I've spent the last few days researching and talking to many people involved in recruiting and other writers around the country, and as of now, I still don't see a better option than true freshman Chad Voytik. But don't get me wrong. Ideally, I would prefer for Voytik to play part-time next season, and I know the Pitt staff thinks the same way. But let's look at why I'm thinking this way at the moment.
First, there's graduate transfers. I've identified four players currently who have already said they were either transferring after graduation, are expecting to transfer after graduation, or who could conceivably transfer after graduation.
Those players are Dayne Crist (Notre Dame), Ryan Katz (Oregon State), Jacob Karam (Texas Tech), and Danny O'Brien (Maryland). The only problem with that is that none of the four are spread quarterbacks who are a serious running threat.
Crist was one of the top two or three quarterbacks prospects in the country when he came to Notre Dame, but injuries, badly timed mistakes, and Brian Kelly, were too much to overcome and he lost his job to the less talented Tommy Rees. But Crist has a strong arm, is somewhat athletic for a big quarterback, and has a lot to prove. But he's also a pro-set quarterback if there ever was one. He is also expected to be highly coveted for pro-set programs (including maybe some giant programs like Wisconsin and Texas), not to mention the coach who recruited him to Notre Dame, Charlie Weis, is now the new head coach at Kansas. All of that means Pitt's chances are virtually nil to land him.
O'Brien was the ACC Rookie of the Year when he threw for 22 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. This season, however, O'Brien started the first seven games and threw 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. A lot of his problems could be because Torrey Smith became a first round pick of Baltimore since last season, because Maryland is an awful team, and because Randy Edsall had one of the most disastrous coaching disasters of all-time.
Like Crist, O'Brien isn't a running quarterback but has more than enough athleticism to be at least as good as Tino Sunseri has been. The question is, will he want to run that offense? He failed in Edsall's spread offense and Graham's is even more complex. He should have options that fit him better and I suspect he would chose one of them. He also would have two years of eligibility remaining meaning if he succeeded, Voytik would not start until his third season. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it means the quarterback situation would be set for the next five years.
He's from North Carolina so he may want to play in the ACC, but you have to wonder if Edsall would want him to go to a potential opponent. All of this could be a moot point, however, if O'Brien doesn't graduate (reports claim he will, Edsall has doubts).
Katz is at a lower level than Crist and O'Brien, but has a cannon for an arm and some mobility. But once again he's not a running quarterback. As a sophomore, he threw for 2,401 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He was also sacked 33 times. He lost his job at halftime of the first game to redshirt freshman Sean Mannion, and though Mannion put up some big numbers, many close to the Oregon State program think they could have won more games with Katz. He will graduate in March and will have one year of eligibility. However, when it comes down to it, it doesn't seem reasonable that a pro-set quarterback from Santa Monica, CA is going to come to Pitt to run the spread, when there is some team out west who would be a better fit.
Karam is the least accomplished of the four but that's because he's only lettered for two seasons and was only a redshirt sophomore this season. Of course that also means he has two years of eligibility left. He is the wildcard of the four because while he was recruited for the run and shoot by former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, he has enough mobility to be a pretty good runner in Pitt's system.
He was the top backup this season at Texas Tech, behind star Seth Doege, but only completed 9 of 17 passes on the season. He was well thought of by people at Texas Tech, however, on the field for his charismatic leadership, and off the field where he's practically a legend in the local community do to his personality and charitable contributions. He's also a wizard in the class room (he graduated in two and a half years) and wants to go to law school.
He's about the same size as Sunseri and Voytik (about 6'0" 200) and in high school he had offers from the likes of Oklahoma, Stanford, Houston, Louisville, Missouri, and Arizona.
Karam is from the Houston suburb of Friendswood, TX, and though Graham and Todd Dodge are more from the Dallas area, they still have a lot of connections in Texas high school football. In fact, the neighboring town of Friendswood is Pearlman which just happened to win the state title last season behind a quarterback by the name of Trey Anderson, the Panthers current backup.
So it looks like Karam is the only one of the four that could be even close to a possibility, and even that is a long shot right now. Things could change, of course. The Panthers staff may target one of these four and convince them that Pitt is the place for them. But until they do that, all four are simply a pipe dream. And of course there's always a possibility that another quarterback decides to transfer. That player would probably have to be a sophomore with two years of eligibility, however, because I've gone over every roster in the country with a fine toothed comb, and I see no more juniors who fit the bill. It's impossible, however, to know which sophomores are due to graduate, like O'Brien and Karam, until they actually announce it. And you also can't tell if somebody who started this season as a junior simply wants to start somewhere else, like Russell Wilson did this season. But until somebody like that becomes apparent, we have to to assume this is it.
The next option to start next season is a junior college player but that's not looking good either. The only two jucos the Panthers are looking at, as far as we know, are Andrew McDonald and Deon Anthony. McDonald has no offers and Jackson only has an offer from Troy, who he has actually verbally committed to. But neither appears to be a sure thing. If the staff thought they were the answer they would have been offered already. I know many Pitt fans watch Jackson's tape and thinks he could be excellent, and maybe he could, but he has one offer, from Troy, and even they aren't bringing him in to start. In fact, he may end up at wide receiver there. That doesn't mean he can't come into Pitt and do well at quarterback next season, but it also means that it would be quite a surprise if he did. Bottom line, I couldn't see him beating out Voytik, who is significantly more talented. It may be nice to add him, though, to add depth.
The last option are the players already on the team. Physically, Sunseri is nowhere near as bad as he's looked at times, but it's clear that, one, his skill set doesn't match this system, two, he is mentally beaten down, and, three, he no longer has the confidence of anybody on the team. That's a lot to overcome. And of course there's always a chance that he could transfer out of the program.
Let's get Trey Anderson, Mark Myers, and Ronald Jones out of the way right now because none are options. Anderson is still too small and not just talented enough to overcome his limitations, Myers is a horrible fit for the offense, and Jones is 5'8" and not a good enough passer.
That leaves Anthony Gonzalez, who could be a sleeper in all of this. He was a high school legend at Bethlehem Liberty and was the Player of the Year in the state as a junior. He's a very good athlete, and he is definitely a good enough runner to be called a running quarterback. He's also solidly built at 6'3" and 210 pounds. He was one of the most improved player in spring practices before the season and looked to be the favorite to back up Sunseri. Instead he got busted for having pot on him and he was suspended for two games. When he came back he was a tight end. But it will come down to his passing. His arm is strong enough but his technique is rough and his decisions aren't always the best. But he's still a work in progress and you never know when the light bulb goes on.
So Gonzalez is a good athlete who can run and if he doesn't know how to run the spread as well as Graham wants yet, he will by next season. That is if Graham allows him. He's made no promises that Gonzalez will return to quarterback but if the only other alternatives are Sunseri and Voytik then Graham needs to have his head examined if he keeps him at tight end. It's worth a shot to see if Gonzalez can do it, and if he can't, he can always move elsewhere- preferably safety so he doesn't continue to get wasted as a backup tight end.
To sum it up, unless Graham can unearth a gem that nobody else can see, or somehow manages to convince one of the four known quality graduate transfers to come to Pitt (and then learn how to be a spread QB), then the quarterback battle for now comes down to three- Sunseri, Gonzalez, and Voytik. I think it's obvious that, assuming Sunseri is even there, that the staff will probably not go with Sunseri again. There's just too much going against him. That leaves Gonzalez and Voytik, with Gonzalez being the preferred option so that Voytik can be eased in. But until there's a better option, Voytik is the man.