I will be counting down my own list of the top 50 Pitt football players since 1972. I have spent time doing a lot of research and talking to a lot of people when formulating this list, but ultimately it is MY opinion. The great thing about lists like this is that people will disagree, and feel free to, but just remember that there is no right answer so there's no need to go crazy if you do disagree. I will post this same intro with all 50 bios because I know the one time I don't, people will complain about not knowing what criteria I used. I will add at least one a day, maybe two.
My criteria for selecting the order is as follows:
3. Place in program history.
4. Only the player's careers while at Pitt are considered, not their NFL careers.
5. No current players.
10. Matt Cavanaugh (1974-77)- As far as pure talent, the Youngstown, OH native was highly underrated, but the truth is, Cavanaugh was an excellent all around quarterback who could run, pass, came up big in big games, and was a great leader.
However, a lot of Cavanaugh's career revolved around injuries, both his and others. He did not start a game until the eight game of his sophomore season, and that was only because regular starter Robert Haygood was injured. In that game, Cavanaugh completed 6 of 9 passes, but three went for touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Gordon Jones, in a 38-0 win against Syracuse.
Haygood regained his starting spot and started the 1976 season, too, before a knee injury in the second game cost him the rest of the season. The job of being at the helm of a National Championship caliber team fell to Cavanaugh, who had his moments of excellence. In game four, against Duke, he completed 14 of 17 passes, for 359 yards and 5 touchdowns, plus ran for 39 yards more.
The next week, after running for two touchdowns, Cavanaugh suffered a hairline fracture of his left fibula, which made him miss three weeks. But he came back in time for a 24-7 win over Penn State and the 27-3 National Championship win over Georgia. Despite Tony Dorsett running for 202 yards rushing and a touchdown in the game, Cavanaugh won the MVP Award by a vote 77.5 to 76. In the game, Cavanaugh staked the Panthers to a 14-0 lead with a 6-yard touchdown run and a 59-yard touchdown pass to Gordon Jones.
Cavanaugh was considered a Heisman candidate when entering his senior season but a broken forearm in the season opener cost him the next four games. He still ended up having a great season, ending it by leading the Panthers to a 34-3 Gator Bowl romp over then No. 11 Clemson. Cavanaugh was again the bowl MVP thanks to his record setting performance of 387 yards and 4 touchdowns. One Clemson defender said of Cavanaugh after the game, "He's a pro and we're still playing college football."
One can only wonder how great Cavanaugh could have been had injuries not cut into much of his playing time. Said then head coach Jackie Sherrill at the time, "I shudder to think what he would have done had he stayed healthy. Matt Cavanaugh is the finest quarterback to have played this game of college football in quite some time." Even with the injuries, Cavanaugh finished 7th in the Heisman voting in 1977.
Cavanaugh became a 2nd round draft choice of the New England Patriots and played 14 seasons in the NFL, picking up two Super Bowl rings. He followed his long playing career with a long coaching career, and is currently with the New York Jets.