Monday, October 31, 2011

Some random thoughts on Oct. 31

A lot of talk about Pitt's current attendance woes, but it's not hard to understand why.  First of all, no urban university that also has popular pro teams, does well.  Columbus helps Ohio State get huge attendance figures, but it only has an NHL hockey team, plus is the major state university.  Hell, they even have The right there in their name.  Boston College (38k), Cincinnati (35k), Georgia Tech (46k), Miami (52k), Minnesota (49k), Northwestern (36k), San Diego State (34k), SMU (23k), South Florida (41k), Temple (20k), Tulane (23k), and UCF (39k) are all in major cities and not the large state university.  Enough said.  That doesn't mean Pitt can't do better, but that will come with winning.  But it won't ever be huge because it's not just physically possible.  However,  it doesn't mean that Pitt doesn't have fans.  A recent study by the NY Times shows that Pitt is No. 37 in the country when it comes to the amount of fans they have.  And that's especially impressive when you realize that Penn State has the third most fans in the country and is not far from the city.

I'm in the middle of a great new book about the trials and tribulations of Rich Rodriguez's three seasons at Michigan, and man, is it enlightening.  It definitely shows you that you can't have blind faith in your administration or even you local media.  Then Michigan AD Bill Martin and Michigan president Mary Sue Coleman were completely incompetent.  At one point, when it was erroneously reported (by Kirk Herbstreit) that Les Miles was getting the job (despite Michigan never even talking to him), the university had to let that report fester for three days without a denial because Martin was vacationing in Florida and didn't know how to work his new cell phone.  And that was just one of many errors he made, which puts Steve Pederson mistakenly hiring Michael Haywood into an even more interesting light.  Clearly, big time ADs can make colossal mistakes rather easily.  Then the university completely mishandled Rodriguez's tenure the entire time, especially since departed coach Lloyd Carr stabbed him in the back.  In the media, Detroit Free Press writer Michael Rosenberg apparently made it his mission to destroy Rodriguez, and basically made a career out of it, even going as far as flat out making stuff up.

Which brings me to Pitt's local media.  While I don't see anybody flat out trying to destroy Pitt, or anybody at the school, it's also obvious that the local media is pretty uninformed when it comes to the Panthers football program.  Maybe it's because Pitt football comes after the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, and Pitt basketball in their minds, but clearly they need more time to actually look at what's going on.  This is not meant for everybody since some make a great effort to be informed.  I can speak from experience that Bob Smizik pays attention to the program because I've had many discussions with him about it.  But when a Pitt beat writer says that he doesn't know about Chad Voytik because he's not tall enough, or the most popular TV newscaster in town say at least twice that he doubts Voytik because he saw him play in one game and he didn't do well, or you see at least two columnists trash attendance, you have to wonder if they ever do any research at all.  I've already proven that many great college quarterbacks are Voytik's size, or smaller, that many experts who watch more than one game says Voytik is excellent, and as I proved above, city schools that aren't big state universities never have high attendance.

Adam Pankey is not an elite recruit, but he is a solid recruit that could be a starter in his redshirt junior, at least.  If Todd Graham and his staff can now land juco Tavon Rooks, the offensive line could be very good in the future, and much improved next year.

The Panthers have had better recruiting year's as far as the number of elite prospects, but you can't discount the excellent job of recruiting for need that Graham has accomplished this year.  His needs included a QB to run his offense, a big time RB to replace Ray Graham, a handful of quick receivers, much needed depth and talent on the OL, a pass rusher or two, some depth at linebacker, and some speed in the secondary.  All were accomplished and Graham isn't done yet.

One of the best things about being a recruiting writer is that you get to know some future stars.  One of my favorites was LeSean McCoy.  I was the first to write a recruiting article on him when he was just fifteen years old.  I was talking to his teammate at Bishop McDevitt, Jeremy Ricker, and we were talking about McCoy and Aaron Berry.  As it turns out, both were close with Ricker and were at his house.  I talked to McCoy and immediately thought that he was a nice, polite kid.  And he remained that way for all the times I talked to him.  In fact, he would call me from time to time just to talk football, and I always thought he was a good person.  That's why I never believed the stuff that supposedly happened when he visited Penn State.  He was young for his age, for sure, and because of that he seemed a tad immature.  But it wasn't a bad immature.  He was just a normal teenager.  Unfortunately too often we forget that these football prospects are young because they are built and sound like grown men.  Then they will say something where they sound very young and you remember.  Anyway, I'm very happy to see how well he is doing both on and off the field.

Speaking of great Pitt players, the university already are among the leaders for NFL Hall of Fame players.  Then you realize that Curtis Martin, Chris Doleman, and Ruben Brown aren't even in there yet, but will be.  Then you can go even further and see not only McCoy, but Larry Fitzgerald and Darrelle Revis.  It's too early to know if McCoy will ever be destined for enshrinement because running backs careers are too iffy, but Fitzgerald and Revis are guaranteed to be in if they keep their current pace.

That brings me to Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  I find the guy endlessly entertaining on the local TV sports discussion programs because he is not only usually more informed than most of the others on the shows, but he also goes so ballistic that you almost expect him to start kicking people.  But I don't understand his comments on last night's show when he said that maybe 8-9 win seasons are all that Pitt can expect.  If that's the case, how can you explain a very similar program- WVU- get up to 11 wins on various occasions?  When Pitt gets their Rodriguez, they will win 11 games, too.  It will happen eventually.  I don't know if it will be Graham, or the next guy, or the next guy, but the percentages say that eventually Pitt will find a coach that brings them to a top ten team.  I don't know how often he will do it, or if he'll bolt right after he does it, but he's out there somewhere.

Back to the book on Rodriguez for a second.  The parallels to Pitt this year are many.  For instance, Rodriguez found that he wasn't left much, especially on offense, when he got to Michigan.  He told the administration that it always takes three years for the players at his new school to learn his system.  And that's exactly what happened.  And now, after they fired him, Brady Hoke is reaping the awards of Rodriguez's classes.  His first class are now redshirt juniors and seniors, including Denard Robinson.  Three years to be good, four years to be great.  It's always been said that a new coach needs four years so that the entire team is his players.  Yet for some reason, Todd Graham does not get that luxury by many, including the Pittsburgh media.

I'll have more on Pitt basketball in time, but truthfully there is not much to say right now.  I'm told no verbal commitments are imminent, and there really isn't much more to say for now.  The truth is, they will probably will 25-30 games and lose around the second round.  But I am really excited about the future.  For the first time I see the potential for a Final Four team if everything comes together.  I still think a big time scorer at the two or three is needed, but Khem Birch and James Robinson have me extremely intrigued about the future.  Both are the types of players that Final Four teams have.  If they live up to their potential and a talented wing can be found either on the roster, or coming onto the roster, then the breakthrough may finally happen.  Unfortunately, Steven Adams became too damn good too damn fast or the Panthers would have the three stars you need to go all the way.

I still don't think Pitt will be in the Big East for long.  The Big East is a mess and it will be even more of a mess if they try to keep three teams that don't want to be there.  Even they aren't that stupid.

Speaking of conferences, I still say that the ACC is going to eventually land Notre Dame.  No way can I see them playing sports like women's volleyball with the likes of Central Florida, Houston, and SMU.  They've all but said they don't want the Big Ten, despite the Big Ten fanatics saying they will eventually get them, and going to the Big 12 for all but football will make that conference split up sooner rather than later because they are already mad at Texas for having an unfair advantage.  That leaves the ACC who Notre Dame prefers anyway.

Lastly, just to make clear how I feel about the current Pitt football program:

1.  New coaches, especially with a vastly different system, have a transition period of a few years.  The first year is the worst, but theoretically in year three you will see a big difference and in year four you will potentially see a great end result.

2.  Graham has made some coaching errors, but it's not like he's the only one.  Even Bill Belichick is being criticized for making bad calls.  It happens.  He will hopefully get better with more experience.

3.  Graham has recruited well after a slow start and some of his lesser recruits early on are having very good years.  He has some very good recruiters on the staff and I think they will get much better after being settled in for a year.

4.  I think Pitt will get both Robert Foster and Patrick Kugler next season.  I also think they could end up with Tavon Rooks, Deaysean Rippy, and Bam Bradley to close out this season.  I'm unsure on Dimitrius Cox but a friend of mine sat with Cox's dad at the Jeannette game this weekend and the dad pointed out that Pitt was the only school with a coach there.  He then said Pitt was after his son very hard and that Pitt told him he could play on both sides of the ball.  If the staff can steal Jerald Hawkins out of Louisiana and away from LSU then you can go ahead and officially say that this staff is big time recruiters who have really hit their stride.

5.  In Dave Wannstedt's first year, I saw a lot of warning signs that made me very worried that he was not going to be the guy to take Pitt to a higher level.  I can't say I've seen the same thing with Graham yet.  In fact, I think he has done well and I'm very anxious to see how he finishes this season and how much he will progress next season.

Note:  Book about Rich Rodriguez at Michigan.

Three and Out

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Todd Graham's start far from unusual

The point of this article is to show that Todd Graham is no different than most coaches of the past, many of them some of the best of all-time.  The list below are the 70 coaches in roughly the last 30 years who've taken over a team with a winning record, and came from outside the program.  After the list, you will see that there is nothing to worry about with Graham at this time.

Todd Graham, Pittsburgh  4-4   Previous Season:  8-5 (Dave Wannstedt)  Note:  Graham still in first season.

Todd Graham, Tulsa  10-4  Previous Season:  8-5  (Steve Kragthorpe)

Rich Rodriguez, West Virginia  3-8  Previous Season:  7-5  (Don Nehlen)

Rich Rodriguez, Michigan  3-9   Previous Season:  9-4  (Lloyd Carr)

Dan Henning, Boston College  7-4-1 Previous Season: 9-3 (Tom Coughlin)

Ken Hatfield, Clemson  10-2  Previous Season: 10-2 (Danny Ford)

Tommy West, Clemson  5-6   Previous Season:  9-3  (Ken Hatfield)

Bill Lewis, Georgia Tech  5-6  Previous Season: 8-5  (Bobby Ross)

Chan Gailey, Georgia Tech  7-6  Previous Season:  8-5 (George O'Leary)

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech  9-4  Previous Season:  7-6 (Chan Gailey)

Gene Stallings, Alabama 7-5  Previous Season:  10-2  (Bill Curry)

Mike Shula, Alabama  4-9  Previous Season:  10-3  (Dennis Franchione)

Dick Tomey, Arizona 4-4-3  Previous Season:  9-3  (Larry Smith)

Bruce Snyder, Arizona State  6-5  Previous Season:  6-5  (Larry Marmie)

Dennis Erickson, Arizona State 10-3  Previous Season: 7-6 (Dirk Koetter)  Note: Erickson is 20-23 since that first season

Bobby Petrino, Arkansas 5-7  Previous Season:  8-5 (Houston Nutt)

Keith Gilbertson, California  4-7  Previous Season:  10-2  (Bruce Snyder)

Rick Minter, Cincinnati  2-8-1  Previous Season: 8-3 (Tim Murphy)

Brian Kelly, Cincinnati  10-3  Previous Season:  8-5 (Mark Dantonio)

Butch Jones, Cincinnati  4-8  Previous Season: 12-1 (Brian Kelly)

Rick Neuheisel, Colorado  10-2  Previous Season: 11-1 (Bill McCartney)

Gary Barnett, Colorado  7-5  Previous Season: 8-4  (Rick Neuheisel)

Dan Hawkins, Colorado  2-10  Previous Season: 7-6 (Gary Barnett)

Randy Edsall, UConn  4-7  Previous Season: 10-3 (Skip Holtz)

Paul Pasqualoni, UConn  3-4  Previous Season: 8-5 (Randy Edsall)  Note: Pasqualoni in his first season but his odds of getting to 8-5 doesn't look good.

Steve Spurrier, Florida  9-2  Previous Season:  7-5 (Galen Hall)

Urban Meyer, Florida  9-3  Previous Season:  7-5 (Ron Zook)

Mark Richt, Georgia  8-4  Previous Season:  8-4 (Jim Donnan)

Dana Dimel, Houston  3-8  Previous Season: 7-4 (Kim Helton)

Kevin Sumlin, Houston  8-5  Previous Season:  8-5 (Art Briles)

Bill Curry, Kentucky  4-7  Previous Season:  6-5 (Jerry Claiborne)

Rich Brooks, Kentucky  4-8  Previous Season: 7-5 (Guy Morriss)

Les Miles, LSU  11-2  Previous Season: 9-3 (Nick Saban)

Ron Cooper, Louisville 7-4  Previous Season: 6-5 (Howard Schnellenberger) Note: Cooper fired after 1-10 season two years later

Bobby Petrino, Louisville 9-4 Previous Season:  7-6 (John L. Smith)

Steve Kragthorpe, Louisville  6-6  Previous Season: 12-1  (Bobby Petrino)

Randy Edsall, UConn  2-5  Previous Season: 9-4 (Ralph Friedgen) Note: Edsall still in first season but it's projecting as a losing season

Dennis Erickson, Miami  11-1     Previous Season: 11-1 (Jimmy Johnson)

Butch Davis, Miami 8-3      Previous Season: 10-2 (Dennis Erickson)

Al Golden, Miami  4-3       Previous Season: 7-6 (Randy Shannon) Note: Golden still in first season

Brady Hoke, Michigan 6-1 Previous Season:  7-6 (Rich Rodriguez) Note: Hoke still in first season

David Cutcliffe, Mississippi 8-4     Previous Season:  7-5 (Tommy Tuberville)

Bill Callahan, Nebraska 5-6     Previous Season:  10-3 (Frank Solich)

Bob Davie, Notre Dame 7-6     Previous Season:  8-3 (Lou Holtz)

John Cooper, Ohio State  4-6-1   Previous Season:  6-4-1 (Earl Bruce)

Jim Tressel, Ohio State  7-5   Previous Season:  8-4  (John Cooper)

Mike Riley, Oregon State 8-5  Previous Season  8-5  (Dennis Erickson)

Paul Hackett, Pittsburgh 3-7-1  Previous Season:  8-3-1 (Mike Gottfried)

Dave Wannstedt, Pittsburgh  5-6  Previous Season:  8-4  (Walt Harris)

Ken Hatfield, Rice  5-6  Previous Season:  6-5  (Fred Goldsmith)

Dave Bailiff, Rice  3-8  Previous Season:  7-6  (Todd Graham)

Steve Spurrier, Florida  7-5  Previous Season:  6-5  (Lou Holtz)

Skip Holtz, South Florida  8-5  Previous Season:  8-5  (Jim Leavitt)

Larry Smith, USC  8-4  Previous Season:  7-5  (Ted Tollner)

John Robinson, USC  8-5  Previous Season:  6-5-1 (Larry Smith)

Paul Hackett, USC  8-5  Previous Season:  6-5  (John Robinson) Note:  Hackett fired two seasons later

Jeff Bower, S. Mississippi 4-7  Previous Season:  8-4 (Curley Hallman)

Larry Fedora, S. Mississippi  7-6  Previous Season:  7-6  (Jeff Bower)

Bill Walsh, Stanford 10-3    Previous Season: 8-4  (Dennis Green)

Buddy Teevens, Stanford  2-9  Previous Season:  9-3 (Tyrone Willingham)

Derek Dooley, Tennessee  6-7  Previous Season:  7-6  (Lane Kiffin)

Mike Sherman, Texas A&M  4-8  Previous Season: 7-6 (Dennis Franchione)

Mike Leach, Texas Tech  7-5   Previous Season:  6-5 (Spike Dykes)

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech  8-5  Previous Season:  9-4 (Mike Leach)

Bob Toledo, UCLA  5-6  Previous Season:  7-5  (Terry Donahue)

Karl Dorrell, UCLA  6-7  Previous Season:  8-5  (Bob Toledo)

Kyle Whittingham, Utah 7-5  Previous Season:  12-0  (Urban Meyer)

Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech  2-9  Previous Season:  10-1-1 (Bill Dooley)

Jim Caldwell, Wake Forest  2-9  Previous Season:  8-4 (Bill Dooley)

Mike Price, Washington State  6-5  Previous Season 9-3  (Dennis Erickson)



In the 65 examples above (not including the five coaches currently in their first season),  24 either had the same record or improved on the season before.  That's just 36.9%.

Todd Graham, Tulsa    8-5 to 10-4
Paul Johnson, Navy    7-6  to 9-4
Dennis Erickson, Arizona State    7-6 to 10-3
Ken Hatfield, Clemson    10-2 and 10-2
Bruce Snyder, Arizona State   6-5 to 6-5
Brian Kelly, Cincinnati    8-5 to 10-3
Steve Spurrier, Florida   7-5 to 9-2
Urban Meyer, Florida   7-5 to 9-3
Mark Richt, Georgia   8-4 and 8-4
Kevin Sumlin, Houston   8-5 and 8-5
Les Miles, LSU    9-3 to 11-2
Ron Cooper, Louisville   6-5 to 7-4
Bobby Petrino, Louisville  7-6 to 9-4
Dennis Erickson, Miami  11-1  to 11-1
David Cutcliffe, Mississippi   7-5 to 8-4
Mike Riley, Oregon State  8-5 and 8-5
Steve Spurrier, South Carolina 6-5 to 7-5
Skip Holtz, USF   8-5 and 8-5
Larry Smith, USC  7-5 to 8-4
John Robinson, USC  6-5-1 to 8-5
Paul Hackett, USC  6-5 to 8-5
Larry Fedora, S. Mississippi  7-6 and 7-6
Bill Walsh, Stanford  8-4 to 10-3
Mike Leach, Texas Tech  6-5 to 7-5

Of these 24, four basically replaced mediocrity with mediocrity with Spurrier and Leach going from 6-5 to 7-5, Fedora remaining at 7-6, and Snyder remaining at 6-5.

Of the 20 remaining,  three had the luxury of having great talent left behind.  At Clemson, Ken Hatfield replaced three straight 10-2 seasons by Danny Ford,  Les Miles was left an LSU program that shared the national championship two seasons before, and Dennis Erickson took over a team that went 44-4 for the four previous seasons.

Now we're down to 17 coaches out of 65 (26%!!) that did what Graham was expected to do (in his case, get to at least 8-5 coming from outside the program), and Graham was one of them.  Of the other 15, only two (Ron Cooper and Paul Hackett) can be considered flops.  The rest are considered quality coaches.  They are:  Dennis Erickson (he is on the list twice), Urban Meyer, Paul Johnson, Brian Kelly, Steve Spurrier, Skip Holtz, Larry Smith, John Robinson, Mark Richt, Kevin Sumlin, Bobby Petrino, David Cutcliffe, Mike Riley, and Bill Walsh.

Now take a look at some of the names who did not improve on the winning record the season before they arrived:  Rich Rodriguez (twice), Gene Stallings, Bobby Petrino, Butch Jones, Randy Edsall (soon to be twice), Bill Curry, Rich Brooks, Butch Davis, Jim Tressel, Jeff Bower, Tommy Tuberville, Kyle Whittingham, Frank Beamer, Jim Caldwell, and Mike Price.

Rodriguez was 33-5 in years 5-8 and turned WVU into a national power.  Stallings won the National Championship in year three.  Petrino was 8-5 in year two and 10-3 in year three at Arkansas. Jones is currently 6-1 in season two at Cincinnati.  Edsall was a two-time Big East Coach of the Year and brought UConn respectability.  Davis finished No. 2 in season six.  Brooks managed winning records for seasons four, five, six, and seven, no small feat at Kentucky.  Tressel won the National Championship in season two.  Bower led Southern Miss to fifteen winning seasons.  Tuberville is 5-2 in second season at Texas Tech and just beat No. 1 Oklahoma on the road.  In seasons 4-6, Whittingham had a record of 33-6.  Beamer has had twelve 10 win seasons and has finished in the top ten seven times.  Caldwell is currently the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts and went to the Super Bowl in his first season. Price finished in the top ten three times at Washington State of all places.  And these are the coaches who did not do better immediately than his predecessor, which Graham did once at Tulsa.

Does all of this mean that Graham is going to definitely be great while at Pitt?  Of course not.  But this does show that very few coaches come in from outside a program that won the year before and win right away, and those that do include names like Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Dennis Erickson, Bill Walsh, Brian Kelly, Bobby Petrino...and Todd Graham.

Other big names coaches also started slowly.  Bronco Mendenhall was 6-6 in his first season at BYU then went 43-9 over his next four years.  Bobby Ross was 2-9 at Georgia Tech then won the National Championship three years later.  Kirk Ferentz was 1-10 at Iowa in his first season, then 3-9 in his second season.  In year four he was 11-2.  At Michigan State, Nick Saban started 6-5-1 and Mark Dantonio started 7-6.  Gary Pinkel was 4-7 at Missouri and didn't break through with a great year until year seven.  Bob Stoops was 7-5 in his first season at Oklahoma then won the National Championship in his second season.  Les Miles and Mike Gundy both started 4-7 for Oklahoma State.  Miles didn't win 9 games until season three while it took Gundy until season four to get there.  Mike Harbaugh was 4-8 in his first season and 5-7 in his second.  Gary Patterson replaced Franchione after a 10-2 season and promptly went 6-6.  Barry Alvarez took over a 2-9 Wisconsin team and still managed to do worse at 1-10.

If anybody doesn't get the point after all of this, then you may just want to admit that you love to be miserable because I've proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's highly unlikely that any coach, even a great one, starts at a program in rapid fashion.  If you want, criticize Graham for not knowing this and setting expectations too high, but the truth is, there are zero signs that Graham is a flop at this stage.  In fact, if you look closely at this data you will see that it's more likely that he will eventually be the opposite.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pitt and UConn thoughts (Pitt 35 UConn 20)

First thought is, at least as long as Lou Holtz is around to share his inane, snarky babbling, there was no way that the game itself was going to be the worse part of the night.

I have no word yet what the injury to Ray Graham is, but it sure didn't look good.  There's no silver lining for Graham, and I'd have preferred to see him stay healthy this season, even if it meant that he eventually went to the NFL.  But at least for the program, it means that Graham and Rushel Shell could possibly form one of the best tandems in the country next year.

Tino Sunseri played hard and well, throwing for a career high  yards.  How does 29 for 42, 419 yards (tied for fourth best in school history), and two TDs, plus ran for 40 yards and another TD sound?  Good for him.  Hopefully this will give him confidence to play well for the rest of the season.  The lack of the long ball is still a problem that will hurt them again in the future, but for tonight Sunseri usually made good decisions, he was accurate in the short game, and the receivers ran hard and well after the catch.

Sunseri is still not a good fit for the offense for many reasons and he still threw for over 400 yards, and before sacks he ran for over 60 more.  If that doesn't convince you that this offense can be great with the right personnel then I don't know what will.  For the offense to be as bad as it was in the previous two games, it is almost unfathomable because it's hard not to get a lot of yards if you run the offense just halfway decent.

UConn was No. 38 in total defense, giving up 351 yards/game.  The Panthers had 529.

Pitt's offense entered this week No. 94 in total offense.  The defending champion Auburn Tigers, led by the offensive genius Gus Malzahn, is No. 93.

The RBs had 9 catches (all by Zach Brown) and the WRs had 13.  But the most interesting was the TEs with 8 catches.  I wonder if Brock DeCicco now believes Graham when he told him the tight end had a place in his offense.

I'm sure a lot of fans are going to be upset by Pitt throwing on two consecutive 3rd and 2 situations, but on the last one at least, Todd Graham was clearly upset at Sunseri for not handing the ball off.

I hate to be a downer, but I can't agree with those who thinks the Pitt defense has been good this season. There are still bad angles and missed assignments all over the place.  The unit has looked better because of the horrible offenses they've been playing.  UConn is the No. 104 total offense in the country while Utah is No. 108, Rutgers is No. 99, and Buffalo is No. 83.  The good news is that future games are coming against No. 99 Syracuse and No. 100 Louisville.  I fear that No. 33 Cincinnati and No. 13 WVU may have a field day against the Panthers.

The receivers, especially Michael Shanahan played hard.  Cameron Saddler also had an excellent run after the catch.  Devin Street dropped the first pass thrown to him.  It was tipped, but catchable.  But he rallied and caught five passes for 70 yards and a touchdown.  Tight end Brendan Carozzoni, just a redshirt freshman, got some time and made three catches.  He looked athletic and smooth.  He is somebody to watch for in the future.

Just like in the USF game, you can see at times what the Panthers offense can be when done right.  Sometimes a play will work beautifully and it's pretty much unstoppable.  As long as the offensive players continue to have discipline and desire, two things that have been in short supply thus far, there's no reason why they can't continue to get better.

K'waun Williams made a beautiful play at the goal line in the first half.  More proof to me that the sophomore is going to be a very good player in his career.

Were the names of Brandon Lindsey and Myles Caregein called all night?

Zach Brown, as always, ran hard.  Imagine what he's thinking now.  He probably thought he would never be a feature back when he was fourth string at Wisconsin, but he will now be the main man for the rest of his senior season.

Aaron Donald now has six sacks on the season.  He could have a huge junior season next year if he stays disciplined.

As usual, the amount of empty seats at Heinz Field was disheartening, but the look back at a lot of the great Panthers of the past was awesome to see.

I know the fans won't like this, but with the mismatched personnel and injuries this season, I would actually be okay if the Panthers ended up 6-6 this season.  That would mean 2-2 the rest of the way against Cincinnati, Louisville, Syracuse, and West Virginia.  Anything better than that has to be considered a great thing.  Trust me, 7-5 with injuries and an entirely new system would be a major success.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Steve Pederson- Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Good

Peterson Events Center and Heinz Field:  Pederson angered many when he demolished Pitt Stadium, but it looks like he's made the best of a bad situation.  Pitt Stadium, sad to say, was not something that was going to be good for the football program moving forward.  It was dilapidated and a hindrance to recruiting.  If it was to replaced by a new stadium, then what would Pitt do with their basketball facilities?  Fitzgerald Field House as a major venue also needed to be replaced as it was also behind what other universities had for their basketball programs.  It would be too expensive to replace both, and there was no place for the basketball team to play if Fitzgerald Field House was not an option.  The Consol Energy Center did not exist yet and the Civic Arena was also out of date.  But as luck would have it, Heinz Field was about to be built.  The plan that Pederson came up with was to demolish Pitt Stadium, replace it with the beautiful new Petersen Events Center for basketball as well as other events, then move the Pitt football program to beautiful new Heinz Field.  It's not perfect.  That would be an on campus football stadium so that students won't have to bus to games.  But for now it's the best situation that the football and basketball programs can hope for, realistically, and it's light years ahead of where Pitt was before Pederson arrived.  You can argue that Pitt's facilities were so bad that any AD would have no choice but to improve them, but you have to give Pederson the benefit of the doubt that he made some excellent decisions that many ADs may not have done as well.

Firing Dave Wannstedt:  You can't say that Pederson was not a fan of Wannstedt.  In fact, when Pederson was at Nebraska, he was interested in hiring Wannstedt as the head coach.  Plus, Pederson extended Wannstedt's contract at Pitt, and was a big supporter for the first few years since he returned from Nebraska.  But last season, Pederson, surprising many, fired Wannstedt (technically he resigned, but who are we kidding?).  Even me, who wrote an article the week before the firing opining that Wannstedt had already maxed out what he could do at Pitt, that his program was starting to decline, and that he had to be fired, was surprised that it happened as soon as it did.  But clearly Pederson thought a year too soon was better than a year too late, and I applaud that decision.  It was the right choice, even though it angered many former Pitt players who loved that a former Pitt man was at the helm.  Unfortunately, there were two incidents related to this firing that turned what could be an exciting change into a nightmare.  More on that in the "Bad" section".

Hiring Walt Harris:  This was not a sexy hire.  Harris was a quarterbacks coach at Ohio State and his only head coaching experience was at Pacific.  But after the second stint of Johnny Majors dropped Pitt to about as low as the program could go, Pederson didn't have a lot of options.  No excellent candidates wanted to join such a mess.  But Harris ended up being a fine coach who deserves great credit for helping Pitt come back from the brink.

Move to ACC:  Pederson was instrumental in helping the university to flee the dying Big East to bolt to the ACC.  Of course, Mark Nordenberg, among others in the university, were highly involved also, but Pederson gets a lot of credit for, perhaps the second time in his career, saving the football program.

Great relationship with Jamie Dixon:  Pederson did not hire Dixon.  That fortunate fluke happened when Pitt did not have an AD, which is probably the only reason why Dixon is the head coach today.  But Dixon likes Pederson very much and it's not an understatement to say that Pederson's presence helps in keeping Dixon around.  In fact, Dixon was no longer talking to former AD Jeff Long before Long left for Arkansas, and it's not a stretch to think that if Long was still at Pitt, Dixon would not be.  Football is where the money is, but Dixon is the star of Pitt athletics.  It doesn't hurt to keep him happy.

Improving the facilities:  Outside of the Petersen Events Center,  Pederson also was involved in the Petersen Sports Complex, which included the Charles L. Cost Field for baseball, the Vartabedian Field for softball, and the Ambrose Urbanic Field for soccer.  It took over ten years to get it done, but Pederson started it, and when he came back, he finished it.  The UPMC Performance Complex was another huge addition to the football program, and despite the inconvenience of having to bus the players from the campus, the sparkling South Side complex is beautiful. The fact that they share it with the Steelers is a plus.

Raising money:  Despite many public comments by donors who've said they will not donate anymore, Pederson has raised a lot of money in both of his tenures, including a record amount last year.

Hiring of Alonzo Webb, Joe Jordano, and Chris Beerman:  Webb (Track and Field), Jordano (baseball), and Beerman (women's volleyball) were all successful hires by Pederson, though Beerman has since left for Kentucky.

Respect from those he works closest to:  There's no way to know how everybody who works with Pederson feels about him, and in fact he has had coworkers at both Pitt and Nebraska who have clearly not liked him.  But Nordenberg, Dixon, and Executive Associate Athletic Director Donna Sanft all publicly rave about him, and it's safe to say that Todd Graham is a fan, too, since Pederson hired him.


Bad


Elimination of Pitt brand:  Let's be honest, the whole "Pitt script" argument has become a running joke amongst Pitt fans.  Many fans want the old Pitt script back that began in 1973 until Pederson changed it in 1996, while others don't see what the big deal is.  But there is more to just the memory of good times that makes the script, and the "Pitt" name, important.

One thing that many college sports fans don't think about, but is huge behind closed doors, is a university's sports brand.  When people think of Notre Dame, they have a certain image that has been shaped for decades- the leprechaun, Notre Dame stadium, Touchdown Jesus, etc.  It's the same with major programs like Penn State, Ohio State, USC, Michigan, etc. With the name "Pitt",  the university's brand was strong.  Sports fans knew exactly who Pitt was.  There was only one, and they wore it uniquely in cursive letters on their helmets or across their chests.

But Pederson did something completely irrational.  He decided to take the Pitt out of the university to replace it with Pittsburgh.  The problem with that is obvious.  When people around the country think of Pittsburgh, they don't think of Pitt's sports programs.  And they don't think of the university.  They think of things like steel mills, rivers, bridges, the Duquesne Incline, Primanti Brothers, and the Steelers.  As Pittsburgh, the university loses it's unique brand.  It gets swallowed up by more powerful things.

Gone was Pitt, gone was the script.  In it's place was Pittsburgh and a "Dinocat" that an average observer would never recognize as belonging to the University of Pittsburgh.  In fact, the Pittsburgh Panther looks no different than probably dozens and dozens of high school teams across the country.  You want to have brand recognition.  Somebody walking by a television set and see a helmet with "Pitt" written in cursive letters across the helmet makes an immediate connection to the university.  But walk by and see a large cat head on a helmet and you have to ask who it is.  Notre Dame and Penn State doesn't need anything on their helmets because their brands are strong without it.  But the name of Pitt is all the university had that made their brand stand out.  Why take it away?

It was a horrible mistake by Pederson and it made absolutely no sense.  When he left to go to Nebraska, new AD Jeff Long replaced the name Pitt, but the nondescript Panther head remains on the helmet, and the name "Pitt" is still not the strong brand that it once used to be.  It's not hard to understand why.  Pitt, under Pederson, literally went out of their way to destroy any uniqueness the Pitt brand had.

Hired Mike Haywood:  What an absolute disaster this way.  The firing of Wannstedt was understandable, but how can you do it without even having an inkling that you can find somebody better?  It appears Pederson targeted Todd Graham early.  It wouldn't have been my first choice, but he was still somebody who was coveted.  The university did not want to part with the money that Graham needed to leave Tulsa.  Pitt's thriftiness was bad enough, but unfortunately it only got worse.  It's unknown what Pederson's thought process was next.  Did he try harder for Graham?  Did he try for anybody other than Haywood?  That's something we don't know yet.  But one thing we do know is that there were many more competent candidates out there than Haywood.

Haywood was a head coach for a grand total of two years and in the first one he was 1-11.  In the second season he improved to 9-4, but the fact remains, a coach that coached for only two years, and in the MAC, is not somebody who is clearly better than Wannstedt.  I'm not trashing the MAC because some of the greatest head coaches ever came out of there, but none of them were ever going to be confused with the former Notre Dame star.  It was a very important hire for the football program and they needed a slam dunk.  This was not the man to dunk.

Haywood was considered a journeyman.  He tried, and failed, for many head coaching positions before. He's had interviews but after hearing his post-hire press conference is there any wonder why he never got those jobs?  To say he was uninspiring is an understatement.  He had zero charisma, made little sense, and looked as if he could fall asleep any second.  And yet somehow Pederson singled this guy out to lead this moribund program back to excellence?  Seriously?  This was the best guy he could come up with?  What could Pederson have possibly seen?  I couldn't tell you.  There are top coordinators all around the country that would love a chance to coach at Pitt.  All Pederson had to do was just find one of the dozens of future quality coaches out there.  It is his job, after all, to know who the top up and coming young coaches are.  A 46-year old journeyman with no charisma is the antithesis of what Pitt needed.

Then of course there is the second part of one of the darkest weeks in Pitt football history, and that was the news that Haywood was arrested for assaulting the mother of his child. This was after Pederson said that Haywood's values were "in line with the values of this great university".  Pederson then went on to say, "Michael is a man of character and integrity and will be an inspirational leader for our football team."  Yikes.

Look, personally I don't care if a man has a child out of wedlock.  But many in a university setting might, especially in a job that is so high profile.   If you make a special point to talk about values needed to lead young men, it might be best not to hire the guy with a baby's mama.  These situations tend to blow up, which is exactly what happened.  Schmoozing is a huge part of being a high profile football coach.  What was the reaction going to be when an older, more conservative booster asks Haywood what his family situation was?  Right or wrong, I can tell you that was going to turn off some people.  Being a major football coach is like being a politician.  If the package isn't right, nobody will be in your corner.  That's just the way it is.  Many college coaches simply didn't jibe with boosters over the years and got fired because of it.  For the life of me, I can't see why Pederson thought this man was going to be a hit over a dinner party.

What's worse is that Pederson was practically on his own with making the recommendation.  And this is a guy whose last hire was Bill Callahan, and who nearly fired Walt Harris for the not so legendary Ron Zook.  Needless to say, football is where the money is in college athletics, and hiring football coaches seems to be Pederson's biggest weakness.  Graham is Pederson's latest chance to get Pitt football where he wants it, but the slow start is already making people antsy.

The way he fired Dave Wannstedt:  This was another egregious mistake by Pederson.  In fact, it angered Wannstedt and his supporters so much that their public uproar is still being felt.  For some inexplicable reason, Pederson allowed Wannstedt to address the media immediately and while Wannstedt was in a rage.  The result was predictable.  Wannstedt, flanked by many of his players, not so subtly condemned the whole proceeding, furthering darkening the black eye of the university at such a fragile time.

Hired women's basketball coach Traci Waites:  I mentioned Pederson's good hires outside of the two big revenue sports, so it's only fair that I talk about this one.  Waites had a career 53-85 record at the university and was fired after five seasons.  Not only was her record bad, but her off the court problems also proved to be a problem.  In fact, reportedly she treated her players badly and her foul language made  university officials cringe.  Waites got another coaching job again, this time at Columbia, but she was fired again, and this time it was so bad that she was actually barred from the campus.  Perhaps this is more proof that Pederson may not be the best judge of character when hiring coaches.


Depends on who you believe


Hiring of Ben Howland:  This deserves it's own category because while Howland was hired by Pederson, there is serious doubt about whether or not he was the man most responsible for the decision.  In fact, Sonny Vaccaro explicitly says that it was he who got Howland to Pitt.

In an April 6, 2003 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article,  Pederson admits to calling Vaccaro about hiring Howland:  "I called Sonny and told him I was considering Ben and I hoped that we could rely on a shoe contract, in terms of getting Ben all set financially and so forth.  He did know Ben and helped him at Northern Arizona."

In the same article, however, Vaccaro denies that Pederson knew of Howland (and I have my own doubts that Pederson was very familiar with a basketball coach from obscure Northern Arizona that he had no ties to), and says he set up the whole thing:  "He was a football person.  He wasn't a basketball person.  He wanted someone who was a solid, fundamental coach.  That's who I recommended. "

"I told Steve about Ben and said, 'He's what you need.  He's a coach.  He ain't going to play in Pittsburgh the first year, but he's one of the best young coaches in the country.'"

According to Vaccaro, he called Howland and told him he was going to try to get him the Pitt job.  He did and the rest is history.  And for anybody who doubts that Vaccaro has that kind of clout, in the same article, then Duquesne AD Brian Colleary was quoted as saying that Vaccaro was "a very influential person in regards to hiring coaches".


Summary:  Pederson may be the most polarizing AD in college athletics.  Many Pitt fans despise him,  donors routinely, and very publicly, state that they will stop giving money unless he's out, and many former Pitt athletes want him to leave and never come back.  Former great Bill Fralic trashed Pederson so vehemently back in January of this year that he lost his job (technically "stepped down") as the color commentator on the Pitt radio broadcasts.  Al Romano, captain of the 1976 National Champions team, Mike Ditka, and Tony Dorsett were just some other big names who have criticized Pederson.  And Dorsett actually had a street named after him thanks to Pederson so that one had to sting.

And while I would prefer to concentrate on what Pederson has done at Pitt, one can not completely ignore what Pederson did at Nebraska.  His failure there was epic.  We're talking Shakespearean tragedy type of disaster that they would write books about if he was something more important than an athletic director.  Pederson is still so reviled in Nebraska that he was actually named the most hated sports figure in the state by a poll conducted by ESPN.  And this guy is from Nebraska and went to the school.  How could somebody mess up that bad?

But you can also ask how somebody could mess up that bad at Pitt sometimes.  The whole Wannstedt firing/Haywood hiring/Haywood firing fiasco would have gotten pretty much any other AD in the country fired.  Changing Pitt's brand was another big mistake, and it's a mistake that he's yet to correct fully.

Yet one can not deny that Pederson moved Pitt's sports programs into the 21st century also.  Previous ADs, and administrators, should be embarrassed by the state of how things were when Pederson first arrived.  A merely competent AD could easily make improvements to the charred remains of past failures.  But Pederson went way beyond that.  The facilities for both football and basketball are now amongst the best in the country and the Olympic sports now finally have a place to play without having to be embarrassed.

You also have to give Pederson credit for saving Pitt football by hiring Harris, and by possibly saving Pitt football again by getting the university into the ACC.  The hugeness of both can not be denied.

Ultimately, what Pederson will most be remembered for is his massive ego.  In people of power that's not always a bad thing.  In fact, people in power have to have a strong ego because they have to believe they can get things done.  And Pederson did get things done.  But his biggest flaw is also his ego.  When he gets in trouble with his decisions, it's because he tries to make a big, flashy move when a big, flashy move was not needed.  There was no need to change the Pitt brand.  None.  He did it because he got swept up in the power to change things, and he never stopped to wonder if it actually made sense.

He made the same mistake with the hiring of Haywood, and also Bill Callahan at Nebraska.  Instead  of just hiring somebody who made sense, Pederson had to find somebody outside the box so that when, in his mind, that person succeeded, he would look like a genius.  Now, I'm not saying that Pederson sits around thinking how great he can look, but I do think subconsciously he gets swept up in his own power.  How else can somebody blithely keep smiling as if nothing is wrong while the villagers are throwing rocks at him daily?  Yes, all people in his position gets criticism, but this man is actually loathed by a large amount of people.  You would think in this situation, you would be more conservative and try to take the heat off of you some.  But not when you have the massive ego that Pederson has.  He just goes on as if brilliance is about to shoot out of his head at any second, and that we will all be so lucky to experience it.

Of course, none of this can be make possible if he was not sheltered, and even enabled, by Nordenberg, who routinely gets a pass despite being Pederson's biggest fan.  How big of a fan is he?  When Pederson got fired at Nebraska, he was dead man walking.  Nobody wanted to be around such a colossal disaster, which is exactly what he was at that time.  But Nordenberg called him to ask him if he would be interested to return to Pitt- and he did this the day after Pederson was fired.  Nordenberg obviously thinks Pederson was a great AD for Pitt, and there is no doubt that Pederson did a lot for the university's sports programs.  But Pederson was already not loved at Pitt, was absolutely despised at Nebraska, and the next day you can't wait to get him back?  Where's the pride?  Yes, Pederson did great things at Pitt, but there's seriously nobody else you can find at this point other than the most hated AD in the country?  And you needed him so badly that you couldn't even wait for him to clean out his desk at Nebraska?

According to a 2007 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article by Paul Zeise, Jeff Long was getting approximately $200,000 a year salary at Pitt at that time.  If that is correct, then that means Pitt is currently paying Pederson three times that much.  That's just more proof that Pitt not only wants Pederson, they really want Pederson.

So a large portion of the alumni, fans, and former athletes be damned.  It looks like Pederson is going to continue dreaming big at Pitt.  Sometimes he will succeed spectacularly.  Sometimes he will fail spectacularly.  But make no mistake about it, Nordenberg will be encouraging him as he does it.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

More on Voytik (and his so-called lack of height)

Chad Voytik's nationally televised game, in which his team did not score, was the first time I was able to see him play an entire game, and despite what you may think, I still think the kid has a very good chance of being a star.  

Like I said in the prior post, the rest of his team is very poor.  Voytik took snaps behind a line that was a sieve, and his receivers were very bad.  As a quarterback, there's not much you can do in that situation.  It's not like Rushel Shell who, like Voytik, is basically all that his team has.  As a running back, you can just get the ball easily in your hand and run, run, run.  And somebody like Robert Foster can do the same.  But as a quarterback, you need somebody to actually throw the ball to or it doesn't matter how good you are.  Voytik was running for his life and was throwing bullets to receivers who continually broke off patterns (if they knew the patterns at all), were very slow, and had no hands.  He would continually throw passes to players who just weren't going to help him complete a play in any way.  

To me he showed a very strong, accurate arm, and a quick release, plus he ran hard with good speed.  And just as importantly, he had to be frustrated to have his chance on national TV be ruined by poor teammates, but not once did he sulk, complain, or show frustration.  

I was living in New Jersey when Joe Flacco played there, and I saw him play.  And I saw Tyler Palko and Rod Rutherford play in person when they were in high school.  All three ended up being very good college quarterbacks, and I'm telling you without a doubt that Voytik is significantly more talented at this same stage than all three.  Hopefully Pitt fans who read this will take my advice and be excited about this player because if you can't get excited about a kid who ranked fifth at the Elite 11, was named best leader at the camp, and was said to have the best arm and quickest release there, then I can't help you.

As for those who keep talking about his size, let's put that to bed right now because it's just showing a lack of football knowledge for those who continually mention it.  Voytik is said to be either 6'0" or 6'1". This is just some of the players in the same range.

Michael Vick, Virginia Tech, 6'0"-  All-American, Heisman Finalist, Four-time NFL All Pro.

Eric Zeier,  Georgia, 6'1"-  Set 67 school records and 18 SEC records.  Most prolific passer in SEC history and became just third player to pass for over 11,000 yards in his career.  First Team All-American.

Major Harris, West Virginia, 6'1"-  Two time Heisman Trophy finalist, All-American, College Football Hall of Fame.  Led WVU to the National Championship game.

Pat White, West Virginia, 6'0"- All time leading rusher for a QB in history, top five in all major passing categories for the school.  One of only five players to both rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a season, and he's done it twice.

Drew Brees, Purdue, 6'0"-  Considered the best Big 10 QB in history, Super Bowl winner and perennial All-Pro, future Hall of Famer.

Kellen Moore, Boise State, 6'0"- Heisman Trophy finalist, All-American, will soon become winningest QB ever, and on pace to be top five in yardage in history.

Chase Daniel, Missouri, 6'0"-  Heisman Trophy finalist, All-American, and over 12,500 passing yards.

Seneca Wallace, Iowa State, 5'11"-  Threw for over 5,200 yards and ran for 912 more in just two seasons.  Has played in the NFL for the past nine years.

Troy Smith, Ohio State, 6'0"-  Heisman Trophy winner, All-American, and led Ohio State to the National Championship game.

Colt McCoy, Texas, 6'1"- Heisman Trophy runner-up, All-American, currently has more wins of any quarterback in NCAA history.  

Ty Detmer, BYU, 6'0"-  Heisman Trophy winner, two time All-American, threw for over 15,000 yards.

Doug Flutie, Boston College, 5'9"-  Heisman Trophy winner and a finalist another time.  Over 10,000 career yards.

Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech, 5'10"-  Heisman Trophy runner-up.  Threw for over 3,000 yards and ran for over 700 yards in his senior year.

Timmy Chang, Hawaii, 6'1"-  All-time passing leader with over 17,000 yards, plus most attempts and most completions.  

Kordell Stewart, Colorado, 6'1"-  Set school records for yards, completions, and touchdowns, and played in the NFL for eleven years.

Danny Wuerffel, Florida, 6'1"-  Heisman Trophy winner, two time First Team All-American, two time Heisman finalist, ended career with a then NCAA record 114 passing TDs, and won a National Championship.

Eric Crouch, Nebraska, 6'0"-  Heisman Trophy winner, school's career total offense leader, one of only three players to run for over 3,000 yards and pass for over 4,000 yards in his career.

Shawn Jones, Georgia Tech, 6'1"-  Four year starter and quarterback of National Championship team.  Over 9,000 total yards.

Russell Wilson, Wisconsin, 5'11"-  NC State transfer who currently leads the undefeated Badgers.  Already has over 10,000 yards passing in his career and a Heisman and a national championship this season is not out of the question.

Ben Bennett, Duke, 6'1"-  Finished career with the top passing yardage in NCAA history.  Set seven NCAA, 15 ACC, and 42 school records.

Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech, 6'1"-  ACC Player of the Year and passed for over 7,000 yards and nearly 2,000 yards rushing with 67 total touchdowns.

Woody Dantzler, Clemson, 6'0"-  First player to throw for more than 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards in a career.  Set 53 Clemson records.

Rex Grossman, Florida, 6'1"-  Heisman Trophy runner up and All-American.  Playing his ninth season in the NFL.

Jason Gesser, Washington State, 6'1"-  Pac 10 Player of the Year, led team to two ten win seasons, finished seventh in Heisman vote.  Threw for over 6,100 yards and 53 yards in his last two seasons.

Cade McNown, UCLA, 6'1"-  Finished eighth and third in Heisman voting, All-American, over 10,000 passing yards.

Rodney Peete, USC, 6'0"-  Finished second in Heisman voting and played in the NFL for 16 years.

Brett Basanez, Northwestern, 6'1"-  Came within four rushing yards of being the only player ever to pass for over 10,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards.  Over 11,500 total yards is 13th all-time.  Still holds 29 school records.

Drew Tate, Iowa, 6'0"-  Big Ten Player of the Year and three seasons over 2,500 yards passing.  

Antwaan Randle El, Indiana, 5'10"-  Finished sixth in Heisman voting.  First player in history to both run and pass for 40 touchdowns.  Finished career fifth all-time in total yards.  First player in history to have 2,500 total yards for all four years of his college career.  


Friday, October 21, 2011

Chad Voytik on National TV Tonight

Pitt fans will have the chance to see their future (potentially) star quarterback tonight when his Cleveland (TN) HS team hosts big rival Bradley Central.  Cleveland was supposed to have a big year this season, but stand at 4-4, mostly because the team around Voytik are not at his same level.  Both his offensive line and wide receivers have not been great (sound familiar?).  In fact, Voytik lost 75% of his receivers from the previous season and the leading returning receiver had eight catches last year.  It will be a tough test tonight as Bradley is the No. 10 team in the state.

The game will be on ESPNU at 8 PM EST.  But for those who aren't used to watching high school football that's not played by teams loaded with high major prospects, prospects don't usually stand out as future superstars.  It's rare that, like in the case of Rushel Shell against Robert Foster locally last week, do prospects look like they could play in college right away.  Usually, all a coach sees, and what a viewer should look for, is if the prospect has the raw material.  The coaching and instruction in college is light years ahead of high school, and that's no offense to high school coaches.  But it is what it is.  A kid learns more in his first week of college practice than he does in his entire football career up until that point.  I just don't want any fans to be disappointed if Voytik doesn't throw for 300 yards and 5 touchdowns because he probably won't.

With that in mind, here are things to look for when it comes to finding a quality quarterback prospect, and how Voytik matches up:

Size:  Voytik is about 6'0" and 200 pounds.  He's solid and well built.  His height is good enough.  Many great college quarterbacks have been the same size, if not smaller, especially in a spread.  Just two examples who Pitt fans will recognize are former West Virginia greats Major Harris and Pat White, and former Ohio State national championship quarterback Troy Smith.  And not to compare him to a future Hall of Famer, but Drew Brees is also 6'0" tall.

Arm strength:   Voytik's arm strength is considered in the elite category.  He can make all the throws needed not only in college, but also the NFL.  At the Elite 11, ESPN's No. 2 QB prospect Gunner Kiel (nephew of former Notre Dame QB Blair Kiel) said, "Voytik's got a gun.  He can really throw it."

Release:  ESPN:  "We would argue you will not find a quicker release on QB in the 2012 class than the one Voytik has.  The ball absolutely jumps out of his hand with pop and velocity."

Accuracy:   Sports Illustrated at the Elite 11 camp:  "Showed tremendous poise and accuracy.  When receivers were coming out of their breaks, the college quarterbacks were on a different level in terms of their timing and ball placement.  But Voytik was the exception.  He was one of the few high school prospects that was able to successfully control his timing, velocity, and ball placement."

Athleticism:  Leads team in rushing and has had two 100 yards game this season.  Dramatically hurdled an opponent on the way to a rushing touchdown earlier this season.  Has been unofficially timed at 4.59 in the 40.

Head:  From ESPN at Elite 11, "He is a competitive and focused kid who seemed to perform at a high level regardless of the drill."

Has a 4.0 GPA and got a 29 on his ACT.

Star Sand Diego State quarterback Ryan Lindley at the Elite 11, where Voytik was named by the counselors (including Troy Dilfer), the best leader of the group:  "He's a general out there on the field".

Cleveland head coach E.K. Slaughter:  "There are quite a few kids who can throw a football, but not a lot of guys who are the caliber of person he is."

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Looking at Next Season-Defense

Like the offense I explored yesterday, this is by no means the definitive list for next season.  I'm just spitballing here so fans can have a starting off point to see what the team may look like.  Every season players come out of nowhere and there's no doubt that it will happen again next season, but just taking an educated guess, this is where we'll start from.

Defensive Line:  The three starters are all graduating, and Brandon Lindsey, Chad Alecxih, and Myles Caragein were all good players.  Their replacements are young, but at least they are equally talented.  The replacement for Caragein at NT should be Khaynin Mosely-Smith, who didn't play much this season, but is quick and strong.  At the tackles, Aaron Donald is a definite at one spot.  He's a playmaker already in his young career, but he gets out of control too often.  If he can become more disciplined, he could be excellent.  The other spot will probably be filled by a third young local in Tyrone Ezell.  Shayne Hale and T.J. Clemmings are veterans who came to Pitt with a lot of buzz, but have yet to reach their potential.  However, both have the talent to beat out Ezell if he doesn't earn the spot.  Giant local Tyrique Jarrett is one of my favorite sleepers in this class.  If he's eligible, and stays in shape, he could see time on the nose.

Shayne Hale, Sr.
T.J. Clemmings, Jr.
Aaron Donald, Jr.
Tyrone Ezell, Jr.
Khaynin Mosley-Smith, So.
Tyrique Jarrett, Fr.

Linebackers:  The era of slow linebackers is finally over for the Panthers and the future at the position is finally starting to look bright again.  Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts will graduate, as will Greg Williams (who was not slow).  The combination end/rush linebacker in this system is called the Panther. Assuming he comes back from missing the season because of grades, Bryan Murphy has star ability at this position.  The problem is, that's the best position for Juan Price, too.  The opposite outside linebacker is called the Spur, and that position should belong to highly athletic Todd Thomas. Kevin Adams performed well this season with Thomas hurt, and if he stays at the position, he should also see time.  In the inside, Graham could decide to start Price if Murphy comes back, just to get him on the field.  If Graham decides against that, Shane Gordon and LaQuentin Smith look to the the favorites at the position.  Nicholas Grigsby, who redshirted this season, and Eric Williams could compete for jobs, too.  Incoming freshman Darryl Render has had a great season this year and could be the heir apparent at the Panther position.  If Murphy or Price doesn't end up at the spot next season, then he could always see time right away.  Newcomer Dane Conwell could be very good down the road.  The wildcard is Dan Mason, who looked like a future All-American candidate before destroying his leg last season.  He is determined to come back and if he can somehow pull that off, and play anywhere near how he used to play, then this unit is actually loaded, believe it or not, and better yet, the players are all young and will only get better.  A possible late addition, if they can sign him, is Sto-Rox's Deaysean Rippy, who is highly coveted.

Shane Gordon, Jr.
Dan Mason, Jr.
Kevin Adams, Jr.
Bryan Murphy, So.
Juan Price, So.
Todd Thomas, So.
Eric Williams, So.
LaQuentin Smith, So.
Nicolas Grigsby, RS Fr.
Dakota Conwell, Fr.
Deaysean Rippy, Fr.  (possible signee)

Defensive Backs:  Antwuan Reed has had a surprisingly good year and he is the lone starter not returning.  The corner that is returning, K'waun Williams, has been very good this season and could be an all-conference performer in the near future.  Jarred Holley is returning at strong safety, and he's had a good year.  At free safety, Jason Hendricks is more hit and miss, and he could return as a starter next season if Lafayette Pitts doesn't beat him out.  Replacing Reed could be one of three very talented youngsters.  Michigan transfer Cullen Christian was considered one of the better corner prospects in the country when he entered college, and he redshirted this season after the transfer.  Two true freshman this season, Pitts and Lloyd Carrington, quickly showed signs that they have very bright futures.  Throw in Andrew Taglianetti, Brandon Ifill, E.J. Banks, and Michigan transfer Ray Vinopal who started seven games as a true freshman for the Wolverines, and you can see that this may be the deepest unit on the team.  And that doesn't include a freshman class that will bring in four more recruits, including talented corners Marchez Coates and Marzett Jeter.  Two potential stars, if the Panthers could land them, are safeties Demetrious Cox and Bam Bradley.

Jarred Holley, Sr.
Andrew Taglianetti, Sr.
E.J. Banks, Jr.
Jason Hendricks, Jr.
K'waun Williams, Jr.
Cullen Christian, So.
Brandon Ifill, So.
Ray Vinopal, So.
Lafayette Pitts, RS Fr.
Lloyd Carrington, RS Fr.
Marchez Coates, Fr.
Marzett Jeter, Fr.

Best case realistic scenario for starting lineup:

DE:  Aaron Donald , Jr. and Tyrone Ezell, Jr.-  Both are strong and Donald has great explosion.  As juniors, it's their time to star.

NT:  Khaynin Mosely-Smith, So.-  Freakishly strong and could help form an an excellent WPIAL front line.

Panther Back (end/rush linebacker):  Bryan Murphy, So./Juan Price, So.-  If Murphy returns from being academically ineligible (and he probably will), then it's his job to lose.  He could be star.  The question then is, will Graham combine him with Price or move Price inside?  Or do both?

Spur (outside linebacker):  Todd Thomas, So.-  Great athlete who could become a star with more experience.

ILB:  Shane Gordon, Jr./LaQuentin Smith, So./Juan Price, So.-  If Graham decides to move Price then he will only do it if Price can start.  Otherwise, it's pointless.  If Price doesn't move then Gordon and Smith are the favorites to start.

CB:  K'waun Williams, Jr., Cullen Christian, So./Lloyd Carrington, RS Fr.-  Williams is guaranteed to start but the other position should go to one of the underclassmen.

FS:  Jason Hendricks, Jr./Lafayette Pitts, RS Fr.-  Hendricks is doing well for the most part but Pitts is a good young talent that could steal the position off him.

SS:  Jarred Holley, Sr.-  Good player and was a great leader even before he was a senior.  Will be the leader of a very young defense.

This is normally where I would look at the roster in two years, but with only one senior projected to start next year, it's pointless.  Bottom line, the Panthers have some very good young talent on defense, and they are very athletic.  There is no excuse why the defense shouldn't be good for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Looking at Next Season- Offense

I really don't know if Todd Graham and his staff can do much at this point with personnel changes to change the season, but let's look at what may happen with the personnel next season.  I will show, in my opinion, the realistic, ideal situation.  This isn't a prediction, and it's obvious not all of these things will happen, but instead I'm showing what, in my opinion, has to happen for Pitt to be better next season.  And the more of these things happen, the better chance they will have to succeed.

Quarterback:  Tino Sunseri will be back for his senior season and he'll obviously have the chance to make up for this poor season.  Will he succeed?  Who knows?  But you know he will be in the middle of the QB competition, and amazingly would have to be considered the favorite at this time.  Prized freshman Chad Voytik will enter the picture and while it's difficult for a true freshman to start at QB, there's always a chance.  Ideally, somebody else does well enough at QB for him to redshirt, but barring that, hopefully he can see enough snaps to be comfortable to start two years from now.  Another possible newcomer is California junior college quarterback Andrew McDonald, son of former USC and Cleveland Browns quarterback Paul McDonald.  The former preferred walk-on at Arizona has put up big numbers the last two seasons, and while he's not considered an elite prospect, he at least could be another option.  So could current TE Anthony Gonzalez, who was moved to TE prior to the season.  His passing is not considered a strength, but he's a good athlete who should be given a chance.  If he fails, he could always move back to TE.  Lastly, there is Trey Anderson, who should be better after a year of seasoning and time in the weight room.  Five quarterbacks entering training camp equals much depth and options.  You may have noticed that I didn't mention Mark Myers, and that's because I can't imagine that he won't transfer.  He is not right for this offense and is having a lot of trouble trying to run it.  

Tino Sunseri, Sr.
Andrew McDonald, Jr. (has not committed)
Anthony Gonzalez, So. (currently at tight end)
Trey Anderson, So.
Chad Voytik, Fr.

Running Back:  Obviously the ideal here is to have Ray Graham stay.  There's always a possibility that he will want to do that, make himself bigger and stronger, and prove that he can be an every down NFL back.  College running backs who can get drafted generally leave early because they are afraid of injury and wear and tear, but there have been exceptions.  Elite freshman Rushel Shell would form the perfect one/two punch with Graham.  Imagine the devastation of trying to catch Graham, then have Shell come in and run over your face.  It would have the potential of being one of the best tandems in the country, if not the best.  If Graham does leave, you have to assume that Shell will be starter.  Corey Davis, Isaac Bennett, and Malcolm Crockett were all freshmen this season and would unite with Shell to have a quick, but extremely young unit.  Bottom line, with Graham, the RB situation is unreal.  Without Graham, Pitt will need excellence, and health, from a true freshman.

Ray Graham, Sr.  (possible NFL early entrant)
Corey Davis, So.
Isaac Bennett, RS Fr.
Malcolm Crockett, RS Fr.
Rushell Shell, Fr.

Wide Receiver:  This is a unit that needs some changes.  Michael Shanahan, Devin Street, and Cameron Saddler are the three starters this year, and all will return, but none of the three have had a good season.  Even worse, all three lack the quickness needed in this offense.  Other returnees include Joshua Brinson, Brandon Felder, Ed Tinker, Salath Williams, Ronald Jones, and Darius Patton.  But it's three newcomers who may be the biggest threats to the starters.  Twin brothers, Demitrious and Chris Davis, and Corey Jones, are the quick game breakers that are ideal for the offense.

Michael Shanahan, Sr.
Cameron Saddler, Sr.
Joshua Brinson, Sr.
Devin Street, Jr.
Ed Tinker, Jr.
Brandon Felder, So.
Salath Williams, So.
Ronald Jones, So.
Darius Patton, So.
Corey Jones, Fr.
Demitrious Davis, Fr.
Chris Davis, Fr.

Tight End:  This is a position that the Panthers won't have to worry about next season, ironic since this offense doesn't feature the position.  Hubie Graham is the starter, and is a good player.  Reserves Drew Carswell, Anthony Gonzalez, and Brendan Carozzoni also return.

Hubie Graham, Sr.
Drew Carswell, So.
Anthony Gonzalez, So.
Brendan Carozzoni, So.

Offensive Line:  This unit has been pretty bad this season, but there is a chance it could be better next year.  Not that it could be much worse.  But for that to happen, some things have to happen.  While Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs will be gone, there's always a chance that guard Chris Jacobson could get a sixth season.  If he does, he will join Juantez Hollins, Ryan Turnley, Cory King, Ryan Schlieper, and Matt Rotheram as players who started at some point this season.  All but Turnley are underclassmen, so their futures could be bright, especially King and Schlieper, who I feel are the best of this bunch.  Arthur Doakes, Shane Johnson, and Justin Virbitsky could also be in the mix.  Penn State transfer Tom Ricketts could be a huge addition if he lives up to his reputation as a high school prospect.  True freshman Adam Bisnowaty needs to add size, so he will probably redshirt, but there's always a chance that he could be good enough to see action right away.  Another true freshman, Brandyn Cook, was not highly recruited but the Panthers needed a center badly and took him early which tells me they think he is perfect for their system.  For that reason, and because Turnley isn't a top talent, I could see Cook possibly pushing him.  The biggest immediate contribution could come from talented juco Tavon Rooks, one of the best junior college lineman in the country.  Right now he's down to Pitt and West Virginia as his final two choices.

Chris Jacobson, Sr.  (if he is allowed a sixth year)
Ryan Turnley, Sr.
Justin Virbitsky, Sr.
Juantez Hollins, Jr.
Cory King, Jr.
Ryan Schlieper, Jr.
Tavon Rooks, Jr.  (not signed)
Arthur Doakes, So.
Shane Johnson, So.
Tom Ricketts, So.
Matt Rotheram, So.
Adam Bisnowaty, Fr.
Brandyn Cook, Fr.

Best case realistic scenario for starting lineup:


QB:  Tino Sunseri, Sr./Chad Voytik, Fr.-  Having McDonald or Gonzalez win the job would be great, but right now neither is realistic, especially since McDonald is not even on the team.  Anderson is not realistic either.  And a true freshman quarterback always has the odds against him.  That's why the best hope, for now, is for Sunseri to be better and Voytik to get quality time so that he can take over as a sophomore.  Don't shoot the messenger, just hope for the best.

RB:  Ray Graham, Sr./Rushel Shell, Fr.-  I haven't heard one way or the other if Graham will be leave early, and I'm not sure if he has even thought about it yet.  It's just too early to tell.  If he stays, it will be huge.

WR:  Michael Shanahan, Sr., Devin Street, Jr., Corey Jones, Fr. or Demitrious Davis, Fr.-  I know I go off on Shanahan and Street often, but if they are starting now that means they are better than anybody behind them.  No reason to think that will change at this moment.  The Davis twins, and Jones, are more talented, and better fits, than any of the other receivers on the roster, but Todd Graham isn't about to start three true freshman wide receivers.  I think one has a good chance of beating out Saddler, though, and it would be very disappointing if they didn't.  At least one game breaking receiver out there would be nice.

TE:  Hubie Graham, Sr.-  Obviously.  And he has some good backups.  Strong position.

OT:  Tavon Rooks, Jr. and Tom Ricketts, So.-  Potentially this could be a huge upgrade at the position, if both live up to their hype.  Landing Rooks would be huge.  If they don't land Rooks, it will probably be either Rotheram or Hollins, and the latter has already failed at the position.

OG-  Chris Jacobson, Sr. and Corey King, Jr.-  If Jacobson comes back, and is healthy, that would be an enormous development for the line.  He has never lived up to his billing, but he is still a solid player.  King will battle Schlieper for the other spot, or should start if Jacobson doesn't come back.  Both King and Schlieper should both come into their own as juniors.

C-  Ryan Turnley, Sr./Brandyn Cook, Fr.- This is a position that has not been good for awhile.  It will be interesting to see if Cook puts some heat on the senior.

And just because I'm a glutton for punishment, the ideal starting unit two years from now:

QB:  Chad Voytik, So.
RB: Rushel Shell, So.
WR: Demitrious Davis, So.
WR: Corey Jones, So.
WR: Robert Foster, Fr.
TE:  Drew Carswell, Jr.
LT: Tavon Rooks, Sr.
LG: Cory King, Sr.
C:   Brandyn Cook, So.
RG: Ryan Schlieper, Sr.
RT:  Tom Ricketts, Jr.




Monday, October 17, 2011

Bringing Rationality Back to the Season

There is no doubt that the first seven games of Todd Graham's reign as Pitt's head coach has been mostly disastrous.  But how bad it is really?  A lot of the fan base, and some of the local media, are already saying that Graham is doomed after just seven games.  I keep hearing that Graham and Steve Pederson should be fired, that Graham is over his head, and that the Panthers will lose recruits because of this season.  I've also heard that Dave Wannstedt left the cupboard bare and the players he did leave behind are a bad match for Graham's offense, with Graham getting major criticism for not adapting to the players that he was given.   Let's look at the issues one by one to see, realistically, which are true and which are mere knee jerk, emotional reactions.  We'll start with some of the no brainer issues, then work towards the more complex ones.

Steve Pederson should be fired.  It's not going to happen so any fans pining for his dismissal will just have to come to terms with that.  The university pays him a big contract which shows just how much they think of him.  I haven't agreed with everything he's done, but for the most part he has been considered a big success.

Recruits will run from this mess.   I don't see this one happening either.  Prospects look at the bigger picture and do not look at things emotionally like the average fan does.  For offensive players, all Graham has to say is that his offenses broke NCAA records in the past and once he gets the right players, he will have more great offenses.  The reasoning will work because it's common sense, and the players will see that.

Dave Wannstedt left the cupboard bare.   The talent level Wannstedt left behind was not great, though I have no doubt that he would have a better record with them this season, if for no other reason than they fit what he wants to do more than what Graham is trying to do.

But assuming that Wannstedt was still the coach this season, his offense was not going to be good enough to win a lot of games.  Jon Baldwin was a malcontent, but his absence shows just how mediocre the rest of the WRs are.  The OL, after years of poor recruiting at the position, was going to be just as bad for Wannstedt, especially with Chris Jacobson and Lucas Nix injured.  And Tino Sunseri is never going to be a QB that is good enough to take a team on his back.  Under Wannstedt, Pitt's offense looked like it was not going to be as good as last season, and this was a unit that finished 72nd in total yards, which included 73rd in passing yards (with a 1st round draft pick at WR), and 45th in rushing yards (with Dion Lewis and Ray Graham).

On defense, Pitt was No.8 in total defense last year, and probably would have stayed at a high level, even without Jabaal Sheard and Dom DeCicco.  But even though Wannstedt had some good defenses in his tenure, they were a far cry from where Pitt would have to be to reach an elite level.  Just how are you going to win a big game when you are starting linebackers like Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts?  They would, and have, got steamrolled against teams with elite talent.

They never should have fired Wannstedt.  Firing Wannstedt was the right choice, and to me there was never a doubt.  Any school that is in a BCS conference, has a great tradition, a nice recruiting area, and spends a lot of money on the program should be aspiring to be an elite program.  If not, then what's the point?  Quite frankly, it annoys the hell out of me when I hear any local media member or Panthers fan say Pitt will never reach a higher level because they haven't been at a higher level in decades.  What a defeatist, ignorant stance.  Tell that to programs like Oklahoma State, Clemson, and Stanford, who are all having great seasons this year and have no more going for their programs than Pitt has.

Wannstedt was maxed out and was never going to reach the elite status.  He simply couldn't land the great quarterback, offensive linemen, or linebackers that you need to be an elite program and his continued failures in crucial games began to eat away the last shreds of optimism.

Sadly, the way he left, indignant and defiant, and surrounded by some of his players, showed his total lack of leadership qualities.  If Wannstedt, and those players surrounding him, showed more effort in big games, they wouldn't have to be part of that scene that blackened the program's eye even more.  If he truly loved the university he would have kept that behind closed doors.  The fact that he let his players literally stand by him publicly as he took shots at the university is all you need to know about the lack of character he had.  Not surprising for a man who quit in midseason as the coach of the Miami Dolphins.

Graham is in over his head.  This particular comment has been played to death already, and it simply isn't true.  I hate to break it to Pitt fans but Pitt and the Big East is not that much different than Tulsa and Conference USA.  It's common sense that if Graham can lead record setting offenses at Tulsa, then he can lead great offenses at Pitt.  Even if you throw the Conference USA opponents out, you will see that Graham's offenses have succeeded.

In 2010, Tulsa had 428 yards against Oklahoma State and 399 yards in a win at Notre Dame.  In 2008, Tulsa nearly won at Arkansas, and put up 528 yards of total offense.  In 2007, Graham's offense put up 398 against Oklahoma.  All of this is proof that Graham's offense could still work against some of the better programs in the country, and this was with highly inferior talent.

Graham's offenses were due to his great coordinators.  There's no doubt that Graham has had two of the better offensive coordinators in recent years in Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris.  Both were former high school coaches and Morris actually learned the offense from Malzahn.  The obvious thing that immediately comes to mind is that without the two masters of this offense, Graham's offense is not nearly as good.  In fact, the one bad year Graham had at Tulsa was when he had neither.

In 2009, without Malzahn or Morris, Tulsa was 5-7.  But even then, in their one "bad" offensive season, Tulsa was 35th in total yards.  By comparison, Pitt was 52nd in total yards, with their 10-3 record due mostly to the No. 19 scoring defense in the country.

Graham is still running the same Malzahn offense for the most part, though it's been simplified this season for obvious reasons.  Mike Norvell, who was the Receiving Coordinator at Tulsa last season coached the Tulsa receivers for four seasons.  In that time, Norvell had five receivers with 1,000 yard seasons.  He also knows the system inside and out by now.  Creating the offense, like Malzahn did, is something worthy of high praise.  And somebody that creative and ingenious will always be the best at running it.  But it's not like it's brain surgery.  Graham and Norvell has coached this offense for years now and know how to run it.  It's not like they were in the bathroom while Malzahn and Morris were coaching it.  In fact, it's been reported that when he was at Tulsa, his entire offensive staff had to know every bit of the offense.

Then you have to throw Calvin Magee into the mix.  This is an offensive coordinator who's led offenses that's ranked 5th, 8th, and 15th in prior seasons.   Magee, like Graham and Norvell, does not just forget how to coach offense.  Sorry, but that's not common sense.  All three of these coaches have been parts of big time offenses, and there's absolutely no reason why they can't do the same at Pitt.

The players don't fit the system.  Here is your biggest reason for the mess.  It's been the reason most rational observers have said often, but now I'm going to prove it.  By doing that we will have to once again go back to West Virginia and Michigan, more specifically, former Pitt nemesis Rich Rodriguez.

In Rodriguez's last season at West Virginia, the Mountaineers finished No.15 in total offense and nearly made the national championship game.  In the same season, Michigan was No. 68 in total offense.

Rodriguez then took his explosive and fast spread offense to the Big House.  The Michigan team that met Rodriguez was very much like the team that Graham is facing now- not in talent level, but in style.  Historically, Michigan is one of the few programs in the country that can just line up in a pro-set offense and beat you with size and strength.  It's the same style of player than Wannstedt acquired- physically tough, big, and strong.  But both were also the total antithesis of the fast, spread offense that both Graham and Rodriguez run, though their styles are different versions of the spread.

In Rodriguez's first season at Michigan, the Wolverines finished 119th.  Let me repeat that.  Rich Rodriguez, one of the brightest offensive minds in the country, took over a pro-set team, turned it into a spread offense, and the Wolverines finished 119th in the country in total offense.

The quarterback for Michigan that season was Steven Threet, who finished with 1,105 yards, 9 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions.  His quarterback rating was 105.3.  This season, Tino Sunseri has a quarterback rating of 114.0 and has already thrown for 1,204 yards.

In Rodriguez's second season, Michigan's offense improved to No. 59.  The new quarterback was Tate Forcier, who threw for 2,050 yards and had a quarterback rating of 128.1.

In the third and final season for Rodriguez, the Wolverines jumped all the way to No. 8 in total offense, thanks to talented sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson, who amazingly threw for over 2,500 yards and ran for over 1,700 yards.

Rodriguez was fired after that season, but it clearly wasn't because of his offense.  It had more to do with Rodriguez himself, who was never accepted by the Michigan faithful.  His awful defenses and bad record made it easier to get rid of him.

It's obvious what I'm trying to get at here.  Graham's offense is currently No. 90 in the country.  That's clearly awful, but when you look at recent history, you can see how hard it is to switch between two completely different offensive styles.  It's like trying to run a car race with a tank.  What makes matters even worse for Graham is that the offensive players he was left aren't very good.  Even with a first round  receiver and a running back combo of Lewis and Graham, Pitt was No. 72 last season.  In 2009, they were No. 52, and and in 2008 (with LeSean McCoy finishing 10th in the nation in rushing) they were No. 77.  In 2007, Pitt (with McCoy's excellent freshman year) was No. 108.  You get the point.  Even with a few star players in Wannstedt's regimes, the offenses were not good at all.  So how is Graham going to take these same players, who weren't even good at the system they brought in for, to be adept at a much faster, more complex offense?

Of course, the argument is made that Graham should not run his offensive style when he doesn't have the players.  But doesn't that just delay the inevitable?  The change has to be made and if it takes a year or two of transition, then that's what has to be done.  That doesn't excuse Ray Graham getting 12 carries against Rutgers, which clearly was a mistake, but it does mean that Todd Graham has no choice but to keep going with his offense.

That sounds depressing for fans, but just remember Michigan's offense from seasons one to three.  Tino Sunseri is Pitt's Steve Threet.  Chad Voytik could very well be Pitt's Denard Robinson.  I'm not saying he will break records like Robinson, or be an All-American either, but he should be much better than Sunseri in this offense.

Every time that I see Sunseri hold on to the ball and lumber for six yards, I imagine the 15 yard gain that Voytik will get in that same spot.  When I see Ronald Jones taking the ball and running for 8 or 10 yards, I imagine a slew of even faster and better wide receivers running all over the field.

Summary:  This offense needs speed and athleticism, it needs a quarterback who makes the right decisions and who can run and pass equally, and it needs receivers who can take a handoff or a pass and go the distance.  The offense is defective because it has none of the parts it needs.

Graham has not angered people, beyond the results, and has thus far handled himself well.  And his defense, which many people feared would be poor, is currently 55th in total defense.  That's not great, but the defense is slow and has some major holes at linebacker.  Like on offense, the players do not match what Graham wants to do.  He wants fast players flying around the field, blitzing all the time and taking chances.  Wannstedt preached the opposite, and recruited players to match that.

None of this is to suggest that Graham will definitely succeed at Pitt.  I'm not a prophet and I can't predict the future.  But I do know enough about the past to know that it shows that the present is not going to be the future.

Very important late note:  I forgot to mention that the great Malzahn has led Auburn to the No. 86 total offense this season, including the No. 106 passing offense.  Things are much different without that great quarterback, even for a supposed genius like Malzahn.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just When You Thought it Couldn't Get Worse: The Utah Aftermath

Quite frankly, this was the worst football game I've ever seen.  Any hope for a quick start in the second half of the season was extinguished with that debacle.  Utah stinks and Pitt still lost.  What else can you say?  It's some of the worst Pitt football I've ever seen.

At this point I almost feel like I'm piling on Tino Sunseri, so all I'm going to say is that his season has been tragic.

This has to be the worst quarterbacking that the Panthers have had in modern history.

Giving Ray Graham just 12 carries is a disgrace.

The special teams was again hit or miss.  Buddy Jackson returned a kickoff for a TD, Andrew Taglianetti blocked a punt for a TD, Yoklic had 51-yard punt into the wind, and Drew Carswell caused a fumble (recovered by Utah) on a kickoff. On the other hand, Ronald Jones mysteriously let a punt along the sideline go which resulted in it being downed at the one, Yoklic, with the wind, kicked 27-yard and 26-yard punts, and Jackson fumbled on a kickoff after being tackled inside his own 15-yard line.

Mike Shanahan, Devin Street, and Cam Saddler once again did nothing. Literally nothing.  None of the three had a single catch.

Greg Williams, Chad Alexcih, and to a lesser degree, Aaron Donald, had good games on defense but giving up 174 yards rushing to somebody named John White IV is a failure.

Sunseri throws at the feet of a wide open Jones on 3rd and 3, Jared Holley makes a pathetic attempt on a tackle, Brandon Lindsey misses an easy sack, a defensive timeout on a 3rd and 17, and on and on.  It would be laughable if it wasn't so sad.

Todd Graham may get this turned around, but it's looking less and less likely that it will be this year.  And if this horrible season continues, it's going to make it more difficult to turn it around in the future.  The fan base may already be lost and you can't really blame them.  Losing is one thing, but this has become sad and depressing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Panthers add Shell

In one of the worse kept secrets in recent Pitt recruiting history, Hopewell star running back Rushel (pronounced Russell) Shell verbally committed to the Panthers this morning.  The 5'11" 210 pound star originally was headed to Ohio State but eliminated the Buckeyes after Jim Tressel was fired.  His final choices were Pitt and Alabama.  Other offers included Penn State, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Oregon.

Shell is extremely strong and has the speed to go to the distance any time he touches the ball.  He is not a quick scatback type, but instead uses his toughness to run between the tackles, or sometimes his great vision to pick out holes on a sweep before turning on the jets and sprinting down the sidelines with his distinctive head back style.  He also has excellent hands and is a threat as a receiver.  At the very least, Shell is expected to get time at running back next year, if Ray Graham decides to stay at Pitt.  If Graham decides to go to the NFL, then Shell becomes the favorite to start as a true freshman.

What does it mean for Pitt?  Neither Graham nor Dion Lewis were rated anywhere near Shell as prospects, and both were star running backs for the Panthers.  So you don't have to be a top five back nationally to be an excellent college running back.  And of course the naysayers will also point out that Andrew Johnson and Brandon Williams, two past local running back recruiters who failed to meet expectations.  But neither Johnson nor Williams were as special as Shell.  That doesn't mean he will definitely be a great college player because there have been even better prospects over the years that have failed, so nothing is for certain.  But, make no mistake about it, Shell can be a special player.

As for his immediate impact, it sends a message to the WPIAL players, and also prospects nationally, that Pitt is a team that has some things going for them.  Shell combines with top 10 QB prospect Chad Voytik to serve notice to the rest of the nation that Pitt is loading up.  Shell's commitment could also lead to the commitment of his friend, Sto-Rox linebacker Deaysean Rippy, another top national recruit.  That in turn could help land top 2013 prospects like Central Valley WR Robert Foster and North Allegheny OL Patrick Kugler.  And before you know it, the Panthers are loaded.