have no bearing on that goal.

That said, no one in their right mind should think it's okay to accept a loss.  The game could set the tone for a hugely successful season and really get things off on the right foot. Depending on how some voters see it, it could also put Pitt on the brink of the top ten in the polls.

There are a lot of things in Pitt's way for this first game.

To start, there are injuries - most notably, Ray Graham. Injury reports aren't out yet, but Dave Wannstedt says Graham will play when he addressed the media today:
"From an injury standpoint, we are probably about as healthy as we could expect coming out of a very physical training camp. Greg Romeus is a big topic, and he's been great the last week. Ray Graham is very close; he practiced in team (drills) yesterday and he will be available to play.
That's big news, obviously. Utah's front four is said to be a strength of the defense and it's good to know that when Lewis needs a breather, Graham will be there to provide it. I expect Pitt to run early and often and Graham gives them another home run threat.

Then there's the altitude. Dave Wannstedt apparently thinks the elevation of over 4,500 feet won't matter:
"Every place I've coached for 16 years, we went out (to Denver) the day before, lined up, and played. That's Dallas, Chicago, and Miami. I think all the studies will tell you that if you wanted to make a total adjustment, you have to be out there three days. It takes 72 hours. So even going that extra day like some of the NFL teams do, it doesn't do anything. You go out, you line up, and you play."
They must contend with the thin air of Rice-Eccles Stadium, elevation 4,657 feet. The coaches and players have downplayed the altitude, but it will have some affect, however small.
When the Pitt men's basketball team played in mile high Denver in the 2008 NCAA Tournament, a number of players admitted breathing was noticeably more difficult.
I don't know how much of a difference it will make, but it's got to be at least a small factor. I understand Wannstedt's motivation for trying to downplay it as much as possible, but I do think it's going to count for something.

Combine Utah’s nine-game bowl winning streak with season openers, games after byes and games held on nights other than Saturdays and the Utes have won their past 13 contests when they have more than a week to prepare.
And did I mention this was a road game on a Thursday night no less?

Oh yeah, and don't forget about, you know, the actual game. There's a pretty good team on the other side of the ball - and a unique one:
No. 15 Pitt will try to solve Utah's high-scoring spread offense when the No. 15 Panthers open the season Thursday at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City. The Utes run four-receiver sets, power formations, the option and the Wildcat -- and that's just the beginning.
"Everything you think you might see in a year," Bennett said, "we are seeing in the first game."

The Panthers know first-hand how potent Utah's offense can be. Then-coach Urban Meyer's Utes routed Pitt, 35-7, in the Fiesta Bowl following the 2004 season. Back then, the spread offense wasn't as prolific. Today, it is the offense of choice for many programs. Pitt's schedule is dotted with teams that use some version of the spread, including West Virginia and Cincinnati.
Ugh, that 2005 bowl game still makes my head spin.  Seriously, though, that last part is the key. Pitt has seen this type of stuff before and while it won't be the easiest thing in the world to do, against a young quarterback, Pitt has the tools to be successful against that type offense. This year's team is leaps and bounds better than the one Utah lined up against nearly six years ago.
Still, lots of obstacles to get over.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Another Utah Q&A With Block U

Continuing with the Q&A theme, here's a second one - this time with Sean Reynolds of SB Nation's Utah blog, Block U.  Sean provides some more insight into Thursday's game. Thanks to both Sean and Dirk for participating in this week's Q&As.

1. What do you think fans are expecting from the 2010 Utah Utes?

Expectations are generally always high in Salt Lake City. It's been that way since Urban Meyer's first season and hasn't changed over the years. This season isn't much different, though some of us concede the difficulty of the schedule could keep the BCS just out of sight. So I'd wager we're mostly expecting ten or so wins, a top-25 finish and maybe contention for the conference crown. However, TCU has established a fantastic program in Fort Worth and they'll be difficult to stop - even though the game is in Salt Lake this year. I think that point, the fact most our tough games (outside of Notre Dame) come at home, has given us a bit of hope that maybe the team can exceed expectations.

Much of that is because the Utes have won seventeen straight at home and you've got to go all the way back to the start of the 2007 season to find their last home loss (which came a week after the Utes lost their quarterback and running back to injury in the season opener). Since that loss, they've been almost unstoppable at home and we kind of expect that to continue into this year. If Utah wins out at home, their two toughest road contests are at Air Force (the last team to win in Salt Lake) and Notre Dame. Those aren't going to be easy games and certainly could derail any talks of perfection. But before we can even get to that point, the team will still have to beat Pitt. Which won't be easy.

2. Head Coach Kyle Whittingham turned down the Tennessee job earlier this season. Do you think he'll eventually leave Utah in the near future or can you see him sticking around long-term? Is he ever mentioned as a potential head coach at BYU, his alma mater?

I think now that Utah is moving to the Pac-10, it's far more unlikely we'll lose Kyle Whittingham to another program. I guess it's possible he accepts a job with a top-level team, but we'll worry about that when one of those jobs opens up.

As for BYU, no worries there. He had an offer to coach them in 2005 and he turned them down for Utah. BYU fans hate Whittingham now because of that and I see no way they could ever accept him as their head coach. I mean, this is a guy who's been at Utah since 1994. Not many head coaches in college football can say they've been with the same football program for 16 years. 

3. Sophomore QB Jordan Wynn made few mistakes last year as a true freshman. Do you expect him to be at all rattled in the opener? If he is, do you any scenario barring injury where Whittingham would go to senior Terrance Cain?

I think he'd be more rattled if the game were in Pittsburgh. But the fact it's in front of a partisan crowd should help. Plus, it isn't like this will be his first tough game. As Utah's starter, Wynn has gone up against TCU, BYU and Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl. The only average performance there was against, if you can believe it, BYU and many fans suspect that was because he got his bell rung on the first drive of the game and he never really looked the same the rest of the night.

Utah's offense was not the problem against the Frogs. They scored more points (28) on TCU than any other team (though the defense allowed 55, so...) and Wynn, of course, had a break out performance against Cal in the Poinsettia Bowl.

If Wynn does struggle early, he has a great backfield to rely on with Eddie Wide II and Matt Asiata. Those are two backs that could start at most schools and they'll both be sharing time for the Utes. If things still aren't working out and Wynn is playing atrociously, then I would not be surprised if Whittingham brought in Cain. But I don't think that'll happen.

4. With a new QB in Tino Sunseri, I expect a heavy dose of the running game for Pitt in the opener. How do you think Utah's defensive line will respond? And if Pitt decides to go to the air, how is the secondary?

The defensive line is expected to be one of Utah's strongest points on defense. Sealver Siliga and Dave Kruger, whose brother, Paul, was a beast on the defense for Utah's 2008 season, are very talented players who'll make big plays.

Of course, last year Utah had some iffy games with the run defense. Oregon and TCU specifically had no real trouble moving the ball on them and it cost them at least one game (Utah nearly beat the Ducks in Eugene). Whether that consistency issue is at play in 2010, no one knows. But the line is good. We just hope they're consistently good.

Now as for the secondary, that's the question mark for this year's Utes. They replace a lot of talent there, albeit with some very athletic and quick guys. Kyle Whittingham has made it his mission to turn Utah's defense into a very fast and athletic one and you're going to see that in the secondary. But since it's raw at times, they probably aren't at the level where they can overwhelm in games. Not yet, anyway. But against a team breaking in a new quarterback, who has to do it on the road, I think the Utes are well positioned here.

5. How do you see Thursday's game shaping up?
The worst thing about the first game of the season is not knowing what to expect. You can only go off last year's results and even then, for both teams, a lot has changed. But because it is the first game and rarely do you have a flawless performance that early from either team, I think we'll see a tight contest that comes down to the fourth quarter. With the game being played in Salt Lake City, I've got to go with the Utes. I say they enter the fourth up 28-21 and win the game 35-24.