Friday, March 9, 2018

The State of the Program- Offensive Line

Last season's offensive line was mostly above average, even after losing all-conference players Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson the year before. And now with early NFL entrant Brian O'Neill, and long time veteran Alex Officer, moving on, every lineman from the very good offensive line of two years ago is now gone, except 6'6" 315 pound redshirt senior Alex Bookser, who will return to start at guard. Bookser missed the beginning of last season because of a suspension, but he needs to be on the field and have a good year for the offensive line to also have a good year. Physically, he's capable of turning into an all-star player in his last go around.

At the tackle position, there will be two new starters, and both will also probably be players that are new to the team. At left tackle, the starter will be 6'5" 305 pound redshirt senior Stefano Millin, a graduate transfer from Kent State, unless something very unexpected happens. He's coming from a poor team, but he has the potential to be drafted in the NFL with a good year. At the very least, he should be serviceable. At right tackle, the favorite to start will be 6'5" 310 pound redshirt junior Chase Brown, a junior college transfer that is strong and has quick feet. If he makes the transition to full-time starter, the tackle position should at least be solid.

Opposite Bookser at guard could be one of many different possibilities. The candidates include 6'4" 310 pound redshirt senior Mike Herndon, 6'4" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Bryce Hargrove, 6'6" 350 pound redshirt sophomore Justin Morgan, 6'5" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Brandon Ford, 6'6" 280 pound redshirt freshman Gabe Houy, and 6'5" 325 pound redshirt freshman Carter Warren.

Herndon is a veteran that has played at defensive tackle last year, too. He projects as an average starter, at best. Warren, who is naturally huge, and Houy, probably won't be ready to start this season. The best hopes may come from Hargrove, Ford, or Morgan, but Morgan has yet to play a game, and Hargrove and Ford have each played just one game. So, needless to say, this is a very questionable area until at least one of them shows they are capable of being a quality starter.

Warren and Houy could also play at tackle, but the main reserve there should be 6'5" 315 pound redshirt freshman Jerry Drake, who the staff thought was capable of playing last year if he had to. With Millin and Brown brought in to start at tackle this will give Drake another year to develop so that he could take over as a starter two years from now. Also in reserve at tackle is 6'5" 320 pound redshirt junior Tony Pilato, who has mostly played on special teams at this point in his career.

At center, returning starter Jimmy Morrissey is a former walk-on that got a scholarship last season. At 6'3" and 300 pounds, Morrissey has the size, and he has the leadership despite his youth. He was only average as a starter last season, but there's hope that he'll improve next season and beyond. He'll be backed up by 6'3" 315 pond redshirt senior Connor Dintino, who lost out to Morrissey as a starter before the season started last year, and 6'3" 280 pound redshirt freshman Owen Drexel, who is a tough tactician.

Two locals- Jake Kradel and Blake Zubovic- will redshirt, but both could be future starters. Kradel is listed at 6'3" and 280 pounds, which may force him even more inside, to center, and Zubovic is already a solidly built 6'4 1/2" and 310 pounds. The staff sees him as someone that could also end up at tackle.

Right now, this is a very questionable unit because there will be three new starters, and two of them were not on the team last year. This group could really go either way. I think they will at least be solid, but if they can become good or even really good, that's anybody's guess (really good may be a stretch).

What makes this unit even more mysterious is that there will be a new offensive line coach in Dave Borberly, who has been a major college offensive line coach since 1986. His vast experience can only help develop all of the rawness before him. Like someone that comes in as somebody is putting together a puzzle, a new set of eyes can see things that others could no longer see. And Borberly with his experience should be able to get things out of a few players that others could not.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Who Will the Next Pitt Basketball Coach Be?


Thad Matta- It may not even take a call since Heather Lyke worked with Matta for a long time, and may already know of his situation. If she already knows through intermediaries, or from Matta himself, that he is in no position to coach, then so be it. But if she doesn't know, then she has to call. This may be Pitt's only chance to get a top 10 coach, and if Lyke doesn't call, and Matta ends up being healthy and coaching next season, that could prove to be disastrous loss for the program. So while you have to Matta first on any list, it obviously comes with a very big asterisk.

As for his health, it is why he was let go by Ohio State last year. Matta, who is still only 50 years old, had a botched back injury in 2007 that has led to serious back and foot problems. His inability to be active on the recruiting trail, and in the gym, were the main reasons cited for his sudden lack of success. His last season, his 17th in his career, was his first season in which he did not win at least 20 games.

As for his resume, it is obviously very impressive. He coached one year at Butler, three years at Xavier, and thirteen years at Ohio State, and averaged an amazing 26 wins a year over that time. He was also a highly impressive 24-13 in the NCAA tournament, took Xavier to an Elite 8, and Ohio State to the Final Four twice.

One thing that could be a big plus for Pitt's chances is that, as I mentioned previously, Lyke worked with Matta for nine years at Ohio State. Did they like each other or not like each other? Who knows? But coaches like to know the AD they will have to work with, and if he likes Lyke, that can only help.

Obviously, if he's healthy, hiring him would change everything for Pitt. He is an elite level coach, and this may be the only way that the university could hire someone of his stature. He also has a reputation for running a clean program, which is also a big thing for Pitt. And he's still only 50 years so, he could, health permitting, coach at least another ten years. But reality will probably have something to say about it. When he left Ohio State he said he would "never say never" about coming back. Maybe it's too early for that comeback, and that's assuming that a comeback is even going to happen. And if it's determined that he is healthy and available again, some programs bigger than Pitt will probably pursue him. But he did reportedly show up at Ole Miss recently to talk about their job opening, so the coaching itch is apparently back sooner than many expected. Even more interesting is that he is also reportedly no longer involved with that coaching search. What that means, and how it pertains to Pitt, is something we may soon find out.


Dan Hurley, Rhode Island head coach- Because the call to Matta would just be a quick, simple call to check availability, Hurley wouldn't even have to know about it, at least if the call ends with negative news about Matta's health.

According to sources, both mine and others, he told Pitt two years ago that he was not interested, and he turned down Jamie Dixon a few times to be an assistant at Pitt. But things change over the years, and what happened in the past doesn't necessarily mean he thinks badly about Pitt. In fact, he has stated recently that he considers Pittsburgh a lucky city for him.

From those close to him, Hurley is very picky about where he wants to go next, and he's got a good thing going on at Rhode Island so he's not in a big hurry. Especially since he's still only 45 years old. He turned down the Rutgers head coaching job twice in recent years, but he didn't do it easily. And while Pitt is not in his home state like Rutgers is, it's a better program. He eventually turned down Rutgers because he didn't feel it was the right time to uproot his family, and because he felt that it wasn't the time to leave the Rhode Island program. He also has two sons that he didn't want to have to move to a different school. One of those sons will be 19 during the year, and the other will be 17, so that may factor in any decision he may make.

As for what he has done in his career, he of course was a player at Seton Hall, and battled against Pitt many times in the old days of the Big East. After his playing career he was an assistant at Rutgers between 1997 and 2001, but then went back and coached high school at St. Benedict's Prep in New Jersey. He was highly successful there, and that's when Dixon contacted him at least twice to be an assistant at Pitt. Instead, in 2010 Hurley became the head coach at Wagner where he took a 5-26 team and improved them to a 25-6 team in just two years. That got him the job at Rhode Island where he took a 7-21 team and improved them to 23-10 in his third season. After an injured plagued 17-15 season, he followed that up with 23-10, then 23-6 so far this season.

As for his personality, Hurley is a little different. He has a reputation for being foul mouthed, hot tempered, obsessive, and high strung. It's a family thing. His dad, legendary high school coach, Bob, and his older brother, Arizona State head coach, Bobby, are similar. Would Hurley fit into a pro city with a sports media that won't coddle him? Will they criticize him every time he goes nuts on an official, and will that end up making him even more volatile?

He will have many options, and he will keep having those options until he chooses to go to a major program. Is Pitt big enough for him? Will he want to orchestrate yet another monumental rebuilding job? And will he decide that with 5 of his top 7 players graduating, this is the best time to move on from Rhode Island? There's only one way to find out about all of those questions, and that's to call him and give him your best offer.


Eric Musselman, Nevada head coach- Even though Matta has the most success of this group, and the other three have bigger names, this would quietly be a great hire. While his name isn't as big as the other three, at least among casual fans, he is a rising star in college basketball, even at the not so tender age of 53. But don't be confused with his age, as he is extremely youthful and energetic. After big wins he's even been known to take off his shirt and run around the court (it's not quite as obnoxious as it sounds).

Musselman is the son of longtime coach Bill Musselman, who coached in college at Minnesota and South Alabama, as well as various stops in the NBA, CBA, and even the now defunct WBA. The elder Musselman was known as a tough, but good man, who mentored ten future head coaches, including Eric. He also instilled in his son his competitiveness, perhaps best exemplified by his quote, "Defeat is worse the death because you have to live with defeat".

If the resume of the elder Musselman looks impressive, younger Musselman may have an even more impressive one. After playing collegiately at the University of San Diego, Musselman became the General Manager of the Rapid City Thrillers of the CBA just a year after graduating college. He immediately hired future long time NBA coach Flip Saunders to be the head coach. After a year, Musselman took over as the head coach of the team at the age of 23, a CBA record. He went on to be the youngest head coach in professional basketball history to win 100 games, which he did at the age of 28. His reputation for developing players began at this time as he had 24 players called up to the NBA over an 8 year span. That was the most in the CBA during that time. He ended his CBA career with a 270-122 record.

Musselman then moved to the NBA working as an assistant at Orlando and Atlanta. In this time he worked under Chuck Daly, Doc Rivers, and Lon Kruger. In 2002, he became the head coach at Golden State, and went 38-44, but with such little talent that he still finished second in the NBA Coach of the Year voting. After a similar season in year two, he was let go by new GM Chris Mullin.

Afer a short two year stint as an assistant at Memphis, he was named the head coach at Sacramento where he went 33-49. He and the GM never saw things the same way, and they parted ways after that one season. It was also at this time that Musselman was arrested for a DUI. But, and this not to downplay such an offense, he was barely over the legal limit (0.11), and he's not considered to be a drinker.

Musselman had three years of a guaranteed contract left so he went back to the Bay Area and spent time with his two sons, whom he shared custody with after a divorce. It was there that he met and married former popular on air sports personality Danyelle Sargent. They had a daughter together, but Musselman started getting bored and he moved on to the NBA Developmental League.

In his one year with the Reno Bighorn he developed Jeremy Lin and finished 34-16. The next year he moved on to the Los Angeles D-Fenders where he won the Coach of the Year and the team was named the D-League Development Champion, which goes to the team that best gets their players ready for the NBA.

In 2012, Musselman felt that his prospects of getting an NBA job again were not good so he headed to the college ranks for the first time, and ended up working under Herb Sendek for two years at Arizona State. After that he moved on to LSU to work for Johnny Jones. While he was at Arizona State, they went 21-12 both seasons. In his one season at LSU, they went 22-11. LSU has been looked at for possible NCAA and FBI infractions, but as of yet at least, none of what has been reported happened in Musselman's lone year in the program. Jones, however, was the head coach at this time, and he is currently Musselman's associate head coach, so if he came to Pitt he'll probably have to find a new right hand man.

After proving himself as a college assistant, he got a call from Nevada to be the head coach of a college team for the first time. He took over a 9-22 team and in his first season became the CBI champions on the way to a 24-14 season. In year two, the Wolfpack won the Mountain West Conference with a 28-7 record. This year, his third, he is currently 26-6 ***

As for his coaching, Musselman is known as one of the best developers of talent in basketball, college or pro, and that is obviously something that would appeal to a program like Pitt, who does not have the recruiting base or will break the rules to get top 10 classes on a routine basis. He also turned Nevada around quickly thanks to getting a lot of transfers, something that would also appeal to Pitt initially. While the administration doesn't want to be a program that loads up on jucos and transfers, it would be a good way to right the ship quickly. Another way to right the ship quickly is the fact that Musselman believes in coaching the team in the style that fits the players he has rather than stick to one specific way. Right now, at Nevada, his team is long and athletic, so they play to their strengths, but at Pitt he'd adapt to the talent available.

Musselman has mostly been a west coast guy, but since he was a longtime professional coach, there are no many doubts in the coaching community that he could succeed anywhere. He had shared custody, with his first wife, of his sons, who lived in the Bay Area, but one son is already at the University of San Diego, and the other is either in college or very close to being in college, so that may no longer be a factor.

Bottom line, Mussleman would seem like an idea hire for Pitt, and the coaches I talk to all agree. He is an excellent coach, he's a great fit, and the Pitt fans would love his energy and personality. He has a big social media presence, and his wife and daughter are big parts of the program. His cute young daughter even dresses up in a cheerleading outfit at games.

He already made NBA money, so he's probably not going to take his next job for just that reason. He was considered the frontrunner for the California job last year, and interviewed there twice, but that's a terrible job and the interview process conducted by the university was considered a disaster by many in the know. That led Musselman to pull himself out of the running. But he clearly is open to leaving Nevada if the right situation comes along. Maybe competing with legendary coaches in the ACC is exactly the kind of challenge that a former NBA coach would be open to.


Tom Crean- Despite being around for a long time, he still has a lot of youthful energy, even though he's about to turn 52. Most Pitt fans knew him first from his time at Marquette, where his teams drove Pitt teams crazy. The Michigan native averaged 21 wins over nine years there, and that includes a Final Four appearance on the back of Dwyane Wade. He did not reach the Sweet 16 any other season there. He was then hired at Indiana, where he took over from the train wreck that was left by Kelvin Sampson. In took him three years to salvage the program, then won the Big Ten and went to the Sweet 16 twice in his last six seasons. After an 18-16 season that saw multiple players getting arrested, he got fired last year. In the six seasons after the rebuild, he averaged a 23-12 overall record, and 11-7 in the Big 10.

Crean works for ESPN now as a color commentator, and he has been a critical success, but he wants to get back into coaching again. He's also had a recent media blitz trying to recuperate his image so that he can be in position to get a good job in the next month.

Bottom line, like Matta and Hurley this would be the big name that could help Pitt not only keep any good players they have, but also bring the stature of the program back. But he had one giant major rebuilding job under his belt already, with Indiana, and he would probably want to go somewhere where he can get things going faster. He's also considered a divisive person, and many people consider him a jerk. At this time, he may not be an ideal pick as far as fan relations are concerned, but he's considered one of the better head coaches in the country and it would be foolish to dismiss such a high caliber coach so casually when the alternatives may be more questionable.

IF THE FIRST FOUR HANG UP (alphabetical order)

If the first four say no, then I would interview all four of these candidates to see which one is the best fit. Of this group, I would think that Grant and Oats would be the most likely to eventually get the job.

Earl Grant, College of Charleston head coach- The 41-year old South Carolina native comes from the Gregg Marshall coaching tree, so that's a good start. He would also be the first African American to be a head coach for one of Pitt's two major sports teams.

Grant played collegiately at Georgia College, then started his coaching career two years later at The Citadel. After two seasons there he was hired by Marshall at Winthrop. After three successful seasons there, Marshall was hired by Wichita State, and he took Grant with him. After three seasons there, Grant moved on to be the assistant for Brad Brownell at Clemson. There Grant showed his recruiting prowess by bringing in Jaron Blossongame and K.J. McDaniels.

After four years at Clemson, Grant got the head coaching job at the College of Charleston where took over for a team that went 14-18 the previous season and who fired their coach for verbal abuse of the players. In his first season he went 9-24, then he went 17-14 in his second season. In his third season he his stride and went 25-10 while going to the NIT. This season he is 26-7 and he will be in his first NCAA tournament after winning the Colonial Athletic Conference as the top seed. Getting into the tournament makes him a major player for top level jobs, since top programs rarely hire a mid-major head coach that hasn't at least gotten to the biggest stage.

As for style, he emphasizes defense to an enormous degree, and his defenses are ranked highly in almost every category. While defense often does win championships, it may not be a style that Pitt fans would be entertained by. Of course if they even tally win, that won't be a problem anymore. Also, with not a lot of defensive players on the current Pitt roster, any turnaround that would take place will likely take longer.

Pat Kelsey, Winthrop head coach- The Cincinnati native is currently 42, and will be 43 before next season starts, so if the Panthers want to go young this could be a possibility.

As a player, Kelsey originally played at Wyoming, but then transferred back home to Xavier. After high school, he immediately became the assistant coach at his former high school in Cincinnati. He parlayed that into being hired, by Skip Prosser, as the Director of Basketball Operations at Wake Forest. Prosser was his head coach when he played at Xavier, and was, incidentally, the head coach that Pitt tried to hire initially before they promoted Jamie Dixon.

After three years, Kelsey got promoted to assistant under Prosser for three additional years. After Prosser passed away suddenly, Kelsey remained as an assistant for new head coach Dino Gaudio for two more years. He then moved back to Xavier to be the associate head coach for Chris Mack, who he previously coached with at both Xavier and Waker Forest.

In 2012, Kelsey got the call to be the head coach at Winthrop. Taking over for a 12-20 team, Kelsey went 14-17 in his first season, but then 20-13 in his second season, while finishing 2nd in the conference. In year three, he went 19-13 and finished 3rd in the conference. Beginning in his fourth season, Winthrop took off under Kelsey in years four and five going 23-9 and 26-7, respectively, while finishing first in the conference both years.

It was after the 2017 season that Kelsey accepted the head coach job at UMass. But 35 minutes before the press conference, he changed his mind. Cheerleaders, balloons, etc. were actually waiting for him to show up for the announcement. Needless to say, this did not go over well nationally, and it gave serious damage to Kelsey's reputation. He cited personal reasons for his decision, but he never go into specifics.

This season, Winthrop finished for a tie for second on the Big South Conference, but lost in the semifinals to Radford. Kelsey finished the regular season 19-12. In conference, over the last three seasons, he is 40-14.

Another negative going for him, as it pertains to the Pitt job, is that if Chris Mack leaves Xavier, he may be his replacement, though current Xavier associate head coach Travis Steele may have something to do say about that.

If it wasn't for those questions, he would be an interesting choice. The Panthers just had a coach that was considered, rightly or wrongly, as very unlikeable by many, and Kelsey has a similar reputation after the UMass fiasco. But he should have a very successful career, and he has a system that Pitt fans would love because it can be a force both offensive and defensively.

Nate Oats, Buffalo head coach- Probably the most interesting coach of the bunch since on one hand the 43-year old doesn't have much experience, but on the other hand he has an air about him that makes one think he could be a big time coach at a major program someday.

The Wisconsin native played at tiny Wisconsin religious college, Maranatha Baptist. After his playing career, he became an assistant for the school for the next three years before moving on to Division 3 Wisconsin-Whitewater.

In 2002, Oats decided to leave the college ranks to become a teacher and high school head coach at Romulus HS in Detroit. Over the next eleven years he turned the school into a powerhouse and compiled a 222-52 record.

In 2013, while then Rhode Island assistant coach Bobby Hurley was recruiting future Rhode Island star E.C. Matthews, Hurley became very impressed with Oats. Not long after, Hurley got the head coaching job at Buffalo and he brought on Oats as one of his assistants.

After just two seasons, Hurley moved on to be the head coach at Arizona State, and Oats' meteoritic rise continued when he was promoted to head coach. In his first year, Buffalo went 20-15, but won the conference tournament and went to the NCAA tournament. This was more impressive than the record indicates because his top player, the former MAC Player of the Year, was dismissed from the team after stealing money from a dorm room (recruited by Oats), and the second leading scorer transferred to Arizona State to be with Hurley.

In a transitional second year, Oats had a 17-15 record, but in this season, his third, it all came together for his program with a 23-8 record, with the MAC tournament still on the horizon.

It's debatable whether Oats has enough experience to be able to turn around a struggling program to compete in the ACC, but he's extremely well loved at Buffalo, he runs a very aggressive offense that Pitt fans would like, and he's a very good recruiter. Because he hasn't done it for a long time yet at a mid-major, and hasn't done it all at a high major, it will obviously raise a lot of questions, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was a big time coach for someone soon.

T.J. Otzelberger, South Dakota State head coach- A native of Milwaukee, the 40 year old is probably my personal favorite of this second group (along with Oats), but with one big caveat that I will talk about at the end of this bio.

After his high school playing career, Otzelberger became an assistant coach at a high school in Wisconsin for two years before being named the head coach and athletic director for another year. After that, he moved to Florida and became an assistant at junior college powerhouse Chipola College for a year.

His trajectory continued to move sharply upward just one year later when he was hired to be an assistant by then Iowa State head coach Greg McDemott. After four seasons, McDemott was let go and was replaced by Fred Hoiberg, who promoted Otzelberger to associate head coach. Over the next three years, Otzelberger became one of the best recruiters in the country.

After three years with Hoiberg, Otzelberger wanted to strengthen his resume, and not be an assistant at just one school. He had his eye on being a head coach and was positioning himself. He was hired by Lorenzo Romar at Washington where he was an assistant for two years.

Otzelberger left Washington once he got early word that Hoiberg was going to the NBA. He was trying to get into position to possibly get the Iowa State head coaching job so he went back to Ames two months before Hoiberg was hired by the Chicago Bulls. But instead the job went to Steve Prohm.

After one year with Prohm, Otzelberger left again, this time to finally become a head coach. South Dakota State was the program that called him, and Otzelberger replaced Scott Nagy who was the head coach for the Jackrabbits for 21 years. Nagy went on to Wright State, but he left Otzelberger with a 26-8 team.

In his first year, Otzelberger went just 18-17, but his team won the conference tournament, and he ended up in the NCAA tournament. This year, just his second as a head coach, Otzelberger has exploded to a 28-6 record and his second NCAA tournament appearance in his two years at the school.

Otzelberger has the youth, he has a strong resume as both an assistant at a high level, and a successful head coach at a smaller level, and he is considered one of the best recruiters in the country. On the downside, one has to worry about someone that was a great recruiter at Iowa State and Washington under Romar. Iowa State has no recruiting violations during his time there, but he was able to get in players that Pitt wouldn't let in (like DeAndre Kane). And Romar has raised many eyebrows in his tenure at Washington with his recruiting prowess. Is it unfair to Otzelberger to be suspicious of him when he may just be an excellent recruiter? Perhaps, but in these times it's important to make sure the coach you hire doesn't have skeletons in his closet.

You also have to wonder if Otzelberger will end up being the head coach at Iowa State since Prohm is 13-17 this year, and 4-14 in the Big 12. He got married to a former Iowa State basketball player (though she's from Australia, not Iowa) so they may want to settle down there and make his mark.

Why Not These Coaches?

John Becker, Vermont head coach- At one time he was on the list, but I don't think Pitt would have to take a guy that makes the jump from Vermont, even if he is a really good coach. At almost 50 years old, he turned down Duquesne last year.

Randy Bennett, St. Mary's head coach- One of the most successful head coaches in the country, and has a current streak of eleven 20+ win seasons. But after failing to get a higher profile job for so many years, he's probably now too old at 56 to make such a drastic change.

John Brannen, Northern Kentucky head coach- The 44-year old is definitely one to watch for the future, but he's not ready for Pitt's level at the moment. Losing to the No. 8 seed in the first round of his conference tournament this year, when he was the No.1 seed, did not help his cause.

Jeff Capel, Duke assistant coach- Still only 43 years old, and he was a mostly successful head coach at VCU and Oklahoma, but Oklahoma went on probation while he was there. While he was not implicated, it's still enough to keep Pitt away from him. He also may be the heir apparent to Mike Krzyzewski.

Jamion Christian, Mount St. Mary's head coach- He'll turn just 36 years old in April, but he's already been a head coach for six years. Yes, he actually got the head coaching job at his alma mater at the age of 29. The former VCU assistant under Shaka Smart runs a similar style to Smart, but he calls is Mayhem instead of Havoc. He's also been to the NCAA tournament twice, though once when he was 16-16 and won the conference tournament. He's definitely one to watch in the future, but not ready.

Tim Cluess, Iona head coach- He's a very good coach, and he should be at a higher level program by now, but he's 59 years old. That will eliminate him from the Pitt job.

Ed Cooley, Providence head coach- The 48-year old has done a fine job at Providence, but he's never finished above third in the Big East. Bottom line, he's a very good coach that wouldn't be worth what it would cost to get him away from Providence.

Mick Cronin, Cincinnati head coach- He wanted to leave Cincinnati when he felt like they weren't meeting his demands. He almost ended up going to UNLV, but the school has since given him what he wants. It's unlikely he's going anywhere, and if he is, I doubt very much that Pitt would be his destination. there would be better options with deeper pockets.

Kermit Davis, Middle Tennessee State head coach- Mentioned a lot when it comes to coaching candidates around the country, but he's 56 years old and had a two year show cause penalty at Texas A&M, where he got them on two years probation. So obviously Pitt wouldn't hire such a coach.

Nathan Davis, Bucknell head coach- He's done an excellent job at Bucknell, but he's only been there for three years, and to go from Bucknell to the ACC you have to be truly special. He's good, but it's debatable that he's special. He'll likely move up the ladder soon, but not the ACC.

Joe Dooley, Florida Gulf Coast head coach- The former long time Kansas assistant under Bill Self just turned 52, and he's done very well after taking over when Andy Enfield went to USC. At one time he was on the list, but the Panthers should have better options.

Steve Forbes, East Tennessee State head coach- One of the best low major head coaches in the country, and was a top assistant in major college basketball, too. However, he was an assistant for the always shady Bruce Pearl at Tennessee, and ended up getting a show cause penalty for lying to the NCAA. Pitt wouldn't hire such a guy.

Ben Howland, Mississippi State head coach- He's not coming back, nor should he. For the sake of both parties. You rarely can recapture the magic. Plus, he's about to turn 61.

Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa head coach- He's only 47 years old, but he's already in his 12th season at Northern Iowa. He's had great success, including a 31 win and a 30 win season, but he loves where he's at, and he's signed a ten year contract extension. Surprisingly, he's also struggled the last two seasons. I think he could coach at Pitt, though.

Chris Jans, New Mexico head coach- He's won big everywhere he's been, including New Mexico State this season, but the 48-year old was fired after his lone season at Bowling Green in 2015 because he was videotaped being drunk and rude to women at a bar. That will disqualify him for Pitt.

Matt McCall, UMass head coach- Only 36 years old, he was an assistant for Billy Donovan at Florida, and did well in his two seasons as head coach for Chattanooga. In his first year at UMass, and he's gone 12-19 ***. Will probably be a big name in the future, but still a little too green for the ACC.

Greg McDermott, Creighton head coach- Despite being just 53 years old, Creighton is his fifth job, and this is his eight season there. The one place he failed was Iowa State where he was 59-68, so he may be someone that's just very good as a mid-major coach.

Nick McDevitt, UNC-Asheville head coach- He's only 38 years old and he's already in his fifth season. And if that wasn't impressive enough, his last three seasons he's had over 20 wins each season. But he played only here, was an assistant coach only here, and was a head coach only here. The resume is just not broad enough. He also lost a chance to get national recognition by losing to a No. 5 seed, as a No. 1 seed, in his conference tournament this year.

Matt McMahon, Murray State head coach- The former alum will turn just 40 in April and with a big third season as head coach, which included a 26-5 record, and an Ohio Valley Conference championship, he will start to have a big buzz. He's not ready for the ACC yet yet, but he is one to watch in the future.

Porter Moser, Loyola head coach- I've seen this name mentioned a lot among coaching candidates around the country, but I'm not sure why. The 49-year old is having a big season currently, but he's been basically a .500 head coach in his career.

Andy O'Toole, Robert Morris head coach- Three or four years ago, it looked like he'd be at a higher level by now, and he's still only 37 years old, but he's had three bad seasons in a row, and the bloom is off the rose.

King Rice, Monmouth head coach- The 49-year old was probably one more big season away from a  climb up the ladder. Then a funny thing happened. He had a 20 loss season this year, and now the buzz is gone.

Mark Schmidt, St. Bonaventure head coach- One of the most admired head coaches in the country, despite his overall record, because he has worked at Robert Morris and St. Bonaventure, two very hard places to win. But he's 55 now, and I don't see how he would excite the Pitt fanbase.

Pat Skerry, Towson head coach- The former Pitt assistant has done a very good job at a very tough place to win, but not good enough to be the head coach in the ACC.

Paul Weir, New Mexico head coach- Only 38 years and a Toronto native, a place in which Pitt could mine for top prospects. He's also been very successful in his two years as a head coach. The problem is, one of the seasons was at New Mexico State, and one is at New Mexico. It seems unlikely he'll go a third school in three years. And if he is the type that would do that, would you want him? But he could end up being very good.

Kevin Willard, Seton Hall head coach- Only 42 years old, he's a good coach, and he's a Pitt alum, but he's had some questions lately about the recruiting in the program, and, quite frankly, since he's not better than Kevin Stallings it will not be worth what it would cost to hire him away. Pitt could just easily keep the same level coach for less money.

Steve Wojciechowski, Marquette head coach- The former Duke player and assistant is well known, but he's only had average success in his four seasons at Marquette.

Any assistant that was never been a head coach before- Sometimes a first time head coach is in play, but not in this situation. Pitt needs to make the most successful hire they can so that they can the program back in order. And you don't trust that to a first time head coach.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The State of the Program- Tight Ends

Two tights have moved on in Matt Flanagan and Devon Edwards, but neither made a huge impact on the program so replacing them should not be difficult. Flanagan was a graduate senior that was a good blocker, and started the first 9 games before an injury cost him the last 3 games of his career. But he only had 17 catches for a 9.4 yard average, and no touchdowns. Edwards spent five seasons in the program, but never caught a pass.

The probable starter is 6'6" 260 pound redshirt junior Chris Clark, who started 8 games last year and ended up with 16 catches, a 7.6 average, and a touchdown. The production was obviously not very good. Some of that has to do with poor quarterback play, but an even bigger reason is that, despite being in college for three years, he was basically a freshman as far as actually being on the field.

A former No. 1 tight end prospect in the country, Clark initially committed to North Carolina, then flipped to Michigan, before finally flipping one more time to UCLA. He ended up contracting mononucleosis before his freshman season, and wasn't completely healthy for the start of the year. UCLA played him in the first game anyway, then Clark decided to transfer. But because he played in that one game he had to sit out a year wherever he transferred. He attempted first to go to Syracuse, but that fell through. Eventually he ended up at Pitt, where he appealed that he should not have to sit out a year, but he failed to convince the NCAA.

If all of that wasn't enough, once Clark got to Pitt, he was hurt in the spring, then hurt his knee over the summer. So not only did he not get to practice at UCLA because he had mono, he couldn't practice at Pitt because of injuries. Because of this he played in just one game in his first two years, and he barely go to practice at all.

But now Clark is more mature mentally, and he also has had one year of playing under his belt. After he committed to Pitt, he and I would have some conversations, and he was really upset that he got the reputation as a flake. But he understood why he had that stigma, and he knew he wanted to change it. And since he's been at Pitt, he has changed it. He's now entering his third season in the program and in the first two years his attitude and work ethic have been exemplary.

Clark will be 23 years old early next season and because of his excellent physical skills he no doubt is thinking of the NFL. With a big season he could not only enter the NFL draft early as a high draft choice, but also erase all of the negative talk that has dogged him over the last four years.

Seeing action for the first time this season will be massive 6'5" 280 pound redshirt freshman Charles Reeves. Size is clearly not an issue with Reeves, but he is also very mobile and agile for his size. Coming out of high school, he had offers from the likes of Penn State, Alabama, and Michigan, so his high level of physical talent is obvious. But he was more of a giant receiver in high school, and he used his redshirt season to learn how to be an every down tight end. Needless to say, if it comes together for him, he could be special.

One newcomer last year that did see the field last year was 6'4" 250 pound sophomore Tyler Sear. The less known of the three freshmen tight ends last year, he surprised many by being the one that did not redshirt. The reason was that is because he is probably the best blocking tight end on the roster, at least now that Flanagan is gone. He had just one catch as a freshman, and he may catch more in the future, but at the very least he should have an effective career as a tough as nails blocker.

Lastly, there is 6'7" 275 pound redshirt freshman Grant Carrigan. The local product obviously has great size, and like Reeves he was used more like a big receiver in high school. It will be interesting to see how he evolves this year because he may end up at offensive tackle.

The Panthers did a good job of nabbing Clark in 2006, and Reeves, Sear, and Carrigan in 2017, but they failed this year to bring in another tight end. Little recruited Jay Symonds looked like a steal when he committed to Pitt, and the Panthers looked at him as an eventual George Aston replacement, though with tight end skills. But then his dream school, Stanford, offered him, and he flipped to them. Another commit, Matt Alaimo, opened up his recruitment just before the early signing day before eventually signing with UCLA. He had the talent to be an all around quality starter some day so that one hurt, too.

Because of the failure to sign a tight end, the Panthers may be forced to move one of their incoming defensive ends to tight end to strengthen the depth. The problem with that, though, is that all three of the possibilities to move project better as defensive ends. So the failure to land a quality tight end will have an effect on not one, but two positions.

That may not be a big deal in the end. If Clark and Reeves live up their huge potential, and Sear continues to provide good support, the position will be strong next season. Then the Panthers can land another tight end or two in 2019, which means the transplanted defensive end could possibly move back.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The State of the Program- Wide Receivers

Two of the most productive players on this unit are moving on, but the Panthers still have a lot of possibilities coming back. Gone are Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson, the latter leaving a year early to enter the NFL draft. But losing the Weah and Henderson of two years ago would be more difficult than losing the Weah and Henderson of last year, since both of their production dropped quite a bit in 2017.

Weah had just one catch in his first two seasons, but then exploded two years ago with 870 yards, an incredible 24.2 yard average, and 10 touchdowns. But last season his production dropped to 698 yards, a 17.8 average, and 4 touchdowns. Obviously, a lot of the lesser production was because of poor quarterback play, but his own play was also not as good. While he had moments when he looked like a future high NFL draft choice, he just as often would drop an easy pass. He also inexplicably got caught from behind at the end of the Virginia Tech game which contributed to a Pitt loss, and eventually cost them a bowl game.

Henderson was an All-American return man two years ago, and will go down as one of the best to do that in college football history. And he was also a game breaker on end arounds two years ago. But like Weah, his production dropped precipitously, in his case both in special teams and in the run game. In 2016, Henderson ran for 631 yards, 5 touchdowns, and an amazing 10.6 yards a carry. He also averaged 30.5 yards a kick return, with 3 touchdowns, and a 15.8 yard average on punt returns, with another touchdown. Last year, Henderson's totals dropped to 251 yards rushing, 7.0 yards a carry, and no touchdowns. On kick returns, his average dropped to 21.0 yards, with no touchdowns. He did return two punts for touchdowns, but his average still dropped to 11.6 yards. Henderson's receiving totals were never impressive, but dropped from 26 receptions and one touchdown in 2016 to 17 receptions and no touchdowns last year. In his career, he had 7 total touchdowns on returns, and 5 rushing touchdowns, but just one receiving touchdown.

Weah and Henderson both provided a lot of speed, and while nobody left on the unit looks to have that same level of speed, the unit does have some experience, good numbers, and raw talent, especially in the younger players of the group.

The four veterans of the unit are led by 5'9" 190 pound redshirt senior Rafael Araujo-Lopes, who was a one time late junior college signing which usually means a player that will not amount to much. But Araujo-Lopes surprised many by following up his 3 catches in his first season with a team leading 43 catches last season. While he still does not project as being a big time receiver next season, he's proved to be a good slot receiver that utilizes his quickness to come up with the big catch on third down. He is also the team's best player on kickoff coverage, and had a team leading 8 tackles on the unit last season.

Third in receptions last season, behind Araujo-Lopes and Weah, was 5'11" 190 pound junior Maurice Ffrench. He ended up with 25 catches, but he had just a 10.9 average and has yet to catch a touchdown pass in his career. His hands have been inconsistent, but he has excellent speed that approached what Weah and Henderson possessed. He also has a 9.2 average on end arounds over the last two years, on 21 attempts, so he is the most likely option to replace Henderson on that play, if it remains a major part of the offense.

Junior Aaron Mathews, a different type of receiver at 6'4" and 205 pounds, came through with 16 catches last season. He doesn't have topnotch speed, but he's an excellent blocker, and has a great frame and very good hands. He should be more productive over his last two years.

The last of the veterans is 6'0" 190 pound redshirt junior Tre Tipton. The local product is a high character person with highly underrated athletic skills, but he's been plagued with injuries throughout his career thus far. As a freshman, he played in the first four games before a knee injury. He did not catch a pass or run the ball in those games, and he ended up getting redshirted. As a redshirt freshman, Tipton showed promise with 12 catches in reserve, as well as carrying the ball 11 times for a 5.5 average. But in the ninth game he suffered a collapsed lung, and he he missed the last four games. Last season he was expected to finally make a bigger impact, but he hurt his knee in the offseason, and it cost him the entire year. Now presumably healthy, he should finally be productive.

There's every reason to think that those four will be seeing the field, but none of them have that No. 1 receiver, all-star type of ability that the Panthers need. With a 70+ catch, 1,000 yard, go to receiver, these four would be significantly more effective. Without such a receiver, they can be a solid, if unspectacular group.

That means if the unit is going to come up with a No. 1 receiver, it will probably have to be from the younger group. The oldest of this group is 6'3" 205 pound redshirt sophomore Ruben Flowers, who was highly ranked coming out of high school, but still hasn't caught a pass. He has the size, speed, and athleticism, so it's too early to give up on him yet, especially since Weah did not break though until he was a redshirt junior. But if he's going to make a move, he better get to it.

Three redshirt freshmen have promise, especially 6'1" 205 pound Michael Smith, who may have the best chance on the roster of being the much needed No. 1 receiver. But he has yet to see the field so it's still a mystery what, if anything, he can bring to the offense next season. Like Smith, 6'0" 205 pound Dontavius Butler-Jenkins has a strong, athletic body, but he appears to be more of a No. 2 receiver. The third of the group is 6'1" 180 pound Darian Street, the brother of former Pitt receiver, Devin Street. It remains to be seen if he'll ever reach his brother's level, but if he does it probably won't be next year.

There's two freshmen entering the program, and both have southern speed. Another big time Florida athlete, 6'0" 170 pound Shocky Jacques-Louis has excellent speed and quickness. He has an extremely high ceiling, but he's raw and still needs to learn the nuances of the position. If he's going to be the No. 1 receiver, it probably won't be next year. But the chances are good that he will see the field in some way since athletically he's too gifted to sit. Cameron O'Neil looks like he has a longer frame than his listed 6'1" and 185 pounds, and he has good speed and athleticism. He is very good running with the ball after the catch. He's likely looking at a redshirt, but he could prove to be a steal down the line.

Indiana transfer Taysir Mack will have to sit out next season because of the transfer rules, but the 6'2" 200 pound sophomore really came on strong last year in the Big 10, and has the chance to be a No. 1 receiver at Pitt eventually. At the very least, he looks to be a probable starter in 2019.

This position may be a season away from being a big strength. Everyone is expected to be back in 2019, and Flowers, Smith, Butler-Jenkins, Jacques-Louis, and O'Neil will have matured. And then there's the excellent addition of Mack.

As for 2018, the unit is a No. 1 receiver away from being an excellent unit. With one big time receiver, the veteran receivers will have more room to make plays, the younger players can ease in, and a player like Jacques-Louis can be used in his freshman year in a very specific way to best utilize him as a weapon. But Narduzzi has not yet proved that he has recruited the position to a high degree. While they have recruited good players, and players with promise, he has failed in his tenure to add even one sure fire elite receiver. All of that can change, as can Pitt's fortunes on offense, if someone one from this group develops into that.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The State of the Program- Running Backs

In recent years, the Panthers have been blessed with excellent running backs. LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Ray Graham, and James Conner have all run amuck in Pitt uniforms over the last decade. But the top rusher for the Panthers last year had just 628 yards, and players that had 102 carries between them have graduated (not including quarterbacks). But like I said about the transition taking place with the quarterback position, this is not necessarily a bad thing because there is young talent that should now be ready to get their own carries.

Of those 102 carries, only 42 came from a running back, and that was Chawntez Moss, who has transferred. The other carries came on reverses from wide receiver Quadree Henderson, and defensive backs Jordan Whitehead and Avonte Maddox. Maddox, who had just 2 carries, graduated, while Henderson and Whitehead left early or the NFL. The carries for these three will probably be picked up by similar players, i.e., wide receivers or a defensive back on end arounds.

As for the actual running backs, the returning starter, and the player responsible for the aforementioned 628 yards, is 5'11" 220 pound senior Darrin Hall. You'd think that the returning starter would be the favorite to start again, but that's not necessarily true. While Hall lead the team in rushing, he did not become the starter until week 6 of the season, when he had 9 carries for 17 yards against NC State. In the following game, against Duke, Hall ripped off 254 yards and 3 touchdowns, on just 24 carries. But that included runs of 92 and 79 yards in which Hall was never touched. Prior to that, Hall had 106 yards rushing on the season. After running for 111 yards against Virginia, and 121 yards against North Carolina, in the next two games, he ended the season with 15 carries for 4 yards against Virginia Tech, and 10 carries for 30 yards against Miami.

Hall has good size and speed, and he clearly has his moments sometimes, but in three years he's totaled just 1,045 yards. And nearly 25% of his career yards came in that Duke game. I'm not saying that Hall won't start, and if he does start, that he won't have an excellent year. He may be capable of it from a physical standpoint. But he's also never proven to be a big time workhorse running back.

If Hall doesn't prove to be the main ball carrier when all is said and done, then who will be? The reliable fifth year senior, Qadree Ollison, will return after starting 8 games last season, though sometimes as more of a fullback. As a redshirt freshman Ollison replaced James Conner in the first game after Conner went down with a season ending injury. Ollison ended being named the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year after running for 1,21 yards and 11 touchdowns, but he's only been a role player since with 525 combined rushing yards over the last two years. He runs hard, and his hands have improved, but he's clearly not the big time back that the staff desires.

The group of five halfbacks are divided into the aforementioned two seniors, and three young players with a lot of upside. Sophomore AJ Davis had his redshirt burned for 14 carries last season, but the 6'0" 205 pound Florida product has at least got the nerves out of the way by playing 9 games in his freshman year. It was hard to tell with only 14 carries, but Davis has the size to run inside and the speed and athleticism to pick up chunks of yards once he springs into the open. But, like the other two youngsters, he hasn't proved himself yet.

Redshirt freshman Todd Sibley obviously didn't play in his first season, but the 5'9" 205 pound one time Ohio State commit is projected to be tough between the tackles and has improved his speed into the very good range. He's not a home run threat, but he he's compact and tough. He projects as the type of back that, if he lives up to his potential, could accumulate a lot of yards 5 or 10 yards at a time.

Last, but certainly not least, is incoming 5'11" 190 pound freshman, Mychale Salahauddin. Once a USC commit, and one of the most coveted running backs in the country, he has has the strength and toughness to run up the middle despite not being really big, but he also has great quickness and vision. In high school, his best official time in the 100m was a rather mediocre 11.97, but he must have run that one backwards because you can see on the field that he is much faster than that. If he can't win the starting job, we still may see him in passing situations because he is excellent in the passing game. He could also run the end around plays that Quadree Henderson ran, and even be a kick return man.

While the halfback situation will have to be sorted out in practices, and maybe even during the season, the fullback will again be manned by 6'0" 245 pound redshirt senior George Aston, who missed almost all of last season with an injury.  Two years ago, Aston was one of the better all around fullbacks in the country despite only getting 44 total touches during the entire season. But he was a devastating lead blocker, he ran well when he got the chance, and he proved to be an excellent receiver with 22 catches. He had 10 total touchdowns on the season, 5 via the run, and 5 via the pass. A healthy return is essential for the running game next season.

As for 2019, with Hall and Ollison moving on, it's safe to say that the Panthers will bring in two more running backs in the next class. Aston will also be moving on, but it remains to be seen if the Panthers give a scholarship to a similar player, turn a walk on into a similar player, or use a tight end to do the same job.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The State of the Program- Quarterbacks

Next season, the Panthers quarterbacks situation will be much different than last season, and that is a good thing. Max Browne has graduated, and Ben DiNucci and Thomas MacVittie have transferred. Browne, a former top five quarterback prospect that once started at USC, was down to his last chance to make an impact in college. After a very slow start, Browne began to get the rust off at the midpoint of the season, but then an injury in the sixth game cost him the rest of his career.

In that same sixth game, DiNucci became the new starter, and it was apparent for the rest of the season that he was in over his head. Once a commit to Penn in the Ivy League, he only flipped to Pitt late once Pat Narduzzi became the coach and desperately needed another quarterback on the roster. There was always the hope that DiNucci would be a pleasant surprise, but he never took advantage of being the starter. He has since transferred to James Madison once it became apparent that he was no longer in the plans.

MacVittie was once considered a good prospect due to his size, arm strength, and excellent speed. But he apparently had trouble with the nuances of the position and he never came close to seeing the field. He has since transferred to a junior college so that he can salvage his college career.

In that same fateful game at Syracuse, after both Browne and DiNucci were hurt, and MacVittie was not even considered, Kenny Pickett had to come in for the last snap of the game. This cost Pickett, a true freshman at the time, a chance to redshirt. This caused an uproar from Pitt fans who wanted to save the redshirt. The uproar became even louder when DiNucci, despite showing no effectiveness at all, continued to get almost all of the snaps for the next four games.

This was obviously done because Narduzzi, with probable input from offensive coordinator Shawn Watson, thought the best chance for the team to get to a bowl was with the more experienced DiNucci. Narduzzi's excuse for why DiNucci started over Pickett was that they saw things that Pickett "needed to clean up" and that they needed more time to clean it up. This appears to be the wrong answer, and the wrong decision. One, it's not realist to think that Pickett isn't better than DiNucci at midseason, and then a month later is good enough to beat Virginia Tech (which he should have done with better play calling at the end of the game), and Miami (which he did do). And, two, he couldn't have been worse than DiNucci, who was a complete non-factor during those four games.

But now it's on to next year, and it's Pickett's team. The 6'2" 215 pound Pickett showed in less than two full games that he is the real deal. And, yes, you can tell in that short period of time. Pickett showed a strong, accurate arm, and good running ability. Having physical prowess is one thing, but it's the intangibles that make the big time quarterbacks, and it didn't take long to see that Pickett had that, too. He showed that he's tough, smart, and that he has an air about him that leaders have. He still doesn't have a lot of experience so he will probably throw an untimely interception from time to time next season, but I expect a very good season. A 30 touchdown, 5 interception season is unrealistic, but 20-25 touchdowns and 10 interception is certainly possible.

Backing Pickett up will be 6'3" 205 pound Ricky Town. To say that Town took the circuitous route to Pitt is a massive understatement. At one time he was considered the consensus top rated high school prospect in the entire country. In California he was compared to Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold, and most people decided that he was the best of the trio. He was so coveted that he amassed 7,000 recruiting letters. He originally committed to Alabama, then flipped to USC. Two weeks into camp at USC, he transferred to Arkansas. He failed to grasp the offense there and eventually left for junior college.

So why is the former best player in the country still looking to see his first snap in college after three years? From people that know him best, his problem is not physical, it's mental. Town has been training to be a big time quarterback since he was in the sixth grade. He trained for years with famous quarterback guru Steve Clarkson. His experience was even written about in a popular book about quarterbacks by Sports Illustrated writer Bruce Feldman. Many believe that the pressure of being trained so hard, so early, and then being considered the best in the country as a sophomore in high school, completely overwhelmed him emotionally, which made him anxious, and then ultimately ruined his confidence. He was, quite frankly, suddenly terrified of making a mistake.

After being considered The Next Great One as a high school sophomore, Town went through three different coaches in three years, and then injured his knee not long before competing in the Elite 11. At the event, he started slowly because he couldn't use his injured knee to follow through on his passes. But he eventually improved enough for Trent Dilfer to say that Town had "the greatest week an Elite 11 kid has ever had". Because he started slowly, he ended up being named the eight best quarterback in the event, but he showed that he could still call on his physical ability when he had to.

But mentally he still was having trouble finding the fun in playing quarterback. While he worked hard in the little time he was at USC and Arkansas, he seemed burnt out. That's understandable when you are being groomed for your life's work at eleven years old. So he decided to go to Ventura Junior College in California to basically regain his confidence and find his love for the game. And it may have worked because people close to him say that he's becoming happy again about being a quarterback. It showed on the field where he did well last season. He still has all of the physical skills needed to be a big time quarterback. He has the size, he has a strong arm, and he's very mobile. Physically, he's obviously good enough to beat out Pickett. And the fact that he will push Pickett, and Pickett will push back, can only make both better. Pickett is the still the likely starter, but the fact that a player with Town's immense physical talent is around suddenly makes the position a strength after being such a weakness last season. In fact, if Town and Pickett live up to their immense potential, and admittedly that's far from a sure thing, Pitt will have one of the stronger quarterback duos in the country.

Rounding out the scholarship players will be incoming freshman Nick Patti. The 6'1" 185 pound New Jersey native is not big, and Pitt actually lists him smaller than others do. He does look like he has a slight frame, but he won't play next season anyway, and he could easily end up being 210-220 pounds eventually, which will be big enough. He has a good arm, which is strong enough to make all of the throws, and his throws are accurate. He also runs well, he's very smart, and he's a good leader. Physically, he's very similar to Pickett and Town, and it's obvious the type of quarterback that Narduzzi and Watson like. He doesn't seem to have quite the natural physical skills of either, but he has a very quick release and is a fast thinker (a great trait for a quarterback, and something Pickett also excels at).

There will be a walk-on or two on the team also, but I am only going to concentrate on the scholarship players. And with these three, the Panthers have their potential star in Pickett, their highly talented veteran that will push the young star in Town, and the developmental player in Patti. All are eligible to be back after next season, and another quarterback will be added to the mix in the '19 class.

You can't be a top 25 team without strong quarterback play, and bad quarterback play clearly cost Pitt a bowl game last year. The Panthers could have been 7-5 in the regular season last year instead of 5-7 with just competent quarterback play. Just look how much better the team was in the last two games with Pickett making plays. It shows you how quickly things can change with good quarterback play, and while his decisions at the position were questionable last year,  the credit ultimately has to go to Narduzzi for turning the position from a weakness to a strength in one year.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Pitt Football final recruiting for 2018 class


Nick Patti, St. Joseph Regional HS (Montvale, NJ)- At 6'1" and 185 pounds, his size is not ideal, and he'll need to get stronger, but that's the case with almost all quarterbacks entering college. He has enough arm strength to make all of the throws, and he has good mobility in the pocket. He runs in the 4.8s so he won't be a big time runner, but he can pick up yards with his feet. Very smart, a good leader, and played at a high level high school program against other high level high school programs. Other offers include Boston College, Rutgers, and Cincinnati.

Bottom line: Like most quarterbacks, he has a lot of the right physical traits, but it's impossible to say if he has the intangibles until the time comes.

Ricky Town, Ventura College (Ventura, CA)- Once one of the top rated high school quarterback prospects in the country, he originally committed to Alabama, then switched to USC, before finally going to Arkansas, junior college, and now Pittsburgh. And he still hasn't played a down in college. Programs like Alabama and USC don't sign just anyone to be their quarterback, and the 6'3" 205 pound redshirt junior has all of the physical skills to be a star. He has a very strong arm and he is mobile. He's just never stayed anywhere long enough to actually play.

Bottom line: If he lives up to his excellent physical talent, he will push incumbent Kenny Pickett, and he will have his chance because he will be practicing in the spring. At the very least, he should be a mature, physically talented backup.

Position summary: Max Browne graduated, and Thomas MacVittie and Ben DiNucci transferred, but somehow the Panthers have made the position stronger. Of course, a lot of that is because starter Kenny Pickett could be a star, so anything after that is just supplemental. But Town as a backup and Patti as a developmental player are very good additions.


Mychale Salahuddin, H.D. Woodson HS (Washington, DC)- Elite running back that excels in all facets. At 5'10" and 190 pounds, he has the power to run inside, but he also has excellent speed and elite quickness. Has excellent pass receiving skills. Other offers include USC, Clemson, Georgia, Oklahoma, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, WVU, Michigan State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Florida.

Bottom line: Has the potential to be a big time star, and could start as a freshman. At the least, he should see the field as a freshman.

Position summary: The Panthers have some good young backs in AJ Davis and Todd Sibley, so in this smaller class, no more than one running back was needed. The staff targeted Cole Beck, but he ended up staying home and going to Virginia Tech. But once again, the staff came out smelling like a rose since Salahuddin is better. If you bring in just one running back, and the one you bring in is a potential star, it's a win.


Cameron O'Neil, Glenwood School (Phenix City, AL)- A lanky 6'1" and 185 pounds, but he looks taller because of his long arms and legs. Good speed and good athlete. Runs well with he ball in his hands. Other offers include Wisconsin, Illinois, Virginia, and Memphis.

Bottom line: Has a good array of skills, and he has the ability to be a factor in the future.

Shocky Jacques-Louis, Dunbar HS (Fort Myers, FL)- A 6'0" 170 pound speedster that is electrifying with the ball in his hands. Could see immediate time as a return man and in a Quadree Henderson-type role on offense, though he projects as a better receiving threat than Henderson. Originally committed to Tennessee. Other offers included Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia, Michigan State, and Oregon.

Bottom line: Electrifying talent that will likely be used in an assortment of ways, much like Quadree Henderson was. He could see the field immediately.

Taysir Mack, Indiana transfer- The 6'2" 200 pound Brooklyn native started in the last quarter of the season and he ended up impressing with 23 catches, 310 yards, and 3 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. He has good size, speed, and hands. He should be a major factor in the future. I have included him since he will be on scholarship next season. Will be forced to miss his redshirt sophomore year, but will still be available for two years.

Bottom line: Should be a major factor in two years. Very intriguing possibilities with him in the future.

Position summary: This is a position where the Panthers needed to recruit better, and they seem to have finally done it. Jacques-Louis has star potential, Mack will probably be a starter in two years (maybe along with Jacques-Louise), and O'Neil is a good developmental player.



Position summary: Early in the recruiting season, the Panthers got a verbal commitment from Matt Alaimo, who was a teammate of Patti, but he de-committed. That left the Panthers with no tight ends. They added three last year, but adding another tight end was probably a good idea. This has to be considered a bit of a miss, though there's a chance that, at least for next year, one of the defensive ends that were brought in this season will move over to tight end.


Chase Brown, Lackawanna JC (Scranton, PA)- The Virginia native is a rock solid 6'5" 310 pounds. Because of his physical maturity, and because he will be at Pitt for spring practices, he has an excellent chance of being a starter next season. He played tackle as a freshman and guard as a sophomore, and he can project at either for the Panthers. Offers included West Virginia, Virginia Tech, TCU, UCF, Tennessee, and Minnesota.

Botton line: It's imperative that he can start right away, and be as good as he can be. And he does have the goods to do that.

Jake Kradel, Butler HS (Butler, PA)- Strong local kid who at 6'4" and 280 pounds is destined for center or guard. Aggressive, strong, and great feet. Other offers included Ohio State, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, UCLA, Iowa, and NC State.

Bottom line: Like most offensive linemen, you may not hear from him for a few years, but once he develops, he could be a force in the interior of the line.

Stefano Millin, Kent State transfer- Started 33 games at center, right tackle, and left tackle. Has been brought in by the Panthers to start at left tackle, where he started 12 games last season. At 6'5" 305 pounds he has the right size. High quality person that wants to be a US Senator in the future.

Bottom line: Brought in to be the starter at left tackle, and it's essential for the team that he succeeds.

Blake Zubovic, Belle Vernon Area HS (Belle Vernon, PA)- Already at 6'4" and 300 pounds. Can play guard or tackle. Strong and aggressive. Moves very well for his size. Great leadership qualities. Other offers included Penn State, Michigan State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, NC State, Northwestern, and Minnesota.

Bottom line: Once he develops, he is a likely starter.

Postion summary: There is a dearth of productive players among the upperclassmen, so the staff did well by adding two starting tackles in Millin and Brown. Kradel and Zubovic will probably both be starters in the future.


Tyler Bentley, Lakota West HS (West Chester, OH)- A brute at an already impressive 6'2" and 300 pounds. Physically impressive enough that he could see the field pretty early. Formerly committed to Kentucky. Other offers included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, West Virginia, Michigan State, and Wisconsin.

Bottom line: Has the potential to be an excellent run stopper in the middle of the line.

Devin Danielson, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills, PA)- Like Bentley, he is an ox at 6'1" and 290 pounds. Very quick for such a big player. One of the more underrated prospects in the country. Other offers included Wisconsin, Michigan State, UCLA, West Virginia, Louisville, and Iowa.

Bottom line: If he and Bentley live up to their potential, and start side by side some day in the middle of the line, opponents will find it very difficult to run up the gut.

David Green, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh)- A completely different tackle at 6'0" and 255 pounds. Athletic enough that he played defensive end and running back in high school. He looks pretty big right now, so it remains to be seen how much more weight he can put on and keep his athleticism. But if he can, that would move him into a whole new category of promise. Other offers included West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, and Iowa State.

Bottom line: Undersized right now, but athletic. It will be interesting to see how big he gets, because he does have talent.

Position summary: If Bentley and Danielson live up to their potential, the Panthers defense will be impossible to run against up the middle. Green is someone to watch in the future.


Habakkuk Baldonado, Clearwater Academy (Clearwater, FL)- A native of Rome (yes, the one in Italy), he played last year in Florida so that he could get noticed in America. At 6'5" and 230 pounds he's fast and athletic. He's raw, but he has a very high ceiling. Other offers include Michigan State, Central Florida, and Nebraska.

Bottom line: A great late addition to the class and a sleeper with a genuine high ceiling.

Kaymar Mimes, Long Brach HS (Long Branch, NJ)- The former Rutgers commit held off in the early signing period once Pitt came calling, and it didn't take long for him to flip to the Panthers. At 6'5" and 230 pounds, he has the frame to work with. Brother of former Michigan State star defensive end Shilique Calhoun, who was coached by Narduzzi. Other than Rutgers, Boston College and Wake Forest are a few of his other offers.

Bottom line: A good developmental prospect and a nice pickup late in the class.

John Morgan, DeMatha Catholic HS (Upper Marlboro, MD)- A good pass rusher who has intriguing athleticism and speed off the edge for a player that's a solidly built 6'2" and 250 pounds. He also has the ability to drop back in coverage if need be. Other offers included Penn State, Virginia Tech, Kentucky, and Maryland.

Bottom line: Strong and athletic already, so he could get on the field in his first two years.

Noah Palmer, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills, PA)- Lighting quick off the edge. Pitt lists him as 6'3" and 215 pounds, but he said recently that he's now 6'4" and 235 pounds. Obviously that's a big difference, and how quickly he gets bigger and stronger,will determine when he sees the field.

Bottom line: Very under the radar because he was very skinny in high school, but if he ever gets to 250+ pounds, and keeps his quickness, he could be the biggest surprise of the class.

Position summary: You'd think that someone with Narduzzi's reputation, he'd have brought in at least one highly coveted defensive end in his three full classes, but that still hasn't been the case. But when you can't get the big time prospects, you need to find some hidden gems and hope they will develop. All four of these players have the potential and the hope is that at least two of them will live up to that potential.


Wendell Davis, Benedictine College Prep (Henrico, VA)- Not big at 6'0" 220, but he plays mean and he can really run. Will probably end up at middle linebacker. Under the radar gem. Michigan State, West Virginia, Boston College, Rutgers, Duke, Wake Forest, Syracuse, and Indiana are some of his other offers.

Bottom line: I don't know how he didn't get more big offers, but he can run extremely well and he plays nasty. He has a good combination of skills for a Pat Narduzzi middle linebacker.

Position summary: With a smaller class, the Panthers did not emphasize this position in this class, but that will change next year when three of the top four linebackers will be graduating. Like the ends, it's surprising that Narduzzi has yet to land a big time prospect at this position, but it appears like the staff is looking at Davis as a future starting middle linebacker.


V'Lique Carter, Oxbridge Academy (West Palm Beach, FL)- The more I watch this kid, the more I'm intrigued by him. He's just 5'9" and 170 pounds, but he's fast and he hits like a truck. He can play cornerback or safety. The Panthers flipped him away from Iowa State. Other offers included Oklahoma, Kentucky, Purdue, and UCF.

Bottom line: The kid just jumps off the video when you watch him. He's a football player and he just makes plays.

Erick Hallett, Cy-Fair HS (Cypress, TX)- The former Washington State commit came to Pitt's attention once Randy Bates came from Northwestern to be the Panthers new defensive coordinator. He has good, but not elite speed, but during games he still flashes all over the field because of great quickness and athleticism.

Bottom line: A real find late in the class. Fantastic ball kills.

Judson Tallandier, DeMatha Catholic HS (Upper Marlboro, MD)- Long arms at 6'0" and 180 pounds. Will need to fill out, but once he does he could be either a big corner or a safety. Other offers include Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Arizona, NC State, Minnesota, and Boston College.

Bottom line: The Panthers like versatility, and in the passing offenses of todays game, it's good to have either a big cornerback, or a safety that can cover.

Marquis Williams, Cardinal Gibbons HS (Pompano Beach, FL)- You'd think his 5'8" and 160 pound size would be a problem, but for special talents, that doesn't matter as much. And he is a special talent. Elite speed and athleticism, combined with his supreme confidence. Shut down some elite wide receiver prospects in high school. Other offers included Clemson, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Mississippi, Louisville, Kentucky, Mississippi State, and NC State.

Bottom line: Yes, he's small, but he's a big time talent.

Position summary: Unlike the ends and linebackers, this is a position that Narduzzi has recruited some big names, and it continues with this group. Carter and Williams are small, but that doesn't matter anymore because college offenses are being loaded with fast little receivers that have to be covered by fast little defensive backs. Hallett also has excellent cover skills. This is an excellent group.