Monday, March 28, 2016

Passing of the Torch

Now that people can maybe look at things more rationally, including me, let's look at how this whole thing went down.

First, I will talk about the dear departed Jamie Dixon. I often got accused of being a Dixon apologist, but that's mostly because I wouldn't say "he sucks", which I heard multiple times a day from fans. One of the best things about doing this is that I've been around long enough that I've gotten to know a lot of coaches, and because I never burned them, they trust me with their real thoughts. And they thought what Dixon did at Pitt was nothing less than a miracle. I know a lot of people don't want to hear that because they think Pitt is supposed to be in the Final Four every year, but Pitt is not considered an easy place to win big. I emphasized that because Pitt does have a lot more going for it than most programs around the nation, but it doesn't have everything it takes to win big. And I think if Pitt fans can get it out of their head that they're not one of the blue blood programs, they will be much  happier. That does not mean you shouldn't want to get the absolute most out of your program, but I heard names like John Calipari, Billy Donovan, and Gregg Marshall during the recruiting search, and with all due respect that shows just how out of touch many Pitt fans are. I can't stress this enough- coaches are NOT falling all over themselves to get to Pitt.

These are some of the quotes I've collected over the years from coaches, and how Pitt is perceived nationally:

"Do Pitt fans still think Miller will come? LOL"
"What are they smoking there? Don't they know what they have?
"If Dixon goes, they will realize."
"What are they thinking there?"
"When Dixon goes those Pitt fans of yours are screwed."

That's just some of them. I know many won't believe that because they still think Calipari and Miller secretly want to come to Pitt, but this is why I defended Dixon so much.

And I still had hope for Dixon up until the end of this year. I was warned that moving to the ACC will really hurt Pitt, and Dixon himself confided in people that it worried him, until he found a way to reinvent his program. And I had hoped that Dixon was strong enough to adapt and last out those last seven years of his contract. And I thought that if his team could get hot, beat Wisconsin and Xavier in the tournament, then follow it up with players like Justice Kithcart and Cory Manigault, Dixon could have the Panthers back on track. But when Pitt looked terrible in the first round I knew that was it. I even tweeted that that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Dixon, and the players, looked like they had enough.

The downside was that Dixon had seven years left on a very big contract. There's no way Pitt could fire him, and I didn't see him going just anywhere. His alma mater, TCU, didn't give a damn about basketball- until they did. Suddenly TCU wanted to invest in basketball, and who better than their golden boy, Dixon? He saved Dixon, TCU, and we assumed Pitt, all at once. Now Pitt can start fresh with a young up and comer. Pitt apparently thought that, too, since they didn't try to stop him.

But then things went downhill. Athletic Director Scott Barnes talked the talk and basically said he was looking for a young, fresh coach with a fast paced offense and who can recruit like hell. It sounded great and everybody was up for that. After thirteen years of very successful, but very bland, Dixon, a breath of fresh air was what was needed.

The problems started, however, when the coaching community that I've been hearing from for years were talking to national media guys, and the same thing came up. And that was that nobody with real options wanted to follow a coach that wasn't respected by his school, or the fans, despite being the most successful coach they ever had- by far. I know a lot of Pitt fans don't want to hear this either but not only did I hear it from coaches, but many national media guys repeated the same thing from coaches they've talked to. Nobody is making it up. Coaches want to be comfortable and Dixon never looked comfortable at Pitt. He overachieved at the program and the fans didn't appreciate that. And at the end, by letting him go, that told coaches around the country that the administration didn't care either. Whether all of this is true or not doesn't matter because perception is reality and that's what Barnes was up against.

But despite this fact, Barnes acted like it wasn't true. He acted like coaches would fall over themselves to come to Pitt. Not only did both Millers and Ben Howland say they weren't interested, I know for a fact from a source in the basketball department that two other P5 coaches (both in the same conference) and a non-P5 coach also said they had no interest. And that's just the ones I know of. The non-P5 coach was a less experienced coach that I thought Pitt may have a chance with. Both of the P5 coaches were a pipe dream, and the fact that Barnes didn't know that shows he may be out of touch.

Kevin Keatts wasn't even interviewed, and that's not a surprise. But would Will Wade be interested? And would he be better? Maybe. But the options weren't good. That led to Kevin Stallings who was on the hot seat after 17 seasons at Vanderbilt. His Vanderbilt team, led by three NBA draft picks, was favored to be win their division in the SEC, and they were a preseason top 25 team. Instead he went 11-7 in the SEC and barely squeaked into the tournament. His excuse was that his team was young and that he over scheduled because he thought they had the talent to compete.

It's no doubt that the Pitt fans who aren't really basketball fans would be outraged by Stallings. They think Pitt was destined for national championship by the boatload for some reason. And I can't speak for the rest of the people, but for me I was upset because of the type of coach Stallings is. He is cut from the same cloth as Dixon, Howland, Ralph Willard, and Paul Evans. Nothing fancy, on or off the court. Boring, in fact. It was time for that up and coming, hard recruiting, fast paced coach that Pitt needed, and that Barnes basically promised. The fact that he came up with Stallings after a very suspect search firm recommendation is especially troubling. To put it bluntly, this wasn't Barnes at his best (at least I hope).

But now that we acknowledge that let's look at Stallings in a rational way. He's considered one of the best offensive minds in college basketball. In fact, a recent poll by college coaches ranked him as the seventh best offensive coach in the country. That's impressive, as is the fact that he's averaged 20 wins a year at Illinois State and Vanderbilt, two places that are harder to win at than Pitt. Vanderbilt started playing basketball in 1900 and Stallings has half of their tournament appearances. That's another check in his favor. As a recruiter he's considered to be a very good one. Good enough that he's had seven NBA draft picks already, and will likely have three more this year. And that includes two first rounders this year. The downside is that despite having those NBA draft picks this year, and being a preseason top 25 team, he barely got into the tournament. One season does not mean everything, but of course there's always a chance that it could mean something.

To be honest, Stallings is really not below average at anything. In fact, he's pretty good at every aspect of coaching. Great at anything? Perhaps not, but not many are. Dixon certainly wasn't. I don't hide the fact that I think Dixon was an excellent coach, but Stallings is a better recruiter and a better offensive mind. Does that mean he will win 25 games a year like Dixon did? Highly unlikely. But that doesn't mean he can't get into a Sweet 16 or an Elite 8. Why couldn't he? He's a great offensive mind and he gets NBA type talent. Those two traits can make you successful in the tournament.

Stallings is 55, and has coached for 23 years. He hasn't hit it big yet, but that doesn't mean he still can't now that he's at the highest level he's ever been. Dana Altman was Oregon's third choice and didn't make the Sweet 16 until he was 54 and in his 24th year. He didn't get into the Elite 8 until this year, at 57 years old and in his 26th year. Bo Ryan bounced around for years in NAIA and D-3 before he made the Elite 8 at age 57. John Beilein was coaching for 25 years before he got hired by a major college- West Virginia- and he didn't make the Elite 8 until he was 54. The moral of the story is, you really don't know what a coach will do at a high level until he actually is there.

Bottom line, Stallings could flop, or Stallings could be wildly successful. I predict he'd be somewhere in between. Is that what Pitt fans want? Is that what I want? No. But he could conceivably do better than even I expect and it wouldn't surprise me. He is a very good coach, even if he wasn't the type of coach that I wanted.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

A closer look at four major coaching candidates

It was reported by Paul Zeise that at least four names have risen to the top of the Pitt basketball coaching search. Here is a closer look at the four. If any new names get added, or any of these get dropped, I will change the list.

Andy Enfield, USC head coach, 46 years old- The originator of "Dunk City" at Florida Gulf Coast, and the first coach to ever lead a 15 seed to the Sweet 16, when he beat No. 2 seed Georgetown and followed it up with a win over No. 7 seed San Diego State two days later. Enfield, a native of Shippensburg, PA, scored over 2,000 points at Johns Hopkins and had am amazing career free throw percentage of 92.5%. He then started selling videos on how to shoot. That led to stints as a shooting coach for both the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics.

Enfield then left basketball after becoming an investor and vice president of finance for TractManager, a healthcare software company. He got very wealthy at the company (and he still owns stock), so he decided to leave to do what he really wanted to do- coach basketball.

Enfield ended up at Florida State with Leonard Hamilton for five years where he was considered one of the best assistants and recruiters in the country. His last season at Florida State the Seminoles had eleven top 100 prospects on the roster.

With his great success as an assistant, he got the head coaching job at Florida Gulf Coast in 2011, which only became an official D-1 program that year. Taking over a 10-20 team, Enfield led the Eagles to a 15-17 record in his first year, then 26-11 and the Sweet 16 the second year. He was the talk of the tournament thanks to his team's exciting style and his model wife. That led to him being hired by USC.

The Trojans were coming off a 20-44 record over the last two seasons, not to mention probation that decimated the roster. With USC so low, it obviously took Enfield a few years to turn it around. But after 11-21 and 12-20 seasons, the Trojans fished 21-12 this year, and made the NCAA tournament. He also added six top 60 prospects and two more that were top 100.

Enfield's system relies on athleticism (a lot of dunks), and great offense, but he also stresses good defense, too. That's exactly what AD Scott Barnes is looking for. Already a great salesman (see his wife), his exciting system helps to bring in top prospects.

Why would Enfield leave USC for Pitt? Well, for one thing both Enfield and his wife grew up in the east and people that grow up in one area of the country often feel more comfortable in that area. Is that Enfield? Possibly. USC is also going through an AD change and that's always alarming for a coach since a new AD is not nearly as loyal to you. Lastly, while Pitt would probably pay more for Enfield, he is very wealthy already and is the type that's looking to have fun more than getting even more money. And what's more fun than the ACC and the Oakland Zoo?

Lastly, I know a lot ask me ask me about his wife, a former model. Many wonder why a model would leave Los Angeles for Pittsburgh. But the truth is, she's a former model, not a current model. She's 36 years old and has three small children. And by all accounts she's very happy with that. Plus, the fact that Enfield is interviewing for the job is a good sign that his wife is okay with that.


Linc Darner, Green Bay head coach, 45 years old- Probably a bit of a long shot but he's proof that Barnes is thinking outside of the box. The former Purdue guard was born in Ohio but grew up in Indiana. At Purdue he was a two time captain and was on the Glenn Robinson team that made the Elite 8.

He wasn't NBA material so he started off as a student assistant under his coach, the legendary Gene Keady. After stints at Murray State and various D-2 schools, he got his first head coaching job at St. Joseph's College in Indiana. The D-2 school had 7 losing seasons in the 8 seasons before Darner arrived. After taking three years to implement his system, he went 31-3 in his fourth season. That led to another job in D-2, this time Florida Southern.

After an 8-20 season at Florida Southern he ripped off seasons of 24-9, 29-7, 25-5, 23-9, 19-11, 27-6, 27-5, and 36-1. That last season ended up in Florida Southern winning the National Championship. That led to his current job at Green Bay.

Green Bay is a good, under the radar mid-level program, and in his first season Darner was 23-13, and beat Bryce Drew's Valporaiso team to get into the NCAA tournament.

As for style, Darner's is something to see. His teams will basically try to run his defenders into the ground. He calls his style "RP40", which stands for relentless pressure for 40 minutes. It's been described as a combination of Nolan Richardson's style and Paul Westhead's style.

Obviously that style would be fun for Pitt fans to see, but will it work in the ACC? Maybe, if he can land great athletes that are also ACC level talents. And, though Darner has never recruited at this level, you'd have to think a lot of players would love to play in that kind of system.


Bryce Drew, Valparaiso head coach, 41 years old- A former star guard at Valpo, and a former No. 1 draft pick of the Houston Rockets (16th overall), Drew is so entrenched at the school that he even grew up in the town. His dad, Homer, was a longtime coach at the school, and his brother, Scott, is the current head coach at Baylor.

After a six year NBA career, in which he didn't do well, he spent time playing overseas in Italy and Spain. Eventually he came back to take over for his dad at Valpo. In his first year he was 22-12. That was followed by seasons of 26-8, 18-16, 28-6, and 29-6 this season, with the Crusaders playing in the NIT semifinals in a few days.

Drew has long been considered the next best thing, and he turned down numerous offers in the past, including Mississippi State after Drew's first season at Valpo.

His style is nothing fancy, but he's considered a brilliant basketball mind who has a very complex offense that runs a lot of of set plays. As a recruiter, he recruits a lot of overseas, mostly because of being a Lutheran school he has a limited pool to choose from.

His religion comes up often because some suggest that he won't want to come to a school where he can pray with his team, which is what he does now at Valpo. But here's the thing. At Valpo, he's a Lutheran, the school is Lutheran, the fans are Lutheran, and presumably a lot of the players are Lutheran. So having a massive prayer with the players and fans is not that unusual. That doesn't mean that he will come to Pitt and ask players and fans to have a prayer circle after the game. If he wants to have a career beyond Valpo he will have to adjust, as many religious coaches have done in the past. Is he comfortable doing that? That's what Barnes will find out when he interviews him.

Bottom line, he's an excellent coach that can be a big time national coach. Will a devout Lutheran from Indiana work well in the ACC?  That's the big question. But he's interviewing so he must think he could make it work.


Mike Lonergan, George Washington head coach, 50 years old- A native of Bowie, MD, he played basketball at Catholic University, a D-3 team in Washington, DC. After a few minor assistant jobs early, he got the head coaching job at his alma mater and went 251-88 over 12 years. That included a National Championship in 2001. He was also named National Coach of the Year in D-3 that season.

After that he left to further his career by joining Gary Williams' staff at Maryland, but it wasn't until 2005 that he got his first big break by taking over from Tom Brennan after Brennan took the Catamounts to three straight NCAA tournament appearances. In his first season he went 13-17, but then followed that up with a 25-8 record and winning the regular season conference championship. The next year he slipped back to 16-15, but then finished with seasons of 24-9, 25-10, and 23-9. The middle season ended up in the NCAA tournament. He finished at Vermont 0-4 in postseason tournaments.

Still, though, that led to his current position at George Washington. Lonergan took over for Karl Hobbs, who was 17-14 in his last season. Again, he started slowly with seasons of 10-21 and 13-17, but once again he rallied and followed it up with seasons of 24-9 and 22-13. This season he's currently 26-10 and will be in the NIT semifinals in a few days.

On the plus side, Lonergan has deep recruiting ties in the Maryland and Washington, DC area so that that helps. He is also very adept at bringing in prospects from overseas. But that would be probably be harder to do at Pittsburgh than a city like Washington, DC that has much more different nationalities living there.

He has proved that he can win at every stop, but he's never been actually great in D-1 either. That may not necessarily mean anything. Coaches like Jim Larranega and John Beilein bounced around a long time before breaking through. But it appears he will not excite Pitt fans as others may.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Pitt Basketball Head Coach Candidates

FIRST CALL

Sean Miller, Arizona head coach- The 47-year old Miller is the only possible guaranteed slam dunk on the list, even though, like Jamie Dixon, he still hasn't made it to the Final Four. As everybody knows, Miller is a western PA native and a Pitt alum. And that emotional aspect is Pitt's only real chance to sway him because Arizona is a better program. Miller is very open to returning back east, and flirted with the Maryland job a few years ago. But the Maryland program is better than Pitt's program, too. Would he give up a better job, where, along with UCLA, he is at the best program, or go to Pitt and be at best the fourth best program behind North Carolina, Duke, and Louisville (and that's the very optimistic, absolutely best case case scenario ranking)? It will all come down to just how much he would love to coach at Pitt, and only he knows that- until you call him.


SECOND CALL

Archie Miller, Dayton head coach- Well, this is awkward. I can imagine Archie on the phone now. "Didn't you already ask my brother first?" Of course I'm joking because Archie will known that Sean is an alum so he comes first. But it's that alum angle that will also make it hard to land Archie. The 37-year old already has a good job so he's in no hurry to move on. And when he does, what connection does he really have at Pitt? Yes, he's from western PA but he didn't go to school there and was only around 12 when Sean graduated. And he hasn't been living in the Pittsburgh area for 20 years. He did go to North Carolina State, though, which is an equal program to Pitt, and they will probably fire Mark Gottfried in the next year or two. It's much more realistic that he'll wait for that job, but it doesn't hurt to at least call.


THIRD CALL

Chris Mack, Xavier head coach- At 46, he was Sean Miller's replacement, and he has been there for seven years. He did almost take the California job a few years ago, and many thought it was because he wasn't fond of the AD. Does that mean he could be had? Maybe. But it seems unlikely that it will be Pitt. Many consider Xavier an equal program to Pitt, and it's his alma mater. Sure he could want a change, maybe want to test himself in the ACC, and for that it's worth a call. Especially if he really isn't a fan of his AD. As a bonus, he's bring Bill Murray to the Pete since Murray's son, Luke, is an assistant for Mack. But Mack can, and probably would do better, if he really wanted out, so he's unlikely.


IF/WHEN THOSE ALL FAIL

Kevin Keatts, UNC-Wilmington head coach- One of the fastest rising coaches in the country, Keatts was coaching at powerhouse prep school Hargrave Military Academy just five years ago. After a short stint as Rick Pitino's assistant, and ace recruiter, at Louisville, he's spent two very successful seasons as a head coach. He's just 43, he's an ace recruiter in both his native Virginia and up the eastern seaboard, he has a great personality, and he plays a fun style of basketball. He's also be the first major head coach at Pitt to be an African American. The downside? He was at Louisville when the prostitute shenanigans were going on, and Pitt will really have to do their due diligence to make sure his name won't come up in any way.

Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa head coach- The 45-year old North Dakota native has been at Northern Iowa for a very successful ten years, but the state of Iowa is the furthest east he's ever been as a player or coach. Of course the same could be said of Ben Howland before he came to Pitt so he could adapt. As a bonus he played at North Dakota and he wouldn't be leaving Pitt to coach there.

Brad Underwood, Stephen F. Austin head coach- Already 52, but that won't be a deal breaker. What may be a deal breaker, though, is that he's a midwestern guy that will be in demand by midwestern schools. For instance, he played at Kansas State, and that would be an ideal spot for him eventually, if he doesn't take a similar job first. But he's been at SFA for 3 years and is 89-14. If he's not already earmarked for someone else, he's worth looking into.

Bryce Drew, Valparaiso head coach- The former Valparaiso star, and former first round pick, has been the head coach at his alma mater for five years. But he has almost left a few times to schools not quite at Pitt's level. He's ready to make a move and the ACC would be a helluva move for him. From a great basketball family, his father, Homer, was the head coach at Valparaiso for many years, and his brother, Scott, is the head coach at Baylor. He is exactly what I can see Pitt wanting- talented, extremely smart, and a solid person.

Jerod Haase, UAB- The former California and Kansas player coached at Kansas and North Carolina for Roy Williams, and the last four years he's been at UAB where in his fourth year this year he won the conference and went 26-7 overall. The California native is still just 41 years old. He's somewhat that's considered to go up a level. Of course if he ever succeeds, you'd have to wonder if he'd leave for Kansas.

Dan Hurley, Rhode Island head coach- The son of great New Jersey high school coaching legend Bob Hurley, and brother of Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley (see below), the 43-year old was actually courted a few times by Jamie Dixon to be an assistant. That was when Hurley was at New Jersey high school powerhouse St. Benedict's Prep. Instead he waited for a head coach coach, and got it at Wagner where he went 25-2 in his second year. That got him the job at Rhode Island where in his third year he improved the program to a 23-10 record. A 17-15 season followed this year, but that he's still considered an excellent candidate by many. He turned down the Rutgers job very recently, but the Pitt job is much better.

Bobby Hurley, Arizona State head coach- The former Duke legend, and former NBA player, was out of basketball for awhile until he took the job at Buffalo in 2013. After two seasons of 19-10 and 23-10, he moved on to Arizona State last year. He was only 17-15 in his lone year at the school, but he doesn't have his players yet. He's also a bit of a hothead who got thrown out of a game against Arizona this year in a very dramatic way. Money should not be a huge issue for him since he's already wealthy from his NBA days, and I can definitely see him wanting to back east and coach in the ACC.

Chris Beard, Arkansas-Little Rock head coach- This is such an off the radar sleeper that I hesitated even putting him on there, but make no mistake about it, this guy is a future star. Just 43 years old, the Texan didn't even play basketball in college, but his passion for the sport both on and off the court has made him a beloved figure everywhere he's been. He was only a coach in D-1 this year, but he was 30-5 and upset Purdue in the first round.  And this was a team that won 13 games last year.

Will Wade, Virginia Commonwealth head coach- A former VCU assistant, he came back to coach after two successful years at Chattanooga. In his first year at VCU he finished 25-11. He has future star written all over him, but VCU is a good job and he's just 33 years old. Probably too young for Pitt, plus he can afford to wait for his alma mater, Clemson.

Russell Turner, California-Irvine head coach- One of the better unknown coaches in the country, the 45-year old has been at Cal-Irvine for the last six years, and he's had 21 or more wins in each of the last four, including 25 this season. A native of Virginia (a big plus), Turner was a brilliant student that was a small college star at Hampden-Sydney, a small school in Virginia. He also was an assistant for Dave Odom at Wake Forest when the Demon Deacons were a power, and for Mike Montgomery at Stanford when they were excellent. He turned down an offer from George Mason last season.

Andy Enfield, USC head coach- The one time wunderkind of Florida Gulf Coast, the 46-year old has been at USC for three years, and turned the program around this season with a 21-12 season. He also has a fun, fast paced style that Pitt fans would love. The only reason I have him on the list is that he's from PA (Shippensburg) so maybe he will want to come back to the east and coach in the ACC. It's a long shot, but it's worth looking into.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Pitt reportedly adds a QB transfer

It has been reported by various people that the Panthers are adding Central Florida quarterback Bo Schneider as a transfer. The 6'3" 225 pound Schneider was forced into action as a true freshman last year, and had the ups and downs you would expect for a player that wasn't quite ready for college football. But he has very good potential, and after sitting out a year, he will compete with Thomas MacVittie and Ben DiNucci to be the Panthers starting quarterback in 2017. At the very least, he will help with depth. He will have three years to play three seasons.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Rating the basketball jobs in the ACC

Paul Zeise, Mike DeCourcy, and I had a long, spirited discussion on Twitter today after I said that Pitt was about the 40th best job in America. DeCourcy is one of many national guys that think is. Mike and I have many conversations about this and he thinks Pitt is about the ninth or tenth best job in the ACC. Zeise, on Twitter, thinks Pitt is about fourth or fifth. I often disagree with DeCourcy about where Pitt stands, but I think Zeise is a little too optimistic. Without looking too deep into it, I thought Pitt was around sixth or so. So I decided to do a closer, very unscientific look into it to see where Pitt stands.

Remember that this is a rating of the best jobs, not the best programs. That means, if you were a coach, and the money was equal, and none of the schools were your alma mater or hometown, which would rate the best, and which would rate the worse. I looked at these factors- brand, recruiting area, facilities, budget. Rather than rate them 1-15 (how could you rate North Carolina, Duke, and Louisville in order), I gave each program a rating of 1-5, with 5 being the best. Then I totaled them to come pup with an order.

Brand (specifically over the last 10 years or so)

5 North Carolina
5 Duke
5 Louisville
5 Syracuse
4 Pittsburgh
4 NC State
4 Notre Dame
3 Virginia
3 Miami
3 Georgia Tech
3 Wake Forest
2 Florida State
2 Clemson
2 Virginia Tech
1 Boston College


Recruiting Area

5 North Carolina
5 Duke
5 Louisville
5 NC State
5 Georgia Tech
4 Virginia
4 Virginia Tech
4 Wake Forest
3 Syracuse
3 Notre Dame
3 Miami
3 Florida State
2 Clemson
1 Pittsburgh
1 Boston College


Facilities

5 North Carolina
5 Duke
5 Syracuse
5 Louisville
5 Pittsburgh
5 NC State
5 Virginia
3 Wake Forest
3 Clemson
3 Georgia Tech
3 Notre Dame
3 Florida State
2 Miami
1 Boston College
1 Virginia Tech


Expenses (These are correct. Source is Department of Education)

5 Duke
5 Louisville
5 Syracuse
4 Virginia Tech
4 Pittsburgh
4 North Carolina
4 Virginia
4 NC State
3 Wake Forest
3 Florida State
3 Miami
3 Notre Dame
2 Clemson
2 Georgia Tech
2 Boston College

Total

1. Duke 20
1. Louisville 20
3. North Carolina 19
4. Syracuse 18
5. NC State 17
6. Virginia 16
7. Pittsburgh 14
8. Notre Dame 13
8. Wake Forest 13
8. Georgia Tech 13
11. Miami 11
11. Virginia Tech 11
11. Florida State 11
14. Clemson 9
15. Boston College 5




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Top 10 in PA for 2017 (as of Signing Day 2016)

1.  D'Andre Swift, St. Joseph's Prep HS (Philadelphia) RB- Perfect running back size at 5'10" and 208 pounds. Short, muscular frame and elite speed and quickness makes it nearly impossible to get a good shot on him. No real weaknesses and even has great hands. His offer list is big and will get huge before long. Right now that offer list includes Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Florida State, Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, and Virginia Tech. In my opinion, he won't end up at Pitt.

2.  Lamont Wade, Clairton HS (Clairton) CB- Possibly the best cornerback prospect in the country for the class. Not big at 5'10" and 185 pounds, but he is a potential superstar with speed, athleticism, technique, hands, and toughness. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Auburn, Nebraska, UCLA, Maryland, and Virginia Tech. In my opinion, he won't end up at Pitt, though I think the Panthers will be involved until the end.

3.  Paris Ford, Seton-LaSalle HS (McKees Rocks) S- Pretty slim right now at 6'0" and 175 pounds, but he's a high level athlete with the speed, athleticism, and hands to be an all-star college player. Great range with hands to match. Also a good hitter despite frame. Ed Reed centerfielder type that seems to be everywhere. Chose PITTSBURGH over Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Oklahoma, Auburn, and North Carolina.

4.  David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB- The quintessential PA linebacker with smarts, toughness, and tenacity. Sneaky good athlete. Plays well against the run and the pass. Ideal middle linebacker. Early offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Nebraska, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. I think Pitt and Notre Dame could be the teams to beat, and now that his close friends, Ford and Damar Hamlin, are committed to the Panthers, the chances may be improving. In my opinion, because of his talent and the position he plays, he is the top target for Pitt in this class.

5.  Donovan Jeter, Beaver Falls Area HS (Beaver Falls) DT/DE- Already a large 6'4" and 280 pounds on a massive frame. Can easily get up to 300 pounds if he moves inside. May also have the potential to terrorize as a rush end if he slims down. Excellent basketball player who would be a high major prospect if he was taller. Early offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Nebraska, Tennessee, and Maryland, among others. Pitt appears to be the leader.

6.  CJ Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OG- As of now he's 6'4" at best which means he will have to move inside to guard, but at 310 pounds he's a massive brawler that has great feet to go with the size. Could be a devastating pulling guard and projects just as good as a defensive tackle. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Auburn, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia, and Maryland. Penn State may be the favorite since he has a lot of ties to the school, but Pitt has a shot.

7.  Kenny Robinson, University Prep HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Every year a WPIAL player stands out to me as being under appreciated. For this class, it's this 6'3" 205 pound athlete that has speed, athleticism, and toughness. He could also be an excellent college wide receiver. Early offers include Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Temple, Louisville, and Iowa State. He is very close with Pitt, and all of the local players, and I would be surprised if he didn't end up at Pitt.

8.  Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT- Already great size at 6'6" and 290 pounds, and he has the frame to get bigger. Great feet, tenacious, and strong. He has a a lot of potential physically, but right now he is very green. He's very much worth trying to flip because if it all comes together for him, he could be special.  Committed to NOTRE DAME over offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, UCLA, Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Wisconsin. I'm assuming that he won't flip, but if he does, Pitt would probably be the school he would flip to.

9.  Mark Webb, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster) WR- In most other years he'd be flirting with being a top 5 prospect in the state. Already good size at 6'2" and 195 pounds, and with that size he has the speed, athleticism, and hands to be one of the better wide receivers prospects in the east. Early offers so far include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Rutgers. I'm think that Penn State is the team to beat.

10. Kurt Hinish, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- Already a rock solid 6'3" and 285 pounds. He's been on a tear lately picking up offers on an almost daily basis. Right now his list includes Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Baylor, Iowa State, Boston College, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Vanderbilt. I think Pitt may have a good chance with this one.


Pitt football's 2016 class

QUARTERBACK (1)

Thomas MacVittie, Moeller HS (Cincinatti, OH)- Like most players entering college he needs to fill out a lot but at 6'5" and 225 pounds he has the frame to do it. All of the other physical aspects needed to be a successful college quarterback are also present. He has a strong arm and he's a big time athlete that can really run. He played for one of the best programs in the country so he didn't get to start until his senior year. He lived up to his promise, however, and had a great year against one of the most difficult schedules in the country. He needs some tweaking on his mechanics and get physically stronger, but he has a lot of the traits needed to be a big time college quarterback. LSU came after him strong a month before signing day, but he stuck with the Panthers. 4-star (Ratings are my own)

Where the position stands: Barring the unforeseen, Nathan Peterman will start again next season, and despite ending on a sour note, he had a good year. Almost all quarterbacks, despite their age, will struggle as a first year starter, but they should get continually better. That's the hope for Peterman, and the hope that Matt Canada's fresh approach will help also. Canada also has an excellent track record for quarterbacks so I'd be surprised if Peterman doesn't improve. He probably won't be a star, but if he merely improves one level he will be a very good quarterback.

After Peterman things get more suspect thanks to the transfer of Chad Voytik. Not many programs have a good backup quarterback so the Panthers can't complain too much, but not having that luxury makes things a little more worrisome.

Because he's been around the longest, 6'6" 235 pound redshirt sophomore Adam Bertke will be looked at first. He's obviously huge, and he has a big arm, but he's also athletic enough to play on special teams this past season. He hasn't shown enough to see the field as a quarterback yet, but the raw physical ability is there. Now it's time to see if he actually knows how to play quarterback.

Another option as a backup will be 6'2" 200 pound redshirt freshman Ben DiNucci, who had a legendary career in the WPIAL, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to the college game. He has a good arm and good mobility.

It's very possible that MacVittie will redshirt and build up his body, but if he shows enough in practices he could be the backup this year so that he gets some experience. He's the favorite to take over in 2017 whether he redshirts or not this season.



RUNNING BACK (1)

Chawntez Moss, Bedford HS (Bedford, OH)- At 5'11" and 195 pounds, he's not a big back, but he runs tough between the tackles, has good speed, great vision, good hands, and is an excellent blocker. Because he can do a little bit of everything, he could eventually see time on the field when games are close, though that's unlikely this year. He runs an 11.58 100m, which is good, but not great speed, so he will never be a speed demon, but he has a lot of good traits that should be beneficial in college. Indiana, Iowa, Cincinnati, and virtually all of the MAC offered him. 3-star

Where the position stands: The Panthers obviously wanted to land local star Miles Sanders here, and they looked into he always mercurial Robert Washington, but they couldn't add the big time talent they aimed for. That's not necessarily bad, as long as they add a big time back next season. Luckily for Pitt, it's a position where a highly talented freshman could step right in if need be.

Redshirt sophomore Qadree Ollison was the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and he plowed his way to over 1,100 yards in his first year after James Conner went down in the first game. He's not a game breaker by any stretch, but he moves the chains more often than not.

Adding a big time back this year became less urgent when it was found out that Conner would be back for another year. As any Pitt fan knows, Conner is only back because he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. Eric Berry of the Kansas City Chiefs had the same diagnosis and returned to become the best safety on the NFL this year. And he did it in the same amount of time it would take Conner to return. I'm not a doctor, but obviously with that to go on, it's quite possible that Conner can return and be very effective. How effective remains to be seen, but barring the unforeseen, it seems that Conner and Ollison will be two very good backs to lean on.

Behind them, 5'11" 215 pound true sophomore Darrin Hall returns. He showed flashes as a freshman, and he should improve in 2016.  He probably won't see a lot of action if Conner returns even close to his old form, but he's a nice backup option.

Also coming back is 6'1" 195 pound redshirt junior Rachid Ibrahim, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury. He was sneaky good in his first two seasons. He's slippery and he has great hands. If he returns to form, he will help a lot because when he had the ball in his hands, something good usually happened.

WIDE RECEIVER (3)

Ruben Flowers, Lima Senior HS (Lima, OH)- He has to fill out but at 6'3" 185 pounds he has great length. More athletic than blazing fast. While he has good speed, it's his athleticism, hands, and length that makes him an elite prospect. Knows how to use his body to block out the defender. Athleticism and size make him a good runner after the catch. Kentucky, Iowa, Illinois, and Cincinnati are some of his offers. He would have had more but he committed relatively early. 4-star

Maurice Ffrench, New Brunswick HS (New Brunswick, NJ)- A 5'11" 185 pound speedster that would be perfect in the slot. Game breaker that is fantastic after the catch. Runs an 11.04 100m, which is faster than anything Robert Foster ran in high school just to give you some perspective. Also  an excellent kick and punt returner. He also has the potential to be a cornerback. 3-star

Aaron Mathews, Clairton HS (Clairton, PA)- The former Penn State commit wanted to play wide receiver, and when the Panthers finally gave him the chance, he changed his commitment. Doesn't have great speed, but with his long strides he doesn't seem to get caught often. Very skinny, but great height at 6'4". Officially listed at 190 pounds, though that appears to be at least 10 pounds too generous. Great hands and very good athleticism. Knows how to use his size to block out defenders. If he doesn't work out at wide receiver he become a deadly tight end in a few years if he can gain about 50 pounds. But that's easier said than done. 3-star


Where the position stands: Tyler Boyd has moved on, and while there's some talent, there's also a lot of questions. Starter Dontez Ford returns, and quietly had a good season last year. But it's unlikely that he could become an all-conference level of receiver. The redshirt senior is solidly built at 6'2" and 215 pounds and he makes plays when called upon. You have to assume he will be able to hold on to his starting spot. Returnees Zach Challingsworth and Quadree Henderson should improve with one more year under their belt. Challingsworth, a 6'2" 200 pound redshirt junior, was solid as a third down receiver at times, but Henderson, a 5'8" 180 pound sophomore, is a player that needs to get on the field more. New offensive coordinator Canada likes to use jet sweeps and the extremely fast and elusive Henderson will be perfect for that. Ffrench, Henderson, and Challingsworth will probably battle it out for the slot, though Challingsworth has a chance to start opposite Ford. But those three won't be the only ones battling. Local favorite Tre Tipton is also returning and the 6'0"180 pound sophomore looks to rebound from an injury that cost him most of the season. He's very athletic. Redshirt sophomore Elijah Zeise and redshirt junior Jester Weah both saw action last year, and Zeise should be right in the mix again this year. Both do have the size and speed, but Zeise is much more polished. Two players that redshirted last season, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Gentry Ivery, may still find it difficult to get on the field again this year, but you never know who improves from year to year.

If I had to guess, I think the realistic top six options are Ford, Flowers, Henderson, Challingsworth, Zeise, and Tipton, but there are always a player or two that surprises. But the question remains, can any of them be an all-conference caliber player this year?

TIGHT END (1)

Chris Clark, UCLA transfer- Ranked the top tight end prospect in the country two years ago. He took a much discussed circuitous route to get to the Panthers, and he got a lot of bad publicity because of it. But I've talked to him a lot and he is hellbent on proving everybody wrong. That's good news for the Panthers because the 6'6" 250 pounder has everything it takes to be an All-American. He reminds me a lot of Jason Witten in that he has great size, great hands, and can catch and block equally well. He had mononucleosis at UCLA, which cost him his freshman year, but unfortunately despite barely playing las season, it looks like he will have to sit out this season. 5-star

Where the position stands: J.P. Holtz has graduated, Clark won't be on the field until next season, and the staff failed to bring in another tight end this year for depth. That means this year will finally be the year for 6'5" 265 pound Scott Orndoff.  I once predicted stardom for him, but Paul Chryst never found a way to use him, and constant injuries didn't help. He lost out to Holtz and then stayed behind him for the next three years. But he has size, hands, and mobility to be a high draft pick. He just needs to have it all come together for him. He caught just 13 passes as a junior, but 8 went for touchdowns and he showed his big play ability by averaging 18.8 yards a catch.

If Orndoff stays healthy and lives up to his potential this position could be a team strength. But it could also go the other way because behind him are 6'2" 270 pound senior Jaymar Parrish, 6'4" 270 pound redshirt junior Devon Edwards, and 6'4" 245 redshirt junior Zach Poker. Parrish was an excellent fullback when Chryst was at Pitt, but he got moved to tight end last year and virtually disappeared. Edwards is not fast or athletic enough to be much more than a blocking tight end. And Poker was moved from defensive end in the offseason.

If the Panthers can get past this season, things will get great in 2017 with Clark getting back on the field. He has such potential that it's always possible that he could only be at Pitt for one season before leaving for the NFL draft. For that reason, two tight ends are needed next season, and ideally at least one of them has to be at an elite level that is capable of starting immediately.

OFFENSIVE LINE (3)

Brandon Ford, Upper St. Clair HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Tough mauler with 6'5" 295 pound size. Decent feet and quickness, but mostly he's the type of lineman that wears defenders down with his strength and toughness over the duration of a game. Could possibly play at left tackle with a little more quickness, but guard or right tackle looks to be an ideal spot for him. 3-star

Justin Morgan, Poly Prep HS (Brooklyn, NY)- Ginormous 6'6" 365 pound tackle that has surprising agility and feet for such a big kid. He needs to shape up his body and gain more functional strength, but he's only been playing football for two years and he's really just scratching the surface of what he could become. In fact, when I saw his junior tape I was wondering what Pitt saw in him. When I saw his senior tape, I knew exactly what they saw. The difference of one more year of experience made a huge difference, and he should only improve with college coaching. Could play either left tackle, because of his size and feet, or right tackle. Previously committed to Rutgers. 3-star

Zack Williams, North Marion HS (Citra, FL)- Highly athletic at 6'5" and 275 pounds. Clearly he needs to add weight when he gets to Pitt, but he is so athletic that he played tight end at North Marion. With his quickness, great feet, and length he has the possibility of being a big time left tackle down the road. 3-star

Where the position stands: Barring injury, this could be a fantastic unit this year. Starting tackles Adam Bisnowaty and Brian O'Neil return. Bisnowaty, a 6'6" 300 pound redshirt senior received all-conference honors last year. O'Neil, a 6'6" 300 pound redshirt sophomore, stepped in when an injury cost Jaryd Jones-Smith the entire season. The converted tight end proved to be a quick study and he is starting to have the look of a possible future first round draft pick. That means the redshirt junior Jones-Smith, all 6'7" 335 pounds of him, will probably be a very talented backup this season.

At guard, 6'5" 300 pound senior Dorian Johnson is also looking like a possible high draft pick. He should be joined in the starting lineup by 6'6" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Alex Booker, who, you guessed it, could be yet another high draft choice.

At center, 6'4" 335 pound redshirt junior Alex Officer slides back over from guard to replace the graduated Artie Rowell, and to be honest it's an upgrade.

The top six linemen are the most talented bunch I've seen at Pitt in many decades. All six could end up going in the first four rounds in the draft. and the best news is that only Bisnowaty and Johnson will be gone after next year.

The three freshmen will probably redshirt and I expect the staff to hit the position hard in the '17 class.


DEFENSIVE LINE (7)

Keyshon Camp, Lake Gibson HS (Lakeland, FL)- To say that landing the former USC commit late  will be a major coup is an understatement. At 6'4" and 275 pounds he is quick as a cat, strong, and volatile,  or basically every thing you want in a big time tackle. His other offers are all you need to know about the level of talent. Other than USC, his offers included Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Oregon, South Carolina, Louisville, and UCLA. 4-star

Zack Gilbert, South Mecklenburg HS (Charlotte, NC)- At 6'1" and 240 pounds, he's a little shorter than normal for an end, but the same could be said for Juan Price. The son of former Pitt great Sean Gilbert, he has excellent strength, quickness, explosion, and athleticism for such a big physical specimen. As an added benefit he could also add 30 pounds in the future and move inside. Had offers from the likes of Virginia Tech, Florida, Tennessee, and North Carolina. 4-star

Bryce Hargrove, Coventry HS (Akron, OH)- A bit of a sleeper which Pitt lists as 6'4" and 260 pounds. That's much different than the 6'6" that he was listed it in recruiting circles, and it makes more sense as to why Pitt looks at him as a 4-3 tackle. He is very mobile and active, and has the frame to add much more to his 260 pounds. He's just very big naturally. He could always move to offensive line down the line. 3-star

Patrick Jones, Grassfield HS (Chesapeake, VA)- At 6'5" and 250 pounds, he is officially listed as much bigger than he was in high school. He is long, quick, and athletic. He has the potential to be very good down the road. He has enrolled early. Other offers included Virginia Tech, Duke, NC State, and Virginia. 3-star

Amir Watts, Phillips Academy (Chicago, IL)- At 6'3" and 270 pounds, he is explosive, quick, and very strong. He was very under recruited this year because he was a virtual unknown coming into the season. He originally committed to Western Michigan but de-committed in the summer. He had a great senior season and then was a major force in the Semper Fidelis practices. He ended up getting offers from the likes of Penn State, Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Kentucky. 4-star

Rashad Weaver, Cooper City HS (Copper City, FL)- The former Michigan de-commit has great size at 6'5" and 255 pounds. Not explosive for an end so he could move inside to defensive tackle or even move to tight end or offensive line in the future. Big frame. Chose Pitt over Penn State after de-committing from Michigan. 3-star

Rashad Wheeler, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- Athletic enough in high school to play tight end at 6'3" and 280 pounds, but he will be a defensive tackle at Pitt. Strong and mobile. Other offers included Penn State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers, and Boston College. 3-star

Where the position stands: This position was alarmingly weak before Narduzzi arrived, but it will already be a strength this season. At end, Juan Price will be back for a sixth year after being one of the best pass rushers in the ACC last season. The other starting end will be 6'4" 275 pound Tennessee transfer Dewayne Hendrix, who has star potential. Like Clark, he may only be at Pitt for one year if he lives up to his potential this season. In reserve, former starter Rori Blair, 6'4" 245 pound junior, disappointed this past season, so he will have to improve to still see the field. Senior Shakir Soto has great size at 6'3" and 265 pounds, but he will have to battle to see the field also, especially since 6'4" 245 pound redshirt junior Allen Edwards may demand time because of his pass rushing potential. Former linebacker James Folston, a redshirt sophomore at 6'3" 240 pounds, will remain at end, and will also try to get in the mix. Luckily for the Panthers, they can afford to redshirt Gilbert and Jones. Both should be major factors in the future. Weaver will surely redshirt.

At tackle, 6'3" 335 pound senior Tyrique Jarrett returns. The local behemoth started off strong, but seemed to fade. He will have to be more consistent this year. After that, things get interesting. Returnees include 6'3" 280 pound redshirt junior Justin Moody, 6'2" 300 pound redshirt junior Jeremiah Taleni, and 6'3" 310 pound redshirt sophomore Connor Dintino. But all three will really have to battle to beat out Watts, Camp, and even Wheeler. In fact, I will be surprised if Watts and Camp aren't in the top four tackles with Jarrett. Hargrove will probably redshirt.

LINEBACKERS (3)

Chase Pine, Lafayette HS (Williamsburg, VA)- Raw boned at 6'4" and 225 pounds, he is athletic, fast, and explosive. He can play against the pass and the run, but currently he excels the most at rushing the passer. He could end up at defensive end if he keeps growing, and he does have the frame to add a lot of weight still. He does have the ability to play immediately. Other offers included West Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and California. 4-star

Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa, PA)- He's currently at about 6'1" and 210 pounds, but he's naturally big and strong, and will get bigger. He played defensive end on defense in high school, but he was a star on offense as a running back. Transition to linebacker should not be a problem. He seems best suited for the middle, but he is athletic enough to play outside, too. Other offers included West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Miami, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Nebraska, Missouri, Arizona, and Maryland. 4-star

Elias Reynolds, Poly Prep HS (Brooklyn, NY)- Strong run stuffer at a solid 6'2" and 225 pounds. Not bad against the pass, but he's a strong tackler against the run. Was a former Rutgers commit, but flipped. UConn, Illinois, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Wake Forest were among his other offers. 3-star

Where the position stands: Three players return that have starting experience, and there are four experienced players returning overall, so this is a unit that clearly needs more talented players.

In the middle, 6'2" 240 pound Matt Galambos returns to start again. Personally, I think 6'2" 240 pound junior Quintin Wirginis is more of a playmaker, but the staff likes Galambos' toughness and smarts. They should combine to get almost all of the snaps, though it's always possible that they move Wirginis outside to get him on the field more.

On the outside, 6'2' 230 pound redshirt senior Mike Caprara shared timed last season with fellow 6'2" 230 pound redshirt senior Bam Bradley, so they are the favorites to start at the two outside spots, though Bradley has had offseason shoulder surgery that could set him back some. Both will get plenty of competition from redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell. Both entered the program last year at 200 pounds so they need to add more size, but both are also fast and athletic. Pine and Pugh are also capable of playing, or even starting, right away, and with such little quality depth, they probably will play.

There is a big difference between the veterans, who aren't all-star caliber, and players like McKee, Brightwell, Pine, and Pugh that are very talented. How well the young group develops will go a long way in determining what the defense does next season.

DEFENSIVE BACKS (6)

Phil Campbell, South Brunswick HS (Monmouth Junction, NJ)- Strongly built at 6'0" and 185 pounds. Very good speed and athleticism. Hard hitter with great range and explosiveness. Also very good with the ball in his hands so he could find himself on offense someday. Former Rutgers commit. 3-star

Therran Coleman, Brashear HS (Pittsburgh, PA)-  Excellent 6'0" height for a corner. Right now he's a lithe 190 pounds but I expect eventually he will top out at a solid 200 pounds. Very good speed and excellent athleticism. Really works hard on his game, both physically and mentally. Very high ceiling. Other offers include West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin, and Arizona State. 4-star

Bricen Garner, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh, PA)- A skinny 6'1" and 175 pounds right now, but he has the frame to get to over 200 pounds in the future if he works hard for it. Not a speed demon, but athletic and instinctive. Makes a lot of plays with his smarts and always seems to be around the ball. 3-star

Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh)- Needs to gain weight, as most freshmen do, but at 6'1" and 175 pounds, he has great length and a nice frame to work with. Very good speed with great feet, hips, and hands. Will come up and hit you despite thin frame. Could play free safety down the road, if necessary. Already knows how to play the position. Will definitely play a lot early, and may even be the favorite to start. Other offers included Penn State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan, Michigan State, Clemson, Auburn, Stanford, and UCLA. 4-star

George Hill, Hubbard HS (Hubbard, OH)- Already great size at 6'0" and 200 pounds, but needs to get a little stronger. Elite speed and runs a blazing fast 10.75 100m. Concentrated on offense and safety in high school, so he has to learn how to play cornerback. Could move to offense if he doesn't pan out on defense. On offense he relies mostly on his speed. Also can return kicks. Former Ohio State commit, and also had offers from the likes of Michigan State, Nebraska, and West Virginia. 4-star

Henry Miller, Gateway HS (Kissimmee, FL)- Fantastic 6'3" 205 pound size with very good speed and even better athleticism. Has enough physical traits to be a be a shutdown corner, but could also move on to safety or even linebacker with another 20-30 pounds. Other offers included Miami, Michigan State, Mississippi State, Louisville, Georgia Tech, Missouri, Louisville, and North Carolina. 4-star

Where the position stands: This was a position that was badly in need of talent and numbers, and man, did Pitt come through. There's a real chance that Hamlin will start opposite 5'9" 170 pound junior Avonte Maddox. The fast, but small Maddox got some heat last year from fans, but most criticism was unwarranted. He was the only defensive back on the team last year that could cover at all so he was put in spots that he wasn't ready for. Not many NFL players could defend Notre Dame's Will Fuller one on one but Pitt called on Maddox to do it. With more elite physical talent, and experience, in the secondary, Maddox won't be exposed as much. Bottom line, he's a good cornerback, and I think he'll get even better this season.

At strong safety, 5'11" 195 pound sophomore Jordan Whitehead returns as the starter, and he's an All-American candidate. I won't go on anymore about him, because we are all well aware of how good he is. At free safety, 6'0" 190 pound redshirt senior Reggie Mitchell, and 5'11" 190 pound redshirt senior Terrish Webb, both have starting experience, and both return. You have to assume they won't get beat out by a freshman.

Also competing at cornerback are returnees such as 5'10" 190 pound redshirt sophomore Dennis Briggs, 6'0" 185 pound sophomore Malik Henderson, 6'0" 175 pound redshirt freshman Dane Jackson, and 5'10" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Phillipie Motley. But they may have a hard time keeping Coleman, Hill, and Miller at bay.

At safety, 6'2" 195 pound redshirt freshman Jay Stocker has a lot of talent, and could be in the mix. Campbell and Garner will try to see the field as freshmen.