Saturday, September 28, 2013

Sheldon Jeter a Panther

To what should be a surprise to no one, former Beaver Falls HS and Vanderbilt small forward Sheldon Jeter has committed to the Panthers.  The 6'8" Jeter averaged 5.5 ppg and 3.4 rpg in his freshman season with the Commodores. He tried to transfer to Pitt a few months ago but Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings inexplicably denied it. In late August Jeter decided to enroll at Polk State in Winter Haven, FL.  Jeter however will not play for Polk State, but he will practice under the tutelage of former Robert Morris head coach Matt Furjanic, who will prepare him for Pitt and the ACC.  Jeter will have three years to play three years.  A long athlete and a good three point shooter, Jeter should see significant playing time next season.

Pittsburgh 14 Virginia 3

And you thought last week was ugly.  Some thoughts:

1. The offensive line was atrocious. No other way to say it.  The running backs had nowhere to run and Tom Savage was constantly under pressure.

2.  Savage completed 13 of 31 passes for 191 yards.  He also completed a TD and threw 2 interceptions.  Both interceptions were nice plays by a very good Virginia secondary.  Savage also was sacked 8 times.  Some were his fault but most weren't.

3.  James Conner ran hard but had no room at all.  He carried 15 times for 27 yards.  He also ran for a touchdown in which he trucked a Virginia defender.  Isaac Bennett ran 5 times for 5 yards.  Rachid Ibrahim ran well, mostly late in the game, and had 4 carries for 26 yards.

4.  While Savage did mostly struggle he also made a handful of gorgeous passes, usually to Tyler Boyd, who once again was excellent with 7 catches for 111 yards. He did have a fumble, however, in Virginia territory.  Devin Street added 4 catches for 58 yards.  There were a few drops, though, and the tight ends, considered a team strength, had no catches.

5.  Defensively, the Panthers were much better but it remains to be seen how much better just because it was obvious that Virginia is terrible offensively. The Cavaliers had 188 total yards (compared to Pitt's 199 yards).

6.  Aaron Donald was again the best player on the field for Pitt.

7.  The kicking game was bad again.  Chris Blewitt missed a very makeable field goal and punter Matt Yoklic continues his very poor season.

8.  Pitt is 3-1 but it's still a Jekyll and Hyde team.  They may be one of the worst 3-1 teams in major college football but at that same time they are at least 3-1.

Pitt basketball hosting a plethora of major talent

Jamie Dixon clearly has not taken well to people doubting the direction of the Pitt program. Using the services of an extra recruiter, and an excellent one at that in Barry Rohrssen, as well as the buzz of being in the ACC, Dixon has recruited like he's never done before.  For evidence just look at who the Pitt staff is entertaining this weekend.

Maverick Rowan, Lincoln Park HS (Midland, PA)- The Class of 2016 SG has already committed to the Panthers and the 6'6" sharpshooter is doing his best to recruit other great players with him. Considered a possible top 50 prospect in the class, at least, the 6'6" Rowan repeated 8th Grade twice (for non-academic reasons) so he could possibly reclassify and get to Pitt for the 2015 class.

Sheldon Jeter, Vanderbilt transfer-  This one I'm sure Pitt fans are familiar with.  The former Beaver Falls star was interested in Pitt before committing to Vanderbilt but the Panthers didn't see a spot for him at the time, especially in the rugged Big East conference. But now that they've moved to the more athletic and less physically brutal ACC, the 6'8" small forward may be a better fit.  He was inexplicably denied a transfer to Pitt a few months ago so he is spending time in Florida learning to be a better player with former Robert Morris head coach Matt Furjanic.  He would have three years of eligibility remaining and would be in the 2015 class.

Josh Martin, Bothell HS (Bothell, WA)- The 6'7" 220 power forward must be a pretty good fit for Pitt if Dixon is willing to go all the way out to Washington to get him. Martin is just that thanks to his great build and explosive athleticism. Throw in the fact that he has range out to the three point arc and is an excellent passer and he has everything Pitt loves in a power forward. A 2014 prospect.

Cheick Diallo, Our Savior New American School (Centereach, NY)- A top 10 prospect in the 2015 class, the 6'9" power forward has offers from the likes of UConn, Syracuse, Louisville, and Kansas but just getting a player of his immense talent to even visit is a big step up for the Pitt program.

Kassoum Yakwe, Our Savior New American School (Centereach, NY)- A classmate of Diallo and a top 25 prospect in the 2016 class, the 6'7" small forward is a fantastic player with offers already from the likes of Pitt, Syracuse, and St. John's. Like Diallo and the next player on the list, just getting players like this on campus is a step in the right direction.

Caleb Swanigan, Homestead HS (Fort Wayne, IN)-  This time Dixon is trying to reach into Big 10 territory for this top 20 prospect in the 2016 class.  And he's a big one at that at 6'8" and 275 pounds.  Pitt has already offered as have schools like Michigan State, Illinois, and Georgetown. He's also a big time offensive tackle prospect in football but he has quit the sport to concentrate on basketball.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Top underclass prospects in PA


Right now there are nine prospects who are guaranteed high major prospects. Others may join them eventually but this group will remain highly coveted for the 2015 recruiting cycle.

Josh Adams, Central Bucks West HS (Warrington)- The 6'2" 200 pounder exploded as a sophomore running back last year and was one of the most dynamic players in the state. He's tall and lanky, and he may eventually grow out of the running back position. He could also end up at wide receiver, safety, or linebacker depending on how his body develops. Time will tell what his college position will be but he is already in demand thanks to his speed and athletic ability. Holds offers from Pitt, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Stanford already. I don't see him ending up at Pitt.

Ryan Bates, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster)- He isn't as big as Sterling Jenkins so he may not be considered the top offensive lineman prospect in the state, but he very may may end up the better lineman in college. The 6'5" 280 pounder has the natural size and feet to play left tackle. Already holds offers from  Penn State, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech. I expect that he will end up at Penn State.

Nas Bonner, Imhotep Charter School (Philadelphia)- Nobody in the state is putting out talent like Imhotep lately and this 5'9" 175 speedster is just the latest. He obviously doesn't have the size of an every down back but he is quick as a cat and has excellent speed. Game breaker with the ball in his hands. West Virginia, Rutgers, and Wisconsin are among his early offers but Pitt hasn't expressed interest yet.

Kareem Gibson, Greater Johnstown HS (Johnstown)-  Sleek, quick, and fast little cover corner at 5'10" and 170 pounds. Needs to get bigger but he's willing to come up and tackle despite small frame. Has the chance to develop into a big time prospect. Pitt, Temple, and Toledo are his early offers but there will be more. I like Pitt's chances here.

Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin HS (Pittsburgh)- The early No.1 prospect in the state, the offensive tackle runs like a deer at 6'8" and 300 pounds. Needs to gain strength but he has everything else it takes to be one of the top prospects in the country.  Pitt, Michigan, Ohio State, West Virginia, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, and Penn State are just some of the top offers he already has. Both of his parents went to Pitt and he's a big fan of Pitt and the city so the Panthers have a legitimate shot.

John Reid, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia)- Smallish at 5'9" and 170 pounds but he was born to play cornerback. Has very good speed and athleticism, but most impressive are his instincts for the position which are through the roof. So much so that as a sophomore he was already pulling in major offers. Right now those offers include Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Miami, Rutgers, Maryland, and Georgia Tech.

Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg)- Stocky 5'10" 205 game breaker who has good speed and excellent vision. Tough to get a good shot on him because he's small and quick, but he also has muscle and can knock over defenders. Offers include Pitt, Penn State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Rutgers. Pitt would have an excellent shot but it may be much more difficult if James Conner, Qadree Ollison, and Shai McKenzie were on the roster.

Jay Stocker, Coatesville HS (Coatesville)- Big time athlete in one of the state's big time programs. At 6'2" and 180 pounds he is a solidly built, athletic, and fast safety.  Brother of NC State quarterback Manny Stocker. Has early offers from Pitt, Maryland, Wisconsin, Virginia, Rutgers, and Georgia Tech.

Jordan Whitehead, Central Valley HS (Monaca)- Saying that he is a better prospect than former teammate Robert Foster, like many have done, may be a bit of a stretch, but he's very similar to Foster is quickness and speed. At 5'11" and 170 pounds he has the makings of a big time cover corner at the college level. Pittsburgh, Penn State, Ohio State, and Rutgers are early offers but there will be many more. He likes Pitt a lot so the Panthers will have a real chance.

Other very good prospects, any of which could join the top group in the next year. 

Graham Adomitis, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh)- The backup to Florida State commit J.J. Cosentino this season, and playing tight end and linebacker, but the heir apparent at quarterback already stands 6'4" and 210 pounds, and has shown in scrimmages that he could be a major college prospect.

Saquon Barkley, Whitehall HS (Whitehall)- Game breaking and highly productive running back at 5'11" and 195 pounds. Already committed to Rutgers but he was on the verge of more big offers.

Brett Brumbaugh, South Fayette HS (McDonald)- The current top WPIAL quarterback prospect in the class, he has good size at 6'4" and 185 pounds.  He also has good leadership skills, intelligence, and is scary accurate. He needs to develop more arm strength, however, if he wants major offers. Right now his two offers are Temple and Akron.

Ryan Buchholz, Great Valley HS (Malvern)- Great size at 6'6" and 230 pounds, and he moves well. Will probably play defensive end at the next level but he could also end up at tight end. Rutgers and Virginia have offered.

Jake Cooper, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster)- While he mostly plays fullback and defensive end he is the epitome of an old school, tough, PA middle linebacker. At 6'2" and 230 pounds he is bull strong, while also displaying some good athleticism. Top wrestler also. Pitt and Temple are his first two offers but he will go to Penn State if they have room for him with their limited scholarships.

Charlie Fessler, Cathedral Prep HS (Erie)- Big 6'4" receiver with good hands. Also an excellent baseball player. Performed well at both the Ohio State and Penn State camps this summer.

Kevin Givens, Altoona HS (Altoona)- Nicely built 6'3" 230 pound linebacker with good speed and athleticism.  Temple is his only offer so far but if Pitt offers they could be a real possibility.

Dimetri Kelly, Roman Catholic HS (Philadelphia)- Underrated running back prospect that doesn't have home run speed, but at 5'11" and 185 pounds he has great vision and runs hard on every play. No offers yet.

Andrew Koester, West Allegheny HS (Imperial)- Leads one of the best Class AAA teams in the state. Well coached by legendary coach Bob Palko, who is bringing Koester along slowly. West A is so powerful that they rarely have to pass, but when they do the 6'5" 185 pound Koester shows good passing skills. A real winner and good athlete. How he develops during his junior and senior years will be interesting.

Asa Manley, Charter Prep HS (Philadelphia)- Talented cornerback with good 5'11" 185 pound size to go with good speed and athleticism.

Shareef Miller, Frankford HS (Philadelphia)- Right now he is a very skinny 6'4" and 200 pounds, much too small for defensive end, but he has good speed, quickness, and tenacity so once he gains weight he could be very good.  Rutgers is his top offer so far.

D.J. Moore, Imhotep Charter School (Philadelphia)- Another excellent Imhotep athlete who at 5'11" and 180 pounds has excellent speed and athleticism at wide receiver. Fantastic hands. Very under recruited so far because he could be a dynamic college player. Temple is an early offer.

Alex Paulina, Canon McMillan HS (Canonsburg)- Gets a little lost in recruiting circles because he's on a team that doesn't win much, but at 6'4" and 290 pounds he has the size, toughness, and feet to be a good interior lineman. He could also be a good interior defensive lineman.

Tony Pilato, Hempfield Area HS (Greensburg)- When you're only 16 and you're already 6'7" and 300 pounds, you are going to get scouted.  The fact that Pilato also is a good basketball player makes him even more interesting.

John Runyan, Jr.- Not very big at 6'4" and 250 pounds but the son of former 6'7 330 pound Michigan offensive lineman Jon Runyan should grow. Will follow his father and has already committed to play with the Wolverines.

Josh Schultheis, Mars Area HS (Mars)- One of the most productive running backs in the WPIAL. At 6'1" and 220 pounds he is a workout warrior.  Has great upper body and leg strength. Can project as a fullback or linebacker.

Kyle Shurmur, La Salle College HS (Wyndmoor)- Transferred from Ohio after his father Pat became the offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. He obviously has an advantage having a father who is an NFL offensive coordinator, but he also has 6'4" 210 pound size and a good arm. Could be the best PA quarterback prospect in this class.

Tre Tipton, Apollo-Ridge HS (Spring Church)- An under the radar wide receiver with very good speed and athletic ability. Runs extremely well with the ball in his hands and can be an excellent punt returner at the college level. At 6'1" he has enough height but at 155 pounds he needs to get bigger. Intriguing prospect.

Carrington Vaughn, Fox Chapel HS (Pittsburgh)- He has been starting since he was a freshman in Quad A, and now he's grown into a legit 6'1" 200 pound linebacker prospect. Good range and if he continues to grow he could be a steal.

Olamide Zaccheaus, St. Joseph's Prep HS (Philadelphia)- He's only 5'9" and 165 pounds but he has excellent speed and quickness. Could project as a change of back running back, slot receiver, or cornerback, as well as return man. Has offers from Miami and Temple.


Tom Garlick, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster)- Yet another big time prospect for the small school power. Started at quarterback as a freshman and he's only going to get better. Already stands 6'4" and 180 pounds.

Aaron Matthews, Clairton HS (Clairton)- This Class A juggernaut keeps developing stars and the 6'4" and 180 pound Matthews is the next in line. Look for him to be a very tall, very athletic wide receiver at the college level.

Brandon McIlwain, Council Rock North HS (Newtown)-  He's not big yet at 6'0" and 190 pounds, and his passing skills need to be much improved, but he has a cannon for an arm and he has great speed and quickness.  Already holds a Temple offer but many more will be interested. Could be a national recruit.

Michal Menet, Exeter HS (Reading)-  It's rare that a lineman gets noticed this early in his high school career but the 6'5" 250 pound Menet already has the makings of one of the better young offensive linemen in the country. Already has offers from Penn State, Rutgers, and Temple.

Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa)-  You can't talk about elite prospects in PA without having the Quips be represented. The next great player in their storied history is the 6'1" 190 pound Pugh, who will probably eventually grow into a linebacker since he's already build like he's a few years older.  West Virginia was the first to offer.  Obviously this would be a must get for the Pitt program, especially if he ends up at linebacker.

Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills HS (Pittsburgh)-  Woodland Hills is one of the best talent producing schools in the state so when Sanders led them in rushing as a freshman it raised a lot of eyebrows. At 5'11" and 170 pounds, he has great speed and vision. Should only get bigger and he should eventually be a major prospect.

Kobay White, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg)-  Bishop McDevitt is another football factory and White is the big prospect in their 2016 class. Already at 6'0" and 175 pounds, the wide receiver has good speed and great hands. He is also an excellent athlete. Temple is the first to offer.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How I would make the defense better next year

1.  Possibly change the defensive coordinator- Yes, I said possibly. It's no secret that I didn't like the hiring of Matt House.  There were a lot of qualified coordinators available when House was hired but inexplicably Paul Chryst went with the inexperienced House. House may eventually be an excellent coordinator, but Chryst and his right hand man Joe Rudolph are offensive coaches and an experienced and proven defensive leader was needed, especially when the rest of the defensive staff was also inexperienced. In other words, Pitt doesn't have time for on the job training for the defensive coordinator.

I don't see Pitt demoting or firing House during the season, at least this early in the season, and it to be honest it would look bad if they do.  Now that he's the man he has to stay the man at least through the season. But if he continues to fail then he needs to be replaced with an experienced and competent coordinator. And to be clear I never said he would fail, and I'm not saying he will continue to fail. I just didn't see why Pitt would hire an unproven defensive coordinator when the head coach and his second in command would be of no help, and when the rest of the staff was equally inexperienced. It wasn't worth the risk.

I know many fans think the hiring of House was a money issue but if it was it would be a change for Pitt.  While they aren't the biggest spenders, they haven't been unusually cheap either.  Past coordinators like Matt Cavanaugh, Frank Cignetti, Jr., and Phil Bennett weren't cheap, and hiring Rudolph away from Wisconsin would cost some money, too.  In my opinion, Chryst has not hired well and Steve Pederson has let him.  Both are at fault for the questionable hiring of not only House but some other hirings on the staff also. And, yes, Pederson does have veto power, and has used it before.

2. Change the coaching staff up- Not only is House an unproven coordinator but Inoke Breckterfield and Chris Haering are just as unproven. With such little talent on the front seven, it doesn't help that the Panthers back it up with coaches who can't get the most out of what they have. And don't even get me started on what little recruiting help they are. The only defensive coach I would keep, should things not change, is veteran John Palermo. With House, Breckterfield, and Haering out, the Panthers can add veterans with recruiting ties in places like Florida, New Jersey, and the Virginia/North Carolina area. It's pointless to have Haering for recruiting in the WPIAL when Rudolph or Engram can do it, and Breckterfield's ties in Hawaii and Idaho are obviously pointless.

3.  Recruit better- This seems obvious, but the truth is that while the Panthers are adding some talented offensive prospects, the talent is seriously lacking on the defensive side. And it may get worse next year when Aaron Donald, Jason Hendricks, and K'Waun Williams will be gone from the defense.

Who will replace the few impact players on defense? Todd Thomas is a good player, but outside of him there are no obvious impact players in the front seven. Chryst and his staff have not brought in even one defensive lineman or linebacker who looks like he would definitely be a star. I'm not saying that out of players like Shakir Soto, Tyrique Jarrett, Luke Maclean, Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni, Rori Blair, Connor Dintino, Mike Herndon, and Shane Roy that somebody (or somebodies) won't eventually develop into a nice player, and I know that fans naturally think of the best case scenario with every prospect, but this isn't a group of highly coveted prospects. Put it this way, there's aren't any 6'4" 250 pound ends that got offers from Michigan and Penn State, or a 6'5" 290 pound tackle with offers from Miami and Georgia.  Of course that kind of prospect may not prove to be better than what Pitt has brought in, but your chances are better when you have more prospects with a pedigree.

Also, a few ready to start junior college players should have been recruited. Just look at some of the front seven junior college prospects: 6'3" 275 pound DaVonte Lambert chose Tennessee over Florida, Florida State, Miami, Georgia, and WVU; 6'4" 305 pound Abu Lamin chose South Carolina over Florida, Miami, and Georgia; 6'4" 275 pound Claudeson Pelon has offers from Wisconsin, Washington, Miami, and Nebraska.  Other defensive linemen or linebackers have already chosen Tennessee, USC, Kentucky, Auburn, and Miami.  If junior college players are good enough for these schools then there's no reason why Pitt doesn't get involved to get some instant help, especially since the staff can sell the fact that they would start immediately. And I'm not saying to load up on jucos. I'm talking about an end, a tackle, and a linebacker if possible. Instant defensive help only, though. The player must be a high impact player who could help immediately or there is no point in bringing them in.

4.  More speed in the secondary-  While Williams and Lafayette Pitts are solid corners both only have average speed for the position. That's why House had them playing so far off of the fast Florida State wide receivers. And Ray Vinopal, who combats his lack of size with his lack of speed, has obviously been a disaster at safety.

The best case scenario here is if Dravon Henry chooses the Panthers. He would immediately start at the corner. If Dontae Nicholson and/or Marquese Dudley-Gordon also commit then another true freshman will start at safety. At the other cornerback I would install Trenton Coles as the starter. He will only be a sophomore but at 6'3" he is a speed demon. At the other safety I would makes Pitts the starter, where his lack of elite speed won't be as much of a factor. Three new starters, three very fast players, and all talented. And with the possibility of adding Anthony Davis this year, and Jordan Whitehead and Kareem Gibson next year, the secondary has the chance to be phenomenal in the future.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Where Pitt stands nationally (out of 123 teams)

Total Offense  40th
Rushing Offense  61st
Passing Offense  28th
Scoring Offense  28th
3rd Down Conversion  66th
Red Zone Offense  89th
Pass Sacks Allowed 74th

Total Defense  102nd
Rushing Defense  94th
Passing Defense  83rd
Scoring Defense  118th
3rd Down Conversion Defense 108th
Red Zone Defense  110th
Interceptions 35th
Pass Sacks  47th
Tackles for Loss  22nd
Pass Efficiency Defense 122nd

Turnover Margin  88th
Penalty Yards Per Game  61st
Kick Return Defense  76th
Net Punting 120th
Punt Return Defense  122nd

Kickoff Returns  86th
Punt Returns  105th

Rushing Yards Per Game- James Conner 27th
All Purpose Yards- Tyler Boyd 5th, Devin Street 46th
Passing touchdowns- Tom Savage 11th
Passing Yards- Tom Savage  38th
Passing Yards Per Completion- Tom Savage 6th
Passing Efficiency- Tom Savage  9th
Receiving touchdowns- Tyler Boyd 9th
Receiving Yards Per Game- Devin Street  4th, Tyler Boyd 18th
Kick Returns- Tyler Boyd  58th
Pass Sacks- Aaron Donald  7th
Tackles for Loss- Aaron Donald 4th
Solo Tackles- Jason Hendricks  19th

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Pittsburgh 58 Duke 55

Yes, that score is correct.  The game started out beautifully as the Panthers offense looked to be one of the best in the country. But because of horrible defense and special teams Duke stayed in the game. Some thoughts:

1.  Tom Savage threw some beautiful strikes and pretty much had his way until the end when the offensive line started to fail.  For the game he was 23 for 33 for 424 yards, 6 touchdowns, and no interceptions.

2.  James Conner is officially a beast as he had his second 100 yard game in a row as he ripped off 173 yards on 26 carries.  He also added a touchdown.

3.  Devin Street and Tyler Boyd are quickly becoming perhaps the best wide receiver tandem in the country.  Street had 6 catches for 166 yards (27.7 avg.), and 2 touchdowns. Boyd added 7 catches for 147 yards (21.0 avg.), and 3 touchdowns.

4.  Kevin Weatherspoon added 4 catches for 58 yards including a game clincher late.

5.  The Panthers had 598 total yards but became conservative and inept in the 4th quarter in which they actually had minus yardage.

6.  Defensively the Panthers got four interceptions but also gave up 532 yards, including 213 yards rushing.  Duke entered the game No.69 in total offense with 404 yards a game.

Overall, outside of the offense in the first three quarters it was a pretty embarrassing performance for the Panthers. Both the special teams and defense are amongst the worst in the nation over the first third of the season.  Something drastic must happen for the program to improve such horrible weaknesses. Change personnel, change coaches, whatever it takes, because there's bad and then there's awful, and awful is what Pitt's special teams and defense are right now.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Pittsburgh 49 New Mexico 27

The New Mexico Lobos were just what the doctor ordered as the Panthers improved to 1-1 this season with a 49-27 victory.  Some thoughts:

Tyler Boyd? Umm, yeah.  We all thought he could be a star but this is ridiculous that he's this good, this soon.  Boyd had 6 catches for 134 yards and a TD, half of them in spectacular fashion, and also ran twice for 39 yards including a beautiful 34-yard TD run.  He's a true star of a national caliber already and dare I say that only somebody named Larry Fitzgerald started out so impressively?

Boyd should continue to put up big numbers because it appears he has a very good quarterback throwing to him.  Yes, Tom Savage had two interceptions, including one very bad decision on his first pass, but the other one was a fluke.  Savage really only threw two bad passes all day and one of those was completed to Devin Street who was wide open for an easy TD but Savage under threw him. On the day Savage threw a beautiful ball, straight as an arrow with plenty of zip. He ended up completing 13 of 17 passes for 236 yards and 2 TDs.

Devin Street added 5 catches for 80 yards while Manasseh Garner added 2 catches for 26 yards, and Scott Orndoff added a 4-yard touchdown pass.  All receivers and tight ends also blocked exceptionally well.

Maybe the best news of the day is how well the Panthers ran the ball. James Conner looks to be the real deal. Not only is he so strong that defenders simply bounce off him, but he has a sneaky burst that lets him turn the corner like a much smaller back.  He carried only 12 times but ended up with 119 yards for a 9.9 avg.  He also added 2 touchdowns.

Isaac Bennett was just as impressive and was lowering his head and knocking Lobos all over the field. He ended up with 14 carries for 101 yards, a 7.2 avg., and 2 more TDs.

The Panthers had 527 yards, 283 on the ground and 244 yards through the air.

Defensively the star of the show, not surprisingly was Aaron Donald who was a one man wrecking crew. Jason Hendricks and David Durham also stood out.  But the defense still needs work, however, and they let up a lot of big plays on the ground. The Lobos ran for 213 yards.

Bottom line, New Mexico is bad, so it's hard to say what this means. At the very least this will give the Panthers a lot of confidence. And the future is very bright on offense with Boyd and Conner both looking like stars.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Seven recruiting targets that could change everything for the Panthers

There are two kinds of recruits that you need to build a successful football team. One is the ability to find under recruited players who you can develop into talented college players. The jury is still out on whether or not Paul Chryst and his staff have done that but I think most would agree that he has added some intriguing raw prospects. The other is to add elite talent like Tyler Boyd who is already standing out as very different than the rest of the players in the program. Obviously not every elite prospect will pan out, and likewise there will be under the radar prospects who end up being stars. But more often than not your chances are much better if you land highly coveted prospects.

In the recent past the Panthers usually end up with three or four such players a year. Last year there was three with Johnson, Boyd, and Scott Orndoff.  In other words, the Panthers can win with who they are recruiting but to win big they will need more elite prospects. The good news is that there are seven such players right now that the Panthers are heavily involved with. If they somehow manage to land all seven, the talent level of the program goes up sharply, not to mention that the next class will look at Pitt much differently.

If the Panthers miss on most of these players it will not be the end of the program but it will definitely make it more difficult for Chryst to win big in the coming years. While some have mentioned the many years that it took successful coaches to win big, the truth is, that was the case many years ago. Things move much quicker now. Most coaches now have a four year window to reach the level that the program desires and if you can't recruit big in your first few years than winning big in the fourth year may be a stretch.  That's why Chryst and his staff can jump through the window right now, but if he doesn't the window may start to close a little.

Dravon Henry- The Aliquippa star is the best prospect in PA and the pipeline between Aliquippa is long and prosperous for both schools. Many schools competing for Henry's service, especially Penn State, have been trying to convince him to break that pipeline and to be his own man. Henry recently eliminated the Nittany Lions and realistically it appears to be a battle between Pitt and West Virginia. It's hard to imagine Pitt losing an elite WPIAL prospect to the Mountaineers, especially when that program seems to be floundering. That's why I think Pitt is the favorite at this point, even if he and his father seems to be wavering.

Henry would be the most important recruit during Chryst's tenure. Not only is he the best player in the state but he also has a chance to star immediately.  And anytime that you can find a star at cornerback, you're defense immediately goes up a notch.

Montae Nicholson- At one point the Gateway star was considered a lock for Florida State by many, then those same people had him pegged for Michigan.  But Michigan ran out of room for him and Florida State is considered more of a long shot. He has upcoming visits to Michigan State and Oregon, but it would be a surprise if either got him in the end.  That realistically leaves Pitt and Penn State as the most likely destinations, and the Panthers are coming on strong.

The 6'3" 200 pound Nicholson is a great athlete who can make an immediate impact at either wide receiver or safety.  With Devin Street and Jason Hendricks graduating, and not a lot of talent behind them, grabbing him will be essential.  And now more than ever that could happen.

Shai McKenzie- The Panthers are suddenly looking promising for the future at running back thanks to the bruising duo of freshman James Conner and recent commit Qadree Ollison.  But McKenzie has a better pedigree than either and adding him would mean the program has three chances for a running back to be a star.

McKenzie drives Pitt fans crazy, but I talked to him plenty and he has always really liked Pitt. He once made Florida State the favorite, then Virginia Tech, but when push comes to shove, there's still a good chance that the Panthers can land him.

Alex Bookser- Hard to believe but the future of the Panthers offensive line is very bright.  Young players like Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson could be stars and there are others who are almost as promising.  But you can never have too many and Bookser would be a great addition.

The 6'6" 300 pound Bookser needs work but his size/athletic combination is excellent. He's the type of lineman that Chryst can really turn into something special after three or four years in the program, max.

Pitt is considered the favorite at the moment.

Anthony Davis- This was once considered a lost cause. For some reason the Panthers staff did not recruit Davis hard initially and he decided to follow his former Gateway head coach to Temple where Terry Smith is now an assistant. But Davis attended the first game of the season at Pitt and now he appears that he could switch to the Panthers, especially since his mother reportedly wants him to be a Panther.

At 6'1" and 175 pounds, Davis has great size if he sticks at cornerback. But he also has very good speed and great athleticism. A real ballhawk who could be a star safety if he doesn't make it at the corner.

Somehow, despite offers from Penn State, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Miami, Michigan State, and North Carolina he is very underrated.

Juwann Winfree- The Panthers desperately need some more playmakers at wide receiver and this 6'2" 180 pound New Jersey native is good enough to get offers from the likes of Georgia, South Carolina, Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska.

An added bonus is that he may be an even better safety, so if the Panthers land Nicholson and put him at wide receiver, Winfree could always move to safety if he doesn't work out on offense.

Marquese Dudley-Gordon- Pitt doesn't seem to do well with legacies but Shane Gordon's brother could easily change that. The Panthers are considered the heavy favorite for the 6'1" 190 pound Fort Lauderdale safety. A potential star thanks to his hard hitting and great range.

Dudley-Gordon has the potential to be a big time safety as you can tell by an offer list that includes Louisville, Arkansas, Michigan State, Florida State, and Wisconsin.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Pitt lands excellent RB

The Panthers may not have had a good game against Florida State to open the season but the recruits were still impressed by the atmosphere.  One of those is Qadree Ollison of Canisius HS in Buffalo, NY.  The 6'1" 228 pound Ollison committed to the Panthers today over Penn State and Wisconsin.  Syracuse, Rutgers, Maryland, Boston College, and Iowa were among the other schools that offered.

Ollison is a bruising, between the tackle runner and doesn't have home run speed, but he does have good quickness and agility for his size.

It remains to be seen how this will effect the recruitment of Washington HS star Shai McKenzie who many think was leaning towards the Panthers.  Pitt would love to still add the 5'11" 210 pound McKenzie.

Monday, September 2, 2013

2013-2014 Preseason Grades for Pitt Football

Quarterbacks:  Just because of the nature of the position Tom Savage is the most important player on the team this season.  He has the prototypical 6'5" 230 pound size, quick release, and cannon for an arm. If he has a successful year he could legitimately be a high NFL draft pick. On the other hand, as all Pitt fans know he has been out of action for years so he is not used to game speed.  How quickly he returns to form will determine both his and Pitt's season.  If Savage gets hurt or flops, the only real option is redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, who is not big at 6'0" and 200 pounds, but he has a strong arm, a very quick release, and has good mobility. His future appears to be bright, but if he had to play for any extended period of time this season, it may be a case of too much, too early. Bottom line: This is the last chance for Savage to live up to his great potential. If he lives up to it then the Panthers can be a surprise this season. If he flops then it could get ugly. Right now since there's no real way to know which way Savage will go, I will put his grade right in the middle, but he has the potential to make this grade an A this season.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: C

Running Backs: Paul Chryst's offenses usually have a successful running back but if he can manage to get a 1,000 yard rusher this year it may be the ultimate proof of how good of an offensive coach he is. Junior Isaac Bennett will begin the season as a starter and that is a scary proposition. In his first two seasons, Bennett has only accumulated only 378 in his first two seasons and he's been injury prone, including in fall practice this year. He is a solidly built 5'11" and 205 pounds and has very good straight line speed, but his ability to be the main back is still a very big question mark. Perhaps the back on the roster with the highest upside is 6'2" 230 pound true freshman James Conner. He has good speed and good hands, but he is a between the tackles runner with little wiggle. It remains to be seen if he is good enough as a freshman to make a big impact, but he definitely does have talent.  Two other halfbacks, 5'10" 200 pound Malcolm Postell, and 6'1" 185 pound true freshman Rachid Ibrahim, are in reserve. Neither are considered topnotch talents though Ibrahim has surprised with his quickness. When the Panthers need a fullback, big, strong 6'2" 230 pound junior Mark Giubilato returns, as does 6'0" 235 pound adam Lazenga. True freshman Jaymar Parrish, 6'2" 230 pounds, is too good to redshirt so he could force the staff to play him, either at fullback or H-Back. Bottom line- On paper it doesn't look like the Panthers have a lot here, but Chryst's offenses usually can run the ball. Somebody has to get the most yards, but right now it's anybody's guess who that will be.

Last Season's Final Grade: B+
This Season's Preseason Grade: C-

Wide Receivers:  After Mike Shanahan graduated and Ronald Jones was suspended for the season, this group was looking suspect. It still has some questions but at least the starters are pretty good. Senior Devin Street is obviously the go to guy here and he's coming off a 73 catch, 975 yard season. At 6'4" 190 pounds he has the size to go along with very good speed. If he has a big year he could be a high NFL draft pick so he has a lot to play for. On the other side true freshman Tyler Boyd is on his way to living up to his massive reputation. At 6'2" and 185 pounds Boyd has excellent speed, athleticism, and hands. Expect to see him used in many ways.  The top reserves are 6'2" 190 pound senior Ed Tinker, 5'10" junior Kevin Weatherspoon, and 6'2" 205 pound redshirt freshman Chris Wuestner. If the jump to major college football proves to be too much for Boyd, Tinker is the most likely to become the starter.  Bottom line-  Street and Boyd should be fine as the starters, and it's likely that a reserve will step forward to add addition production. If he stays healthy that will probably be Tinker. Because one of the starters has to yet to play a down and none of the reserves have accomplished much I'm going to be conservative with the grade for now, but the potential is there to do much better.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-

Tight Ends:  We finally have a definite strength. Both Chryst and right hand man Joe Rudolph had great success with tight ends at Wisconsin, and it didn't take long to make this unit the best on the team. The starter will be 6'4" 245 pound sophomore J.P. Holtz, who played well as a true freshman. He is tough, runs well, and has very good hands. He should make a big leap in his second season. Wisconsin transfer Manasseh Garner, a 6'2" 220 pound junior, is built like a bull and has good hands and speed. I wouldn't be surprised if he led the team in receptions this season. True freshman Scott Orndoff has great 6'5" 245 pound size and he runs like a deer. He may prove to be too good to keep off the field as he gets accustomed to the college game. The aforementioned Parrish will also be used as an H-Back so if Garner goes down with an injury he may be the replacement.  Bottom line- A lot of talent and a lot of depth. what's not to like?

Last Season's Final Grade: C-
This Season's Preseason Grade: A

Offensive Line: This unit has been a disaster for the past few years and hasn't been an actual force in forever. They won't be a force this season either but at least it should be better than last season and that's a start. At the important left tackle spot the Panthers are going with 6'6" 300 pound redshirt freshman Adam Bisnowaty. He's still slightly undersized and doesn't have any game experience so he has to be considered a question mark at this time, but he has the talent to make a positive impact this season. If he does well out of the gate then the unit will make huge strides. Next to him at left guard is 6'6" 325 pound Cory King, who has struggled in the past. Now that King is a fifth year senior and in the position that is best for him, he may at least prove to be solid. At center 6'2" 300 pound redshirt sophomore Artie Rowell has surprised some by beating out 6'5" 300 pound redshirt freshman Gabe Roberts, who has had trouble with snaps. This appears to be the weak link on the line. At right guard, giant 6'6" 345 pound redshirt junior right guard Matt Rotheram, like King, is back on the inside where he belongs where he has the potential to excel. At right tackle, 6'6" 300 pound redshirt junior T.J. Clemmings has moved to right tackle from defensive end. Clemmings has a great build and moves well but his skills did not translate on defense.  However, the early results on the offensive line are encouraging.  The top reserves other than Roberts at center are 6'5" 330 pound redshirt senior Juantez Hollins and 6'5" 290 pound elite freshman prospect Dorian Johnson, and experienced 6'5" 330 pound redshirt senior Ryan Schlieper at guard. Bottom line: Could there finally be signs of improvement? Players like King, Rotheram, Schlieper, and Hollins should be better merely because of experience and Bisnowaty, Clemmings, and Johnson all have great potential.

Last Season's Posteason Grade: D
This Season's Preseason Grade: C+

Defensive Line: In the recent past this unit usually had one very good player and a bunch of scrappers. The result is that usually it's a pretty good unit.  This season is no different.  Of course the leader is 6'0" 285 senior Aaron Donald, an All-American candidate.  Not much has to be said about Donald other than he is the best player on the team.  Next to him is fellow senior Tyrone Ezell, a 6'4" 300 pound wall of muscle who has turned into a solid player.  The starters at end are 6'3" 255 pound redshirt junior Bryan Murphy, and 6'1" 245 pound redshirt junior David Durham.  Murphy was once a prized recruit with great promise, and after a slow start last season he finally started playing better.  Durham was a fullback at Ohio State before transferring, and while not flashy, he should at least be solid.  It looks like there could be a drop off when it comes to reserves, however, at least initially.  Undersized redshirt sophomore Ejuan Price is just 6'0" and 235 pounds but he has natural pass rush skills. Murphy and Durham pay not provide much pass rush so if Price can adapt for his lack of size, that would be huge.  Others expected to see time at end include 6'3" 230 pound true freshman Shakir Soto, 6'4" 280 pound redshirt senior Jack Lippert, and 6'4" redshirt sophomore Devin Cook.  Soto has promise but he needs to gain more strength and size. Lippert has not had a successful career yet so one can't expect too much from him.  Cook played well last year in limited time but he clearly doesn't practice as well as he plays. Inside is even more suspect with only 6'2" 270 pound sophomore Darryl Render and 6'2" 255 pound junior LaQuentin Smith.  Render has potential to have a solid career but Smith was once a promising linebacker who washed and was moved to the line where he is very undersized.  Bottom line: If Donald gets hurt this unit may be mediocre at best, but if he stays healthy he will make the rest of them better.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: B-
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-

Linebackers:  This has been a sore spot for a few years now as the Panthers just haven't been able to develop a lot of talented linebackers.  And this year's bunch looks like it has no stars either.  The leader in the middle is 6'1" 220 pound redshirt senior Shane Gordon. He's flashed enough potential that if he stays healthy, he could have a big year.  On the outside, 6'3" 225 pound Anthony Gonzalez may finally have a chance to come into his own after being signed out of high school as a big time hotshot quarterback.  He's had his problems both on and off the court but he has persevered.  He has added size while keeping his good quickness.  On the other side, 6'2" 230 pound redshirt freshman Bam Bradley surprised everybody by claiming the starting job.  The top reserve on the outside is mercurial 6'2" 220 pound redshirt junior Todd Thomas, who has all-star potential but has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. Nobody would be surprised if he regained a starting spot and made all-conference, but he has to work hard to get back in the good graces of the staff.  The other outside reserve is 6'1 220 pound redshirt sophomore Nicholas Grigsby.  Backing up Gordon in the middle is 6'0" 220 pound redshirt freshman Mike Caprara, and 6'2" 220 pound true freshman Matt Galambos.  Both are fan favorites because of their scrappiness.  Bottom line:  This is an interesting bunch and it could go both ways with them. None stand out as true stars, but all could be pretty good.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-

Defensive Backs:  Along with the tight ends this is the best unit on the team heading into the season, at least the starters.  At corner, both 5'10" 190 senior K'Waun Williams, and 5'11" 180 redshirt sophomore Lafayette Pitts, are all-conference prospects. Neither have blazing feed, but both have good quickness and smarts.  At free safety, 6'0" 190 pound redshirt senior Jason Hendricks is an all-star after having an excellent season last year.  At strong safety the weak point is 5'10" 190 redshirt junior Ray Vinopal who did not have a great season last year after beginning the season as the starter. Depth is an issue entering the season.  Backing up Vinopal is 6'0" 195 pound redshirt junior Cullen Christian, a former Michigan transfer who has yet to live up this lofty stature coming out of high school.  Also at safety is 5'11" 170 pound true freshman Terrish Webb, and 5'11" 205 pound redshirt freshman Javonte Pitts. Both may be good someday but they probably shouldn't be playing so early in their careers. Backing up at the corners are 6'3" 165 pound redshirt freshman Trenton Coles, and 6'1" 180 pound true freshman.  Like Webb and Pitts this may be too early in their careers to do much, though Coles will probably play often and has blazing speed.  Bottom line:  Three of the starters are very good, but after that there are an awful lot of question marks.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: B
This Seasons's Preseason Grade: B

Special Teams:  Redshirt senior punter Matt Yoklic has all-star potential but he has to be more consistent. The placekicker duties are going to fall to true freshman Chris Blewitt.  While true freshman kickers often do very well it's still anxiety producing until you really see if he has the mental makeup to be successful.  The return guys to start the season are head scratchers.  Returning punts will be K'Waun Williams and returning kicks is Lafayette Pitts. While Pitts is excellent at the job, and both may be the best options on paper, with a secondary short on experience an injury to either could be devastating to the defense. Bottom line: If Blewitt lives up to his potential and neither Williams or Pitts gets hurt, it could be a very good unit. But if the opposite happens it will be a disaster.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: C
This Season's Preseason Grade: B-

Coaching:  It's year two of the Chryst regime and the jury is still out. He and the staff do things differently than a lot of people. If it works he will be a genius and a Godsend. If it doesn't then people will wonder why nobody stopped his tactics sooner.

Last Season's Postseason Grade: C+
This Season's Preseason Grade: C