Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pittsburgh 80 Duquesne 69

Yet another game where a few players did well individually but as a whole the team did not play well.  This time the problem was turnovers as the Panthers totaled an incredible 23.  Travon Woodall led the way with 6, while Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson had 5, and Lamar Patterson had 4.  The scariest part is that these are the four players who will probably get the most minutes this season.

On the positive side Gibbs led the team with 18 points thanks to four 3 pointers, while Dante Taylor came off the bench to get 15 points and 10 rebounds.  Clearly Khem Birch getting the start over him gave him a bit of a wake up call.  The only other player to impress was freshman John Johnson who went 3 for 3 on three pointers and ended up with 9 points.  The Panthers also had a 34-14 rebounding advantage.

Back to the negative, Patterson had 10 points but fouled out of the game, while the other turnover machines, Woodall and Robinson, had 9 points and 6 assists, and 7 points and 6 rebounds, respectively.  It was the second subpar game in a row for Robinson.

Birch, J.J. Moore, and Talib Zanna, who all have been playing well and exciting fans about their futures.  Tonight, however, Birch had 2 points and 5 rebounds, Moore had 5 points and 3 rebounds, and Zanna had 5 points and 1 rebound.

Next up for the 6-1 Panthers is at Tennessee on Saturday.  That game will go a long way in showing just  where the Panthers are at this point of the season.

Coaching Carousel Update

Penn State-  Reportedly Dan Mullen is tops on their list and while he's a good coach, he's a far cry from Urban Meyer, and all of the other names that have been mentioned for the past few weeks.  I'm not even sure if Mullen will take the job.  If he doesn't, I think there will be a big gap to the next choice.  Charlie Strong is another option but he lost to a Tino Sunseri led team at home so I wouldn't get excited about him. Both are good coaches but they are not at Penn State standards.  Virginia head coach Mike London and Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald are also being mentioned but London can wait for a job with less headaches and Fitzgerald already turned down Michigan in the past and that job then is better than Penn State's job now.  Bottom line, it only takes one excellent coach to make the leap but it may be hard to find that one person under the circumstances.

Illinois-  Reportedly Illinois AD Mike Thomas has already talked to Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, somebody I thought that Pitt should take a look out before hiring Mike Haywood (and they did).  Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is also being mentioned.  If they want to go for head coach experience Cincinnati head coach Butch Jones is a strong candidate.

Washington State-  It appears Washington State AD Bill Moos wants Mike Leach, who again is hot after he was No. 1 on my list before the hiring of Haywood.  Yes, Leach is a nut job, but in the light of current events, putting a spoiled kid in a shed almost seems quaint now.  He is an offensive genius and he puts people in the seats with his craziness.  But he may be able to do better and I'm assuming he will wait to see if he can.  Wyoming head coach Dave Christensen and Tennessee defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox are also possibilities.

Arizona State-  This is definitely one of the better jobs available.  For that reason,   Leach will definitely be interested and Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin, who has been highly coveted for a few years, may also finally make the move.  Sumlin would be a home run.  Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has expressed an interest in the job, but it's unlikely that he's at the top of the list.  Former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti will also be mentioned here as well as every opening on the west coast.

UCLA-  This is the best job available and UCLA has long been considered a sleeping giant in college football.  The word is, the Bruins will offer Boise State head coach Chris Peterson 3 million dollars a year to make the move.  If they do, and he doesn't take it, he needs to have his head examined.  Winning big at Boise State is admirable but that can't last forever.  Better make the move when you still can.  But don't think Pederson would be a guaranteed success at UCLA, or many other places. The truth is, Boise State has a lot of kids that most schools wouldn't take. UCLA for one has much higher standards.  If he does turn it down, Sumlin will be on the short list.  Bellotti is another option.

Mississippi (I refuse to call them Ole Miss)-  Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart looks to be first on the list with Southern Miss head coach Larry Fedora and Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze also in the top three.

North Carolina-  Another excellent job and a program that's a sleeping giant.  Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has been mentioned often because he knew North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham when both were at Tulsa, but part of being the head coach at a place like North Carolina is to schmooze the blue bloods.  Malzahn lost major points in that department when video surfaced of an interview that his wife did recently in which she seems certifiably insane.  Cunningham went to school with South Florida head coach Skip Holtz and he is expected to be on the short list as is Sumlin.

Kansas-  Another school that has Leach very high on their list but once again he may want better.  He does have a long relationship with Kansas AD Sheahon Zenger, however, and obviously knows the Big 12, so they may just get their man.  Southern Miss's Fedora is also a possibility.

Big names that still may go:

Randy Edsall, Maryland-  What a bad hiring this was.  He did wonders at UConn but he's been a total disaster in College Park.  To make matters worse, Maryland is dropping sports programs because they are losing tons of money.  And now, newspaper journalists are trashing him and calling for his head.

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M-  The only reason he hasn't been fired yet is because he has a huge buyout and the school needs the money to bolt the Big 12.  But 25-25 at the school including a hugely disappointing 6-6 this season are two reasons why they can't be happy to be stuck with him.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Final Grades for 2013 Season

Before anybody's head explodes, this is just for fun so don't take it too seriously.  I am by no means saying all of these things will happen.

Quarterback:  Sophomore Chad Voytik finally got his chance to start after backing up Dayne Crist in his freshman season, and he showed great promise running what finally became Todd Graham's high octane offense.  Voytik passed for 2,732 yards while completing 62.3% of his passes.  He also added 18 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.  On the ground, Voytik showed good running skills with another 352 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns.  Junior backup Trey Anderson was scrappy in limited snaps and his fourth quarter touchdown run in the Virginia game brought the Panthers to victory.  Grade: B

Running Back:  Like Voytik, sophomore Rushel Shell finally got his chance to be the  No. 1 guy after sharing the load with Ray Graham and Isaac Bennett last season, and he responded with 1,435 yards (4.9 avg.) and 14 touchdowns.  He also showed great hands with 35 catches for 3 more touchdowns.  Bennett chipped in with 435 yards (4.8 avg.) and 3 touchdowns.  Grade A

Wide Receiver:  Though just a true freshman, Robert Foster lived up to his billing with 54 catches for 1,104 yards (20.4 avg.) and 8 touchdowns.  His performance against Notre Dame, in a losing cause, in which he had 10 catches, 201 yards, two long touchdown catches, and a punt returner touchdown, was the most dominant performance a Panthers receiver had since Larry Fitzgerald.  Sophomore Demitrius Davis also had his moments with 48 catches for 737 yards (15.4 avg.) and 5 touchdowns.  Third starter Devin Street continued to become a more dependable receiver and pitched in 35 catches for 512 yards.  Junior Ronald Jones also was good in reserve with 24 catches while junior Brandon Felder, true freshman Tyler Boyd, and redshirt freshman Chris Davis all showed promise in limited duty.  Grade A

Tight End:  With the emergence of Voytik, Graham, and Foster the junior tight end trio of Andrew Carswell, Anthony Gonzalez, and Brendan Carozzoni only managed 19 catches between them, but they were solid when called upon.  Grade:  B

Offensive Line:  Three year starters Cory King and Ryan Schlieper both came into their own in their senior seasons and really benefitted from a more mobile quarterback.  Sophomore Brandyn Cook started for the first time after backing up Ryan Turnley as a true freshman, and he was solid, if unspectacular.  Junior Tom Ricketts had a solid season at left tackle and should develop into an All-ACC caliber player next season.  Senior right tackle Tavon Rooks still looked like the thinnest offensive tackle in the country, but his quickness helped him to get out in front of Voytik on a few big runs.  Sophomore Adam Bisnowaty and true freshman Patrick Kugler showed a lot of promise in reserve an both could be great next year with Kugler replacing one of the guards and Bisnowaty replacing Rooks.  Junior Matt Rotheram and redshirt sophomore Artie Rowell were solid in reserve.  Grade: B

Defensive Line:  As he has for the third straight season, All-American Aaron Donald led the way with his third straight season with double digit sacks, this time ending the season with 12.  Junior Khaynin Moseley-Smith and seniors Tyrone Ezell and T.J. Clemmings were solid, if unspectacular.  There was a big drop off after Donald but it's hard to give a bad grade to any unit that has an All-American.  Grade:  B

Linebackers:  Remember when the linebacker corps was slow and untalented?  Seems like it was a million years ago but believe it or not it was in 2010.  Now the unit is deep and talented.  As expected this unit was led for the second straight year by redshirt junior Bryan Murphy whose 8.5 sacks helped him to form a great pass rushing duo with Donald.  On the other end, redshirt junior Todd Thomas continued to get better, finally turning into an All-ACC caliber performer with 74 tackles, 3 tackles, 4 interceptions, three sacks, and four forced fumbles.  On the inside, junior Juan Price continues to be playing out of position but still became All-ACC with 60 tackles, 8 sacks, and 15 tackles for loss.  The fourth starter, junior LaQuentin Smith, was excellent against the run and led the team with 94 tackles.  Senior Shane Gordon, sophomores Dakota Conwell and Deaysean Rippy, and inspirational senior Dan Mason were good in reserve.  Grade:  A

Defensive Backs:  Senior All-American candidate K'Waun Williams was excellent for the third straight season.  He only had two interceptions but that's because nobody threw his way.  On the other side, junior Lloyd Carrington was solid and had four interceptions.  Redshirt sophomore free safety Lafayette Pitts and redshirt sophomore Roderick Ryles were both first time starters, and struggled at times, but they also made their fair share of plays.  Grade:  B

Special Teams:  Matt Yoklic started for the third season and he finally has limited his amount of 7-yard punts, but four different placekickers cost the Panthers in two of their three losses.  On the return side, Foster was magical on punt returns, returning one for a TD and averaging 15.3 yards per return.  On kickoffs, redshirt freshman Corey Jones averaged 20.2 on 24 returns.  Grade  C+

Coaching:  After much criticism in his first season, in which he went 7-6, and his second, when he went 8-5, Graham finally got the last laugh with a 9-3 record heading into the Dec. 31st Sun Bowl matchup against Arizona and old nemesis Rich Rodriguez.

In ever better news, 15 starters return including stars Voytik, Shell, Foster, Davis, Ricketts, Murphy, Price, Thomas, and Smith.  One publication has already ranked the Panthers No. 8 in their "Way Too Early Top 25 for 2014" rankings.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Panthers could add immediate transfer at quarterback

Tino Sunseri has clearly struggled in Todd Graham's new system and it would be best for star recruit Chad Voytik to be eased into big time college football.  Few junior college transfers can make an immediate impact and those that can have already committed.  Mark Myers, Anthony Gonzalez, and Trey Anderson would have to improve immensely to make the Panthers a better team next season and transfers have to sit out a year- unless they have one year of eligibility, have graduated from their current school, and transfer to a school that has their current major in their graduate school.  In that case, the player can be eligible immediately.  And it appears that the Panthers staff are thinking that could be a viable option.

When asked tonight about the team bringing in a fifth year transfer, a member of the Panthers coaching staff said that it's a "great possibility I would think".  This development itself does not mean that the staff has thrown in the towel with Sunseri.  It's obviously best for the program to have as many options at quarterback as possible.  If Sunseri plays better next season, and he deserves to start, then so be it.  But if he does not improve, it will would be great to have as many options as possible.

The source said that the Panthers have yet to target such a player and are more on a wait and see basis to see who becomes available.  Here are three possibilities that the Panthers are aware of, though there could always be more.

Dayne Crist, Notre Dame-  This has to be a player that most college football fans are familiar with which is what comes from being a starting quarterback for the most famous program in the country.  But while being a successful starting quarterback for Notre Dame makes you popular, being a failed starting quarterback means you always have an albatross around your neck.  Crist has something to prove and Pitt could be the place to do it.  

Coming out of high school Crist was generally ranked among the top 2 or 3 quarterbacks in the country but he had to wait for two years behind Jimmy Claussen.  In 2009, as a redshirt sophomore, Crist got his chance and started the first nine games of the season before rupturing his patella tendon.  In those nine games, Crist completed 59.2% of his passes for 2,033 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions.  

Crist came back this season and was again named the starter but was pulled for Tommy Rees in the first game.  Rees held on to the starting job for the rest of the season and inexplicably to many, Crist's playing time has virtually disappeared.  

As a player, Crist has pro size at 6'4" and 235 pounds, and has good athleticism and a very strong arm.  He is not a running quarterback but even with two major knee injuries in his career, he can run pretty good when he gets going.  In other words, he's at least as good as Sunseri when running with the football.  And while he runs the spread offense for Brian Kelly, it's slightly different than Graham's.

Crist is from Sherman Oaks, CA and majors in management consulting.  He has yet to say if he wants to transfer.

Ryan Katz, Oregon State-  Katz is from Santa Monica, CA and graduates in March with a business administration degree.  At 6'1" and 215 pounds, Katz is solidly built, has decent mobility, and has a cannon for an arm.  He started last season as a redshirt sophomore and completed 60% of his passes for 2,401 yards while throwing for 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  Prior to this season, Katz did not practice in the spring because he was recovering from a broken wrist in the last game of the year.  That led talented redshirt freshman Sean Mannion to gain valuable experience.  Still, Katz started this the first game of this season but Mannion took over at halftime and remained the starter throughout the season.  The move was very controversial for many Oregon State fans who thought that Katz should have remained the starter.  Mannion led Oregon State to a 3-9 record while throwing for 3,328 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions.

Ted Stachitas, Wake Forest-  Talking about something to prove.  Stachitas has played little at Wake Forest attempting only 49 passes in his career, while throwing zero touchdowns.  But the 6'1" 205 pound Ponte Vedra Beach, FL native is more of a running quarterback.

Stachitas started three games as a redshirt sophomore including the opener.  He ran for 76 yards in one of those games and 77 yards in another.  In his career he has run 43 times for 218 yards (5.1 avg.) and 3 touchdowns.  His major is psychology.

Defending Todd Graham (Again)

First, let me be very clear that I am not saying that Todd Graham will definitely be a success as the Panthers head coach because I can't see into the future.  And I'm not saying he was perfect in his first season.  But I am here to tell you that he's done a much better job than some people think.

Let's look at the facts.  The Panthers are favored to win their last game, at home against Syracuse.  If they win that game, the Panthers are 6-6 and may end up in a minor bowl.  They could conceivably end the season 7-6.  Last season the Panthers ended the season 8-5 after finishing the regular season 7-5.  In other words, Graham's first year could be one game worse.  Of course, if one has an agenda, or applies lazy thinking, it can be argued that former coach Dave Wannstedt was fired and replaced by a coach who did worse.  But it's not that simple.

Graham was left a team with just one playmaker amongst the skill positions.  Ray Graham is a wonderful player, and there's no denying that.  The rest of the skilled players, however, are simply incapable of making plays on a consistent basis.  The two main receivers, Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, shows no game breaking ability, and behind Graham there were no experienced quality backs.  At quarterback, Tino Sunseri is clearly not a player who can win games by himself.

The real truth is that if Wannstedt was coaching this season, this team would be just as mediocre as it was this season.  After peaking with a 10-3 season in 2009, Wannstedt's program appeared to be in sharp decline.  Following up an 8-5 season with a team that's offense starts Sunseri, Shanahan, Street, and a poor offensive line was a recipe for disaster for any coach.  With Wannstedt at the helm the team may have won a game or two more since the players fit his more conservative, pro style system, but the results would have been illusionary.  Continually finishing barely above .500 in a poor conference and no real chance for excellence is no way to run a program.

What few people seem to remember is that Pitt had the No. 72 offense in the country last season.  And that was with a first round wide receiver in Jon Baldwin, a running back, Dion Lewis, that ran for over 2,800 yards the last two seasons, and an offensive lineman, Jason Pinkston, that is starting for the Cleveland Browns this season as a rookie.  This season Pitt is two yards per game less in total offense with a vastly different system, poor skill players, and injuries to Ray Graham, Chris Jacobson, and for a half a season, Lucas Nix.

None of these facts are meant to turn this into yet another Graham vs. Wannstedt debate.  Anybody who still clamors for Wannstedt is not worth debating at this point.  But what it does show is that Graham truly was not left with a whole lot.  Yes, there are some good young players.  But there are holes- giant holes.

Of course there are many, especially in the media, who complain that Graham should not have promised "high octane" and a Big East championship if he was left with so little.  But what would be better?  How would it have gone over if Graham walked up to the podium and said, "Look, I'm not going to lie.  I looked at the tape.  Sunseri is uncoachable and the rest of the quarterbacks are even worse than him.  The offensive line is a sieve.  The receivers are so slow that it's kinda scary.  The veteran linebackers, believe it or not, are even slower.  It will take a miracle to get this team to 6-6."  God forbid that he was positive and believed in his abilities to make something out of nothing.

And the truth is, he almost did make something out of nothing.  He will probably end up the regular season at 6-6, while losing his All-American caliber running back who had to be replaced by a career journeyman and a true freshman, and while losing his two only experienced and talented offensive linemen, a starting receiver, and a starting safety.  Oh, and did I mention that he has a quarterback that is totally lacking instincts, some of the slowest linebackers known to man, and a punter that makes a 7-yard punt from his own end zone?

A lot of critics will also say that Graham did not make adjustments as the season went on but that's simply not true.  Yes, Graham did make mistakes early on by not milking the clock, by making the offense too difficult, and by trying too many unnecessarily complicated plays.  But the reason he did that is because at his previous coaching jobs, he did the same thing and at the midseason point of his first season, his teams did get past the tipping point and started to play as Graham envisioned.  There was no reason to think it would be different at Pitt.  But it was.  The offensive line was just too bad and/or inexperienced to let the offense work properly, the receivers never showed speed or heart, and Sunseri still has no idea what he's doing.  None of that is Graham's fault.  Like I said, every place Graham coached, his team got it in the first five or six games.  When he realized that this group was not going to get it, he did dumb down the offense, he did slow down the offense, and he did cut down on trick plays. He did adjust to help his team.  And they still can't get it.

If any of Pitt's major problems did not exist, they easily match last year's win total- at least.  If Graham does not get hurt, Pitt wins 8 games.  If the Nix and Jacobson didn't get hurt, Pitt wins 8 games.  If Sunseri develops into just a normal quarterback, Pitt wins 8 games.  If all of those things happen, Pitt wins 9 games and Graham is hailed as a savior.

Yes, it's the job for the head coach to find solutions, but Graham can only do so much.  How do you compensate for having your only two good offensive linemen lose most of the season to injury?  How do you compensate for lack of depth and slowness at receiver or at inside linebacker?  How do you compensate for losing your All-American running back when your backups are a former fourth stringer and lightly recruited freshman?  And how do you compensate for a roster full of horrible quarterbacks?

What Graham did do was bring in some young and talented players like Isaac Bennett, Juan Price, Lloyd Carrington, Ronald Jones, Nicholas Grigsby, Roderick Ryles, and LaQuentin Smith.  He brought in transfers like Cullen Christian, Ray Vinopal, and Tom Ricketts who all could start next season.  He brought in graduate transfer Zach Brown for a much needed backup to Ray Graham.  He developed young linemen like Ryan Schlieper, Cory King, Ryan Turnley, and Matt Rotheram.  He developed burgeoning stars in Aaron Donald, K'Waun Williams, and Todd Thomas.  In recruiting, he's bringing in possible future stars Chad Voytik, Rushel Shell, Dakota Conwell, Darryl Render, and Adam Bisnowaty, with more to come before signing day.  He's developed great relationships with the two best juniors in PA, wide receiver Robert Foster and offensive guard Patrick Kugler.  And he's also expanded his recruiting area far beyond Pitt's usual haunts, offering players from places like Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia, Michigan, and Indiana.

Bottom line, we will see in Graham's next two or three years just high he can take Pitt.  Only in rare instances does a new head coach have a lot of success, and in those cases it's because the previous coach left a loaded roster.  In Vince Lombardi's first season at Green Bay he was 7-5.  He came back and coached the Redskins for one year and went 7-5-2.  Bill Belichick's first season at Cleveland was 6-10.  His first season at New England was 5-11.  Jim Tressel's first season at Ohio State was 7-5.  Nick Saban started 6-5-1 at Michigan State, 8-4 at LSU, and 7-6 at Alabama.  Mike Gundy was 4-7 at Oklahoma State.  Bobby Petrino was 4-7 at Arkansas.  Pete Carroll was 6-6 at USC.  Mack Brown's two stops before Texas were at Tulane and North Carolina and the first season at both stops resulted in 1-10 records.  There are many more examples but you get the point.  Even amongst great coaches, the first year is almost always for making a painful transition.

In year two, Graham will have a different team.  The running game has the potential to be excellent.  The offensive line has the chance to be much better.  And I have no doubts that there will finally be a different quarterback.  In year three, this program will be loaded with excellent young talent.  In year four that excellent young talent becomes veterans.  That's the goal.  That's the goal for every new coach. The good ones accomplish it.  And so far, despite lazy thinking of some media, and despite some fans who simply love to be miserable, I think Graham has proven that he's a good one.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pittsburgh 81 Robert Morris 71

Different names, same results.  The Panthers improved to 5-1 in another good, but not scintillating victory, but this time there were some different young players that contributed.  Leading the way was sophomore Talib Zanna with 10 points and 15 rebounds.  Former Pitt assistant Tom Herrion told me not long ago that Zanna was the most talented big guy the Panthers had (though of course he had not coached Khem Birch) and while the 6'9" Zanna hasn't consistently shown that talent yet, he showed what he could do tonight.

Another youngster, Khem Birch, is reaching stardom even faster.  With Dante Taylor out, the freshman started his second game in a row and responded with 8 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 blocks in a season high 29 minutes.  In his two starts, Birch is averaging 11.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg, and 4.5 bpg.  Wow.

Three more youngsters- J.J. Moore, Cameron Wright, and John Johnson also chipped in impressively.  Moore had 8 points and two threes.  He's averaged 9.7 ppg in his last three.  Wright, who frankly has not impressed me much, had 13 points and 2 steals in just 19 minutes.  Johnson added 6 points on two threes in 12 minutes.

Of the three veterans Ashton Gibbs had a game high 21 points but once again did not shoot well. Travon Woodall had 12 points and 10 assists but also shot poorly.  Combined the two shot 32% from the field and 25% from three.  Nasir Robinson was virtually nonexistent with 3 points in 27 minutes.  He attempted only one shot all night and missed three of four field goals.

It's no secret that the high end talent on this team is with the underclassmen.  The possible greatness for this program could come with the likes of Birch, Moore, Zanna, and soon Steven Adams and James Robinson.  Could this be the game that there is a changing of the guard?  Don't get me wrong.  Gibbs will shoot well again and Robinson will never stop fighting for points.  But seeing Birch and Moore playing so well for the past few games, and Zanna playing great tonight, are very good signs for the future.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Pittsburgh 20 West Virginia 21

What can I say about Tino Sunseri?  In all my years watching Pitt football I've never seen a more clueless quarterback.  It's really almost unfathomable how somebody can make so many mistakes while playing football.  You would think just by sheer accident that he would stumble upon a good decision, but it's almost like he goes out of his way to be bad.  He has no instincts and as a football player he has zero football intelligence.  I'm beginning to think it's more and more likely that incoming freshman Chad Voytik could beat out Sunseri next year because even somebody who practices college football for three weeks will be a step ahead of Sunseri.

Count me amongst those that could care less if Pitt ever plays West Virginia again.  Their football and basketball teams are always chippy, their coaches are often an embarrassment, and their fans are so hateful and bitter that it's hard to believe that they are watching amateurs play a sport.

Does Andrew Taglianetti actually have a football for a nose?  It's amazing how big plays seem to find him.

The Panthers pass rush is special, thanks mostly to future All-American Aaron Donald.  Juan Price also had a lightning quick sack.

How good is K'wuan Williams?  Not only did he force a fumble in the fourth quarter but he also blew up a fourth down that led to a good tackle by Buddy Jackson. Then on a 3rd and 1 deep in Pitt territory, he makes a four yard loss on a completion.  Answer- the kid is really, really good.

The Panthers have the softest receivers in the country.  Mike Shanahan and Devin Street have been playing like that all year but Drew Carswell joined the party in the fourth quarter by looking completely scared on a long pass down the middle.

Isaac Bennett has more heart in his little finger than half the offensive starters have combined.

Watching Shanahan returning a punt is like watching a tree fall in the forest.  But a tree has better moves.

Pittsburgh 78 Penn 58

With Dante Taylor out of the game with a migraine and Lamar Patterson being suspended, the Panthers had to relied both on their veterans but also their two young budding stars, Khem Birch and J.J. Moore.

Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson led the way with 16  and 14 points respectively.  Gibbs started slow again with his shooting but ended up a respectable 6-15 including 4-7 from three.  He also pitched in 4 assists and 3 rebounds.  Robinson was 6-10 from the field and also had 4 rebounds and 3 steals.  Travon Woodall had a solid floor game with 7 points and 7 assists.

But the most exciting part of the night was the continued emergence of Birch and Moore.  Birch recorded his first double double with 15 points on 6-8 shooting, and a team high 10 rebounds.  He also had 3 blocks.    Moore started in place of Patterson and had 12 points and 6 rebounds.

The Panthers hot an incredible 58.5% from the floor while holding Penn to 40.4%.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Pittsburgh 73 LaSalle 69

Well, let's just say that there's still a lot of work to do.  LaSalle is not as bad as their preseason ranking of 13th (out of 14) in the A-10, but still the Panthers were a 15 point underdog over the young and inexperienced Explorers.

First let's start with the good.  Welcome to the party, Khem Birch and J.J. Moore.  Head coach Jamie Dixon finally saw the light and went with talent over age midway through the game, sitting Talib Zanna and Lamar Patterson for the more talented Birch and Moore.  Yes, both of the youngsters will make mistakes but their upside is just too much for them to be sitting on the bench.

Moore hit three three pointers on his way to 9 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes.  Patterson had a down game with 4 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 21 minutes, but if Moore continues to play this well, Pitt's small forward position will be strong with these two for the next few years.

Birch was just as impressive with 4 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in just 13 minutes.  While he's still raw on offense and doesn't always know what he's doing, I feel he should be out there a lot more.  If he got 20 minutes a game I have no doubt that he would average 10 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks a game easily.  That would be a big upgrade over Zanna, who tonight had 2 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in 16 minutes and has just 9 total points in four games this season.  Zanna's ineffectiveness is even harder to take since Dante Taylor, despite 11 points and 6 rebounds in 22 minutes, is showing no signs of becoming a star.

As for the upperclassmen, Ashton Gibbs had his second straight poor shooting night going 3-15 from the field, but his free throw shooting helped him get 14 points.  The stars of the game once again were Travon Woodall and Nasir Robinson.  Woodall ended up with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 10 assists, and 3 blocks, including a doozy at the end of the game that stopped LaSalle for good.  Robinson was 8-10 from the field on his way to 17 points and 6 rebounds.

While LaSalle's 43.5% from the field is better than the past two games, the Panthers still have a way to go on defense.  Pitt's rebounding edge of 42-24, though, was also a great thing to see.

Bottom line, there is still a lot of work to do if Pitt wants to be a top 10 team.  Beating LaSalle by four is not a good sign for how well they will perform in Big East play.  The Panthers three best players right now are Gibbs, Woodall, and Robinson, and while those three performing well can win the Panthers a lot of games, they probably aren't going to be good enough to get them deep into the NCAA tournament.  That will depend on the Panthers two most physically talented players, Birch and Moore.  If they can continue to improve, they may be the missing pieces to make the Panthers a Final Four contender.  But there's a long way to go for that to happen.  The good news is, every season the type of elite talents that makes good teams become great do just that.  Time will tell if Pitt is one of them.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Pitt basketball off to slow start

I've been waiting to write something about Pitt basketball because it's a long season and usually it's just business as usual before the start of the Big East season.  But something strange has happened this season- the Panthers haven't looked particularly good.  Long Beach State is an athletic and experienced team, and they have exposed a few glaring weaknesses for Jamie Dixon's team.  Four starters have done well this season.  Ashton Gibbs through three games is averaging 21.7 ppg and 43.3% from three point land.  That's not too surprising.  Three others who are doing well offensively are a little more surprising, especially Travon Woodall who is averaging 19.7 ppg, 8.0 apg, and 5.3 rpg, while shooting an amazing 62.5% from the field and 57.1% from three.  Nasir Robinson and Lamar Patterson round out the quartet with Robinson averaging 16.3 ppg and 70% from the floor, and Patterson chipping in with 8.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 5.0 apg, and 1.3 spg.  Sounds promising, but then there are the problems.

1.  The Panthers starting lineup consists of a pair of guards that go 5'11" and 6'2", and two 6'5" forwards, and even those numbers may be generous.  Which leads to...

2.  The lack of development from the big men.  Former assistant Tom Herrion was known as a great big man coach, and his absence is now being felt.  Dante Taylor is underachieving for a third straight year, and Talib Zanna is underachieving for the second year now.  Khem Birch, who has more talent than both, is only three games into his career, but so far he has hardly played.  And this is for a guy that NBA teams have already scouted and project as a first rounder.  Respected NBA draft website currently has Birch as the No. 13 pick in next year's draft, but he can't get on the court at Pitt?  The Panthers better get their big men developed or they can forget about any Final Four appearances in the near future.

3.  Not only are the top players small, they aren't particularly athletic either.  Sure, players like Gibbs, Robinson, Taylor, and Patterson are more athletic than the average young man, but in major college basketball, they are considered mediocre athletes.  I've also noticed that while Cameron Wright has above the rim athleticism, he isn't particularly quick footed.  Positional defense can only get you so far which explains why the Panthers defense thus far hasn't been particularly good.  Woodall, who is a good athlete, was never considered a good defense player either.

4.  The biggest problem of all of course if the defense, or the lack thereof.  In the past two games, Rider and Long Beach State has combined to shoot 56.4% from the field in the last two games. Past Pitt defenses were usually around 40% or less.  Needless to say, the defense has been a disaster.

Bottom line, this team is starting players that would be role players on most elite teams, they are too short, too slow, and can't play defense.  Sounds dire, right?  Then why do I expect them to again win 25 games or more?  Probably because they will.  Sorry, but I'm just not worried about this season.  Dixon is masterful at righting the ship and to be honest he's had teams with plenty of problems before and led them to a top 10 ranking.  I don't know if Pitt will end up in the top ten this year, but I have no doubt that  when the season is over they will once again be successful.

Now, for the future I admit that I am getting a little more worried.  Some of the reasons I expected the Panthers to be a Final Four contender next season was because I was projecting Taylor to be a good center to pair with Steven Adams, Birch to be a star, J.J. Moore to turn into a good player, and some of the younger guards develop.  None of that is on the verge of happening now so until it does I'm going to be more cautious in how I project the future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The future is bright for Pitt football

While there will be some very good players moving on after this season, it has become apparent that the program is loaded with an inordinate amount of intriguing players who are underclassmen.  The following players are no older than sophomores with some choice recruits added for good measure.  As you can see, the Panthers have the potential for some very good things in the near future.

RB- Isaac Bennett, Fr.-  Two weeks ago after the Tulsa native saw his first action I wrote that I liked how hard Bennett ran.  He had 6 carries for 26 yards in that game.  He followed that up with 13 carries for 69 yards against Louisville.  He may or may not be a future No. 1 back, but at the very least he's proven in just two games that he should be a four year contributor.  Not bad for a supposed "two star" recruit whose only other offers were Tulsa and Louisiana-Monroe.

OL- Adam Bisnowaty, Recruit-  Elite prospect with offers from the likes of Penn State, Michigan, and Florida.  Could see time as a true freshman, but even if he doesn't he has the ability to have an excellent career.

TE- Brendan Carozzoni, RS Fr.-  He's played in 8 games, but has just 4 catches.  But don't be fooled.  I've been impressed with Carozzoni's smooth running ability and good hands.  He should be a good one.  

CB- Lloyd Carrington, Fr.- Another true freshman, and another one from outside of Pitt's usual recruiting area.  The Dallas native has played sparingly in six games, but look for him to be a serious contender to replace departing senior Antwuan Reed at corner.  He didn't play football until his senior year of high school, yet still got offers from the likes of Baylor and Oklahoma State.  Could prove to be an excellent player.

TE- Drew Carswell, RS Fr.-  The Panthers have four good tight ends returning, with three of them being underclassmen.  Even though he's moved to WR currently, tight end is where he should find himself again in the future.  Carswell has played the last 9 games this season and has 9 catches on the year.  He's also a good special teams player.

CB- Cullen Christian, So.-  The former Penn Hills star was one of the best cornerback prospects in the country when he came out of high school and he played in 10 games as a true freshman at Michigan.  He has three years remaining after the transfer and his talent makes him a serious contender for major playing time next season and beyond.

DT- T.J. Clemmings, So.-  A huge recruit two years ago who hasn't done anything yet.  He redshirted this year but has the ability to make an impact next year.

LB- Dakota Conwell, Recruit-  The Upper St. Clair star has had a great senior season and has proven that he was one of the biggest sleepers in the country.  Has a very bright future.

C- Brandyn Cook, Recruit-  A true center that wasn't highly recruited but the fact that the Panthers knew that they badly needed a center and made him their first priority at the position is all you need to know about how they feel he fits into their system.

WR- Chris and Demitrious Davis, Recruits-  Twin brothers from Ohio are highly coveted, fast, and explosive.  Both are perfect for Graham's system and both could have big futures for the Panthers.

RB- Corey Davis, Fr.-  The speedy Texan has only 3 carries this year but he has also been the main kick returner.  He's been supplanted by Bennett but he has the ability to be in the running back mix for all four seasons.

DT- Aaron Donald, So.-  I got some criticism for rating the Penn Hills lineman the No. 5 prospect in the state two years ago but he's already become a star with 33 tackles, 9 sacks, 10 hurries, and 3 pass break ups on the season.  Should get All-American recognition next season.

DL-  Tyrone Ezell, So.-  So far he's been a disappointment but could be a starter next season with four senior linemen moving on.  Big and strong, but he has to learn how to use it.

TE- Anthony Gonzalez, RS Fr.-  Yet another young quality tight end with 9 catches in 7 games.  He has to keep out of trouble off the field, but if he does, he could be really good.

LB- Shane Gordon, So.-  He began the season as a starter but got demoted early.  He still has played in 9 games and has 21 tackles.  He has good talent but he has to regain what he had in preseason.

LB- Nicholas Grigsby, Fr.-  The speedy Ohio linebacker has been redshirted this year mostly because he needs to gain some size, but he has the speed and athleticism to have a bright future.

S- Jason Hendricks, So.-  Started the first seven games at free safety before a season ending injury.  Had 36 tackles, 3 breakups, and an interception.  Must be more consistent to regain the starting job because the talent level and depth will be much better next season, but he did show flashes this season that proved he can be a major contributor in his last two years.

OL- Juantez Hollins, So.-  He's played in 9 games this season, and has started, but he has had more downs than ups.  He still has a lot of athletic ability, though, so he could still develop into something in the next two years.

S- Brandon Ifill, RS Fr.-  Has played sparingly as a backup in all ten games this season, but is one of many of the young, talented defensive backs that could be very good down the road.

NT- Tyrique Jarrett, Recruit-  Another local defensive linemen who was under recruited.  He's a beast and is surprisingly nimble and quick for 320 pounds.  A major sleeper.

WR- Corey Jones, Recruit-  Penn Hills star is the fast, quick receiver that Graham covets in his new system.

WR- Ronald Jones, Fr.-  The speedy little true freshman has played in all ten games this year and has taken over a starter after Cameron Saddler was lost for the season.  A jack-of-all-trades with 9 rushes, 10 catches, 13 punt returns, and 2 touchdown passes on two attempts.  He is exactly the type of player that flourishes in Graham's system but he better bring it because the talent level at the position is going to get much better.

OG- Cory King, So.-  The redshirt sophomore played in 9 games this season, starting in most of them.  He could be a starter for the next two years and should only get better.

ILB- Dan Mason, So.-  At one time Mason was talked about like he would be a future All-American.  That was until he screwed his leg up beyond belief last season.  If he returns even close to where he was physically, and that's a big if, he would be the biggest addition to the team next season.

DL- Khaynin Mosely-Smith, Fr.-  The former Woodland Hills star has played sparingly in all ten games this season, but next year look for him to be a starter.  He has a lot of talent.

OLB- Bryan Murphy, So.-  The elite recruit from New Jersey missed this season because of grades but if he comes back he has star potential, and should be the favorite to land the rush linebacker starting spot.

OT- Adam Pankey, Recruit-  Big Ohio kid who will add much needed talent and depth at the position.

WR- Darius Patton, Fr.- Another fast little receiver with good potential.  Has played sparingly in seven games.

S- Lafayette Pitts, Fr.-  Another good, young Woodland Hills player.  He's being redshirted this season, but has excellent potential and could be a major factor next season.

LB- Juan Price, Fr.-  Thanks to Woodland Hills again for this potential star.  Started off strong this season but then got lost in the mix.  Still has 23 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks in ten games. Unlimited potential and should be a major factor for the next three seasons.

LB-  Darryl Render, Recruit-  Technically he is a linebacker, but in reality he will be at rush end for the Panthers.  He's an under recruited gem who had a big time senior year at one of the biggest football powers in Ohio.

OT- Tom Ricketts, RS Fr.-  The former elite recruit transferred from Penn State and had to sit out this season.  Could start next next season.

OL- Matt Rotheram, RS Fr.-  The giant 6'6" 350 pounder played the first eight games this year and started one before getting lost for the season due to injury.  Has played well enough to think he could be a contributor down the road.

S- Roderick Ryles, Fr.-  The former Arkansas commit has big time talent but he used this season to redshirt.  Just one of many talented defensive backs that will be in the mix in the future.

OG- Ryan Schlieper, So.-  You would think an OL that is worst in the country in sacks allowed wouldn't have so many young, promising linemen, but Schlieper is another young lineman with good potential.

RB-  Rushel Shell, Recruit-  He's only the all-time leading rusher in PA history.  Strong and fast with great vision.  Oh, and he can catch like an elite receiver, too.  Has the potential to be a star and should play a lot right away, especially if Ray Graham has not recovered from his injured knee.

LB- LaQuentin Smith, Fr.-  The true freshman from Florida has played in only four games this season but he was highly coveted coming out of high school and he has a bright future.

WR- Devin Street, So.-  I got on Street a lot this season, and rightfully so, but he has come on strong with 19 catches in the last three games with two 100 yard games in that span.  If he stays focused he could put up big numbers in his last two seasons.

LB- Todd Thomas, RS Fr.-  Great athlete who has star potential.  Has played in 9 games this year and has 42 tackles, a sack, 3 tackles for loss, 4 hurries, and an interception.  Just wait until he knows what he's doing.

S- Ray Vinopal, So-  Michigan transfer played 13 games and started 6 for the Wolverines as a true freshman.  Heady player who should see a lot of action next season.  Pitt secondary coach Tony Gibson was also his coach at Michigan and he loves him as a player.

QB-  Chad Voytik, Recruit-  Not to put too much pressure on him, but the success of Todd Graham's reign will mostly live or die depending on whether or not Voytik can be a star.  Luckily for Graham, Voytik has the arm, legs, brains, and leadership ability to do just that.  Should start as a sophomore and could be a three year starter after backing up Tino Sunseri for a year.

CB- K'wuan Williams, So.-  I've been a fan of his play all season and he's already proven to be an All-Conference player with 53 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 5 breakups, an interception, and two forced fumbles.  If he continues to improve at this rate he could be an All-American candidate in the future.

Other recruit possibilites:

OT- Tavon Rooks, junior college-   The battle for this highly ranked tackle is between Pitt and West Virginia.  If the Panthers land him he cold conceivably start next season.

DT- Ryan Watson-  Maryland native is currently down to Pitt and Michigan State.  Big time talent who is good enough to see time as a true freshman next season.

DT- Darrian Dyson-  The Louisiana native is 6'3" and 300 pounds, exactly the size and talent the Panthers need on a soon to be depleted line.

OT- Jerrald Hawkins-  The 6'7" Louisiana native oozes potential and that's why he originally committed to Texas A&M, and now is committed to LSU.  The Panthers are trying to get him to change his mind once again and just may steal him.

LB- Deaysean Rippy-  The Sto-Rox star has tons of big offers but he hasn't pulled the trigger yet.  If the Panthers land him he could be an excellent addition to the linebacker corps.

S- Demetrious Cox-  The Jeannette star is a big time athlete who the Panthers really covet.  Possible big time player in his college career.

S-  Bam Bradley-  Hard hitter from Ohio who is the brother of Nicholas Grigsby.  Highly coveted recruit with a really bright future.

WR- Eugene Lewis-   Currently a Penn State commit but things are obviously up in the air there.  The Panthers are one of a handful of schools waiting to see if he changes his mind.  If the Panthers could steal him he has elite ability and could see a lot of time immediately.

LB-  Nyeem Wartman-  Another Penn State commit who may be looking elsewhere.  If he does, the Panthers are ready to put their hat in the ring again.

TE- J.P. Holtz-  A third PA recruit that committed to Penn State that may start looking around again.  A good football player who can play TE, LB, or DE.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Some thoughts

*I knew about this Penn State scandal a year ago and told different Pittsburgh media about it.  Not surprisingly no one reported it or would even acknowledge it.  I didn't report it because I'm not an investigative reporter and I don't have a newspaper to help me to not get sued.  But the fact that this was all ignored by most of the media shows you all you need to know about the Cult of Paterno, both inside and outside of the state.

How often has the media talked about "classy Penn State" and "the clean program" that Joe Paterno runs, all the while ignoring Paterno's problems?  I'm not suggesting that anybody knew something this despicable was going on at Penn State,  and I'm not suggesting that Paterno has not done a lot of good.  His former players love him and his graduation rates have always been high.

But three years ago, ESPN's "Outside the Lines" ran a story about the criminal activity amongst Penn State players.  In that report, it was said that Penn State had 46 players arrested from 2002 until the report was telecast in 2008, and that 163 charges were filed.  163 in six years!!   Can you imagine if any other coach in the country had that kind of record with criminal activity?  Coaches like Nick Saban and John Calipari are considered sleazeballs by many fans and much of the media, yet their teams haven't even come close to that kind of sordid history.  Yet Paterno, AD Tim Curley, and Penn State president Graham Spanier kept their jobs with little problem.

Bottom line, this is what happens when football becomes bigger than life on a college campus.  It causes stupidity, cover ups, and anything it takes to keep the status quo.  Let this be a lesson to every university from now on.  Never, ever let your coach, and your sports, be bigger than the university it represents.  Unfortunately, many of the students aren't getting that yet, as evidenced by their protests and rioting.

*I don't want to get sued so I'm not saying that Tom Bradley knew about all of this, but if I knew about it over a year ago then so did Steve Pederson.  Now you know why he wanted nothing to do with Bradley.  Whether Bradley knew or not, he is guilty by association now, and can you imagine if Pitt hired Mike Haywood, only to follow it up with a guy who was in the midst of the biggest college sports  scandal ever?  It wouldn't be pretty.

*Penn State football will not be the same.  At least in our lifetimes.  The talk of a big name coach being hired is a joke.  No excellent candidate will want to be involved in a horrid situation that's going to be horrid for a very long time.  The rioters and protesters are making the university look even worse, and they are the cherry on the cake.  I can't see any way possible that they will be able to recruit at an elite level for many, many years.

*I'm currently on the road, and right now I'm in North Carolina.  An older African American gentleman stopped me when he saw my license plate was from PA.  He said, "You're not a Penn State guy are you?"  I told him no, that I was a Pitt guy.  He said that was good and then went off on Paterno, Penn State, and everybody involved.  He said "Can you imagine if that was Dave Wannstedt?  They would have killed him".  So as you can see, this is not just a PA thing.  All over the country now, fairly or not, Penn State equals corruption and perversion.  And before any Pitt fans gloat to see the annihilation of your most hated rival, just remember how it came about.  If you are still gloating after thinking about the circumstances that brought us here then you are also guilty of thinking football is bigger than life.

*In what is old news now, the Panthers landed quarterback Chandler Kincade of Blackhawk.  The first thing I noticed were how in the articles announcing his commitment, the writer would comment on how Kincade still committed despite the fact that Chad Voytik was already signed.  Do these people think Pitt can only get one good quarterback at a time?  They are two classes apart and the arrival of Voytik will not stop any other good quarterbacks from coming.

Personally, I'm not seeing much in Kincade yet.  He looks tall and gangly, I don't see a strong arm or a lot of athleticism.  Plus, he doesn't seem to fit the system at all.  But, I'm not a scout and the Pitt staff gets paid to evaluate players, so until they are wrong, I'm going to assume they are right.

*Speaking of Voytik, I've read about how he is bonding with others in his class and how he is recruiting a lot of future prospects as well.  The more I read about him, the more he has "leader" written all over him.

*I'm sure that some Pitt fans were upset that Geno Thorpe went to Penn State instead of Pitt, but as you may have noticed, I have never written about him.  The reason for that is simply because he was a fall back option, and I always thought Pitt would do better.  They did.

*Which brings me to James Robinson, as well as Steven Adams.  As far as talent, it's the best class Pitt has ever had, in my opinion, even though it's just two players.  Obviously Adams is projected to be a top five pick in the NBA after one year so that one's obvious.  But I think Robinson is the one that Pitt fans will be talking about long after he graduates.  He's not going to put up huge numbers, get 2,000 points, and all of that, but he's exactly the kind of player that gets you to the Final Four.  If he manages that, he will be forever remembered.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pitt and Cincinnati Thoughts

I'm going to make this quick because I'm heading out on the road for the following week, but the Panthers had some of the same problems- defense was decent, but not great, special teams and the offensive line were sometimes awful,  and Tino Sunseri has no instincts to play quarterback.

To be more specific, Sunseri has so little instincts that he combatted criticism of his not throwing the ball away by throwing the ball away anyway, anyhow, anywhere.  His total inability of throwing the ball further than ten yards is also a major hindrance to the offense.  Until there is another starting quarterback it's never going to get better.  I don't care if he throws for 400 yards every game, it's not how many yards you throw for, its when you throw your yards.

Kevin Harper and Matt Yoklic had excellent games but Buddy Jackson can't field a kick to save his life and slow, 6'5" Michael Shanahan is your best option to return punts?  Sad.

I've never been one to go off on officials, but these particular officials were just awful.  Big East officials are definitely something I won't miss.

Isaac Bennett runs much harder than his 190 pounds would suggest.

The defense will never be excellent until they get better inside linebackers.  In the 3-4, it's all about the linebackers making plays and Todd Thomas is the only starting linebacker that usually makes plays.  Max Gruder continues to be slow and out of position.  I don't care how many tackles he makes because most of them are 5, or 10, or 20 yards downfield.  His hustle and toughness are fine, but I would prefer an inside linebacker who was actually in position to make the stop after two yards, not eight yards.

The secondary again was the best unit on the team with yet again K'Waun Williams playing great.  Anwuan Reed also had a great beak up.

Why are their still countless blown coverages?  The players, and the coaches, are not performing up to their level with that garbage.

Cincinnati had 366 yards, nearly 100 yards below their average.  To be honest, I thought it would be much more.  And the defense held them to four field goals and had three turnovers.

On the other side, Pitt had 397 yards including 179 yards rushing.  The latter is over 100 yards more than Cincinnati usually gives up, and that was No. 2 in the nation.

Isaiah Pead rushed for 118 yards but that included a 53-yarder early on.  On his other carries, he had 65 yards on 21 carries, or about 3 yards a carry.

Lastly, I know the fans are mad, but the sad truth is, there isn't a lot of talent on this team.  Yes, there are some good players, but not nearly as many as you need.  You can see the offense will be excellent with the right players.  Suneri had 70 yards rushing.  Imagine what an athletic, running quarterback will do.

I think, best case scenario now, Pitt goes 6-6, and to be honest, I'm guessing that it's more like 5-7.  That won't necessarily be the end of the world.  As I've shown before, the first season for a new coach is usually awful, the second year is a little better, and in the third year you see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Will that light be a train coming to take you to the Promised Land or a train that is going to run over you, you won't know until that time, but it's still too early to say Todd Graham is a success or a failure.  But at the end of the day, I still say that with all of their problems, they are probably at least 6-3 with a talented quarterback that fits their system.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A deeper look at NCAA football attendance and Pitt

This is my own not so scientific examination of where Pitt truly compares to other football programs across the country.

Criteria I used and why I assigned certain points to each:

Large enrollment  +2  Obviously a big factor in attendance is how big your university is.  Theoretically, more students mean more alumni.  Even a difference of just five or ten thousand adds up over the decades.

Medium enrollment  +1

No pro teams  +3  There's a reason why 41 out of the top 50 schools in attendance have one or fewer pro teams in their area.  When you're the only show in town, you immediately become a draw.

One pro team  +2

Metro population over 1,000,000  +2   A big population area obviously means more people to choose from.

Metro population under 500,000  +2  Small college town means more rabid fans.   Why no points for population between 500,000 and one million?  Because they are too small to be the only show in town, but not big enough to have a huge population to draw from.

For comparisons as you look through the numbers, Pitt has the No. 40 attendance, 28,823 students, and a metro population of 2,356,285.

The number before the name of the university is where they were ranked for 2010 attendance.

First Level  +7

Large enrollment (over 25,000 students), no pro team, major city (metro population over 1,000,000):   

4.  Alabama         101,821             31,747 students   1,128,047 metro population
5.  Texas             100,654               51,145               1,716,291
30.  North Carolina  58,250            29,390               1,749,525
31.  California        57,873              25,530               4,335,391
36.  Arizona          55,408               39,086               1,020,200
63.  Central Florida  39,614            56,337               2,134,411
91.  UNLV           20,612               28,203               1,951,269

Large enrollment (over 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population less than 500,000: 

1.  Michigan        111,825 avg.  41,674 students
3.  Penn State      104,234          44,817
7.  Georgia           92,746            34,885
10.  Auburn         86,087             25,469
13.  Texas A&M  82, 477            46,422
19.  Michigan State  73,556         47,800
20.  Florida State      71,270         40,838
21.  Iowa               70,585            30,328
24.  Virginia Tech  66,233           30,739
25.  Kentucky        66,070            27,209
26.  Missouri         61,540             33,805
32.  Texas Tech     57,108             32,327
34.  West Virginia  56,325            29,306
38.  Illinois            54,188              41,495
44.  East Carolina    49,665            27,816
46.  Purdue              48,063            39,697
50.  Rutgers            46,195             56,868
54.  Iowa State        45,395             29,887
55.  Kansas              44,851            30,004

Second Level  +6

Medium sized enrollment (20,000-25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population under 500,000: 

22.  Arkansas        68,932              23,153   students
29.  Oregon           59,398              23,389                   
35.  Mississippi      55,898             20,822
37.  Mississippi State  54,999         21,424
41.  Oklahoma State  50,812          23,522
43.  Kansas State     49,816            23,126

Large enrollment, one pro team, major city: 

2.  Ohio State      105,275    55, 014 students  1,836,536 metro population
9.  Florida             90,511     50,116                1,345,596
12. Oklahoma      84,738      30,303                1,252,987
33. NC State        56,877     31,043                1,130,490
51. Utah               45,459     30,819                1,124,197

Third level +5

Large enrollment (over 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population between 500,000 and 1,000,000: 

6.  Tennessee       99,781  attendance    27,523  students    699,247  metro population
8.  LSU                92,718                       28,871                  802,484
16.  Wisconsin      79,862                      42,099                  561,505
18.  South Carolina  76,668                   29,597                  767,598
27.  BYU              61,381                      34,310                  526,810

Small sized enrollment (under 25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population less than 500,000:  

14.  Notre Dame    80,795              11,733 students
17.  Clemson         77,469              19,089
51.  Oregon State   45,509              23,761
53.  Virginia           45,459              20,554

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), no pro team, major city (metro population over 1,000,000): 

42.  Louisville        50,648              19,473 students   1,307,647  metro population

Fourth Level  +4

Large enrollment, four pro teams, major city:  

15.  USC         79,907            36,896 students   12,828,837 metro population
28.  UCLA      60,376            39,593                12,828,837
39.  Miami, Fla.  52,575         15,657                 5,564,635
45.  Minnesota   49,513          52,557                 3,317,308
47.  Arizona State  47,943      70,440                 4,192,887
48.  Colorado      46,864         29,952                 2,543,482
49.  Georgia Tech  46,449      20,487                 5,268,860
56.  TCU              42,466          9,142                 6,371,773
65.  Boston College  38,369     14,640                4,552,402
68.  Northwestern   36,499       19,184                9,461,105
85.  SMU               23,515        10,891                6,371,773
92.  Temple           20,515         37,697                5,965,343

Medium sized enrollment (20,000-25,000 total students), no pro teams, metro population between 500,000 and 1,000,000:  

11.  Nebraska       85,664               24,593 students     885,350  metro population

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), one pro team, major city:  

84.  Memphis        23,918     23,031 students            1,316,100  metro population

Large enrollment, two pro teams, major city:  

23.  Washington    66,264       42,907 students     3,439,809 metro population
69.  Cincinnati       35,067       32,283                  2,130,151
70.  San Diego State  34,133   33,790                  3,095,313

Large enrollment, three pro teams, major city: 

40.  Pittsburgh      52,165     28,823  students  2,356,285 metro population
58.  South Florida  40,849    47,122                2,783,243
75.  Houston         31,728     39,825                5,946,800

Fifth Level  +3

Small enrollment (under 25,000 students), no pro team, medium city (metro population between 500,000-1,000,000):  

71.  Fresno State    34,120              24,939  students    930,450  metro population
73.  Boise State     33,269               19,964                  616,561  
79.  UTEP            29,350                21,011                 800,647

Sixth Level  +2

Small enrollment, two pro teams, major city:  +2

72.  Vanderbilt        33,269     12,714  students     1,589,934  metro population
86.  Tulane              23,220     12,622                   1,167,764

Small enrollment, three pro teams, major city: +2

82.  Rice               25,571       5,760 students    5,946,800 metro population

Summary:  The number of teams that get a +5, +6, or +7 totals 47.  The number of teams getting a +4 totals 20.  That means Pitt's attendance rank should be between 48 and 68.  In reality, they are ranked No. 40, better than 11 schools who have better criteria.  Even if one argues that Pitt's attendance totals are padded, they still will fall into where they should be.

Before I get accused of wearing rose colored glasses, here are more facts.  As I mentioned before, of the 50 schools with the best attendance, only 9 play in the immediate location of two or more pro teams.  One of those is Pitt.  Amongst the other eight, four have less attendance than the Panthers despite having more population.  Three of those also have a higher enrollment, and one of them, Arizona State, has almost two and a half times more students.  The only one of the four that has lower enrollment, Georgia Tech, is in a metro area twice as big as Pittsburgh.

So let me be clear about this.  There are only four schools with a higher attendance than Pitt that has at least three pro teams.  Of those, USC and UCLA have a metro population six times more than Pittsburgh and Miami has a metro population almost three times more- and they are only one slot above Pitt.   The fourth school, California, has roughly two million more people in their metro area.

Th only other two schools that are similar to Pitt in the basic criteria are South Florida and Houston.  Both have significantly more enrollment and metro population, yet Pitt gets higher attendance.

Bottom line, Pitt, like it or not, is right about where an impartial observer would predict them to be.  Pitt is in the second smallest city to have at least three professional teams, and the first, Cleveland, does not host a university with a major college football program.

Add it all up, and it's a big, but not giant university, in a big, but not giant city.  Yet they still have three professional teams, with two of them being highly popular.  If you think about it, it's amazing that Pitt has the attendance that it does.

That doesn't mean it looks good on television, because it doesn't.  You can complain that the stadium makes the attendance look worse, and you can complain that the fans that do go are not very rabid.  But as this article shows, Pitt's attendance is right on line for where it should be, and even with great success,  it's unlikely the attendance will go up much.  That doesn't mean that Pitt doesn't have fans.  It just means that the maximum attendance for Pitt football is limited due to factors outside of their control, and as of now, they are doing about as good as can be expected.