Thursday, June 12, 2014

Can the 2015 Pitt Panthers Football Team Be a Top 20 Team?

Quarterback: Of all of the positions this is the one that will probably most determine the fate of the Panthers in 2015. One obvious reason is because of the importance of the position in general. But the other reason is because the rest of the offense looks very good, and maybe even excellent, on paper. It's also scary for the program because if Chad Voytik doesn't succeed, there probably isn't a realistic alternative. Yes, there could always be a graduate transfer, but more likely if Voytik fails or gets hurt, the Panthers are in trouble. Adam Bertke and Alex Hornibrook can be good in the future, but it's unrealistic to think they'll be that good that soon since Bertke will probably be a redshirt freshman and Hornibrook will be a true freshman

Running Back: This is the first of many positions on offense where the Panthers will be loaded in 2015. It begins of course with James Conner, who will be a junior, and will theoretically be even more dominating. Combine him at least with fast Chris James and third down back Rachid Ibrahim and that's a good trio. Jaymar Parrish already showed as a true freshman that he's a talented fullback/H-Back so there's no reason to think he won't continue to contribute.

Wide Receiver: Probable All-American candidate Tyler Boyd combined with Adonis Jennings and Quadree Henderson? That's possible, but the latter two will have to beat out Zach Challingsworth and Dontez Ford.  That's five really good receivers, with at least one of them being a legit star. And of course others like Jester Weah, Elijah Zeise, and Jaquaun Davidson may also get into the mix.

Tight End: JP Holtz will be a senior and Scott Orndoff will be a junior, and they will have both been lettermen since their freshmen seasons. By this time, Orndoff may have developed into a star. The two alone are enough to make this a very strong unit.

Offensive Line: This has been a trouble spot for years, but Paul Chryst's recruiting may finally come to fruition. Matt Rotheram and TJ Clemmings will be gone, but the time may finally come for former top recruits who will now be veterans. Included in that mix are Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson, and Jaryd Jones-Smith. Combine them with young potential stars like Alex Bookser and Mike Grimm, both of whom will have a year under their belt at this time, and the line may finally be on it's way to good things. And I haven't even mentioned yet Artie Rowell, Alex Officer, Aaron Reese, Gabe Roberts, or Connor Hayes, any of whom could join the rotation.

Defensive Line: On paper, everybody but David Durham will be back. At end, Shakir Soto, Devin Cook, and Ejuan Price will all be upperclassmen, and I wouldn't be surprised if Soto was all-conference caliber at this time. Youngster Luke Maclean will join that mix. One of them will have to turn into a serious pass rush threat because it's been sorely lacking.

Inside, things look even better. Darryl Render, Khaynin Mosley-Smith, Tyrique Jarrett, and Justin Moody all have better than average talent. Connor Dintino and Mike Herndon are giants who will likely redshirt this season so they will also be in the mix in 2015.

Linebackers: Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez will have graduated, but things aren't as dire as it seems. Matt Galambos will likely be the returning starter in the middle, and fellow upperclassmen Bam Bradley, Nicolas Grigsby, and Mike Caprara will also return. But the younger guys are especially intriguing. Rori Blair, Jamal Davis, James Folston, Quintin Wirginis, and Kevin Givens are all talented, and at least a few will be in the mix as soon as 2015. I think we will also see a few more talented linebackers added for the '15 class, too, so the days of moving safeties and quarterbacks into this position may be over. At the very least this will be a very quick and athletic group, and some of the younger guys have the potential to be physically bigger than Pitt linebackers of recent years.

Defensive Backs: There's no unit that has gotten faster in a shorter period of time than this group.  Lafayette Pitts isn't even one of the speedier players but he could be starting his fourth season. Reggie Mitchell will also be a senior, and he should help with experience. The rest of the group have serious speed, led by the Clairton trio of Trenton Coles, Terrish Webb, and Titus Howard. It's not inconceivable that all three will start. At the very least, all three will figure prominently. Speed demon cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley should figure in the mix next year as should playmaking safeties Patrick Amara and Jalen Williams. And of course if the Panthers can land a big time corner like Jordan Whitehead then that's a player that could start right away.

Kickers: Chris Blewitt proved as a true freshman that he was pretty good so theoretically as a junior he should be even better. Punter Ryan Winslow will be in his second year as the starter assuming he does well this season.

Bottom line:  The first thing you need to be a top 20 caliber team is stars in positions that matter, and in Conner and Boyd the Panthers have two potential stars. If they stay healthy and live up to their potential they could both be All-American candidates, and any team that has an All-American caliber running back and wide receiver is going to win their share of games.

As for the other parts of the offense, the wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends all look to be in excellent shape on paper. And with Chryst's offensive mind you'd think the offense could be very, very good if Voytik and the offensive line comes through. Voytik is a former Elite 11 quarterback and the offensive line has more than it's share of former elite recruits, so it's not crazy to think that both will perform well. In fact, with the pedigree of both, they should perform well. It's time to turn elite recruits like Voytik, Dorian Johnson, Jones-Smith, and Grimm into the players they are expected to be.

As for defense, the Panthers could return seven starters with Ray Vinopal, David Durham, Todd Thomas, and Anthony Gonzalez the only seniors departing. Vinopal went from being a disaster to being a solid player, but his loss will not be a big deal at all since every other defensive back returns. Likewise, the defensive line returns practically everybody.  At linebacker, Thomas and Gonzalez are good players, but there are a lot of quick, hungry linebackers behind them.

The defense has nobody that stands out as certain stars, but they should be quicker and deeper for the first time in many years so you'd have to think they will be good enough to keep the Panthers in games, especially if the offense is explosive.

It will be the fourth year of Chryst's reign in 2015, the acknowledged turning point for college coaches. On offense, he will have a former Elite 11 quarterback starting in his second year, two possible All-American candidates in Boyd and Conner, dynamic playmakers like Jennings and Henderson, a big, athletic pass catching threat at tight end with Orndoff, and a handful of former elite offensive line prospects, most of whom will be in the program for their third or fourth year.

On defense, a star, or two, or three, may emerge, but at the very least quickness and familiarity should  help the unit be at least solid. In the best case scenario, somebody like Soto turns into a sack machine, Galambos turns into Scott McKillop, Jr., and the Clairton bunch are so good that they become a national story.

Yes, those things may happen. But they don't necessarily have to for Pitt to finally return to respectability, because on paper 2015 looks like the year that respectability may return to Oakland without having to ask for miracles.

Chryst gets good players and has a good coaching staff. That leads to a good team. I've said since he was hired that Chryst will probably max out as an 8-9 win coach, and a 9 win season will probably put him around the top 20. Can he ever get into the rarefied air of a top 10 team? I honestly have my doubts. It takes a lot of things to go right for that to happen because while there is good talent at Pitt there is not great talent. Some coaches can have great teams with just good talent but those are the truly elite coaches. Chryst has yet to prove that he's in that category.  But if you have good coaches and good talent, you never know what could happen in any given season. A lot of things may go Pitt's way and you just may have yourself a magical season that will have Panthers fans happy again.

31 comments:

  1. So Pitt is back to where it was when Wanny left?

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  2. Anon @ 3:04 .. I believe a 3 year record of 27 - 12 would be quite welcome after the the turmoil of the recent past.

    bill

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  3. I hope you are correct. This year may be a good indicator if they go 9-3 in the regular season. Next year's schedule will be tougher with Notre Dame, and Louisville added to their usual ACC rivals.

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  4. To answer the question in the title. NO.

    No elite players on defense being recruited.
    Just lost Ali to Maryland. Elite players on defense won't choose Pitt while House is DC.

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  5. If this article is correct then yes we are back to the Wanny years minus the arrests.

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  6. Chris, are you already giving up on 2014? I think this team might be able to achieve that this year. To me, 2014, like 2015, depends on how well CV performs. If at a good to great level then Pitt will win its share of games this year as the schedule is set nicely for a new QB to get settled.

    Overall, I think what you're acknowledging is that PC has done a pretty good job rebuilding the roster. Just think, how many of you out there wanted him fired after his first year. Laughable how many of you yo-yo's expect a person to come in and make Pitt into a Ohio State in a couple months....News flash unless there is a drastic change in direction from the administration, boosters, and alumni, Pitt will NEVER be an OSU, Alabama, or even PSU type program.

    As the adults in the room said, give him time to build his team. Which seems like:
    - He looks for kids who WANT to be at Pitt. I know this is hard for some of you to comprehend but it's not true that every recruit in America has Pitt #1 on their board and only go elsewhere if PC and staff "mess it up"..

    - He wants smart kids that buy-in to the team concept and who keep the off the field issues to a minimal. If you don't like this then I'm guessing you don't like Pitt.

    - He's loyal to his coaches and doesn't mind them learning on the job. But as he's grown as a HC, we're seeing him being comfortable hiring people with more experience and outside his circle.

    - He doesn't give a darn what you, me or anyone else think about what he's doing. This is his program and whether it ends up a success or failure there's one thing we know for sure, he's doing it his way.

    As PC grows as a leader, the program is growing as well. If he continues to field a competitive team then we're going to get our share of successful years. I hope PC is the HC for a long-time. Go Pitt

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    1. I'm not giving up on this year at all. I assume they'll win 7 or 8 games if Voytik remains healthy and performs well.

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  7. This is my main complaint over firing Wanny. If you want to take the next step and be serious in football, a replacement should have been in mind/signed in pencil. If not, just keep Wanny be happy with 7-9 wins a year.

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  8. This is what I've been saying since Chryst was hired. People claim I was against him and I'm not. I just think if you fire Wannstedt then you need to replace him with someone better. But at best Chryst seems to be equal. There's nothing wrong with an 8-9 win coach but if that's all you want then why change from Wannstedt and cause all if this chaos? It was poorly done by Pederson.

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    1. Wasn't the "arrest factor" a main reason for letting Wanny go?

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    2. Emphasis added to "at best".

      It was clear, Chryst had job security for 3-4 years since he was hired. Please Note, he has not gotten an extension. Curious how 2014 unfolds and especially what will happen at the end of the year with coaches. ie. House. Chryst could be on the hot seat for 2015.
      Loyality to his coaches??? He fired a few of them.

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    3. Agree 100%. Wanny was not perfect but he seemed much more outgoing for the university, especially with the old football players. Plus he actually had a decent amount of 1st rounders drafted to follow in the nfl.

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    4. He also had a decent amount of drug addicts, woman beaters, drunk drivers & brawlers.

      People who saw what was going on in the South Side warned of problems coming.

      Not to mention that the team quit - straight up quit on Wannstedt vs. WVU in 2010. After that, his dismissal isn't surprising.

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  9. Chris, I feel there is a huge difference between Wanny & Chryst. 1)Offensive mind 2)Not bringing thugs to bring down the program 3)He might not be top heavy in recruiting but Chryst is bringing in solid overall players who might have less stars but overtime will be coachable & improve

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    1. I have some news for you, not all star football players are angels. If you want to win big, a few bad apples will prob be on the team.

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  10. Surprising that you failed to mention Qadree Ollison.

    Between Ollison and Chris James... it's Ollison who I see with the POTENTIAL to be the Future Star.

    The only question is whether he can take the beating a Big Back tends to take?

    PittofDreams

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  11. PC is building a foundation that will put Pitt in the position to win 8-9 games a year. To get to a higher level, you need to have special players at the three most important position in college football: QB, RB and a pass rushing DE. At the present moment, we don't have those kind of players at those positions. Conner is good, but he's not the kind of RB to take it to the house at any given time. If you take away Tony Dorsett away from the 1976 National Championship team, you have an 8-9 win team. He was a difference maker. Same as Marino, Green and Jackson.

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    1. You don't have to take it to the house all the time to be a great RB. Emmit Smith and Walter Payton are just two of many examples. And Ironhead is one of even more examples in college.

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  12. Chris, I saw on your twitter that Pitt bball will be going overseas. Where are they going & what kind of teams are they playing? How many games will they have? Thanks,

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    1. They're going to play four in the Bahamas in early August. Great idea for such a young team.

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  13. longsufferingpittfanJune 13, 2014 at 3:13 PM

    Given all the turmoil before his arrival, I am more than happy to be patient with HCPC. I like the guy and I think he's ultimately going to do very well here. He;s got some good players to work with and hopefully more to follow. Good luck in 2014 AND 2015.

    On a separate note, Chris are you as surprised as I am that Mike Shannahan wasn't able to latch on to an NFL team as a tight end? I really envisioned him in the mold of a Heath Miller. Good size and hands but not great speed.

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  14. Not really. It's really hard to make it in the NFL. Every team has a half a dozen tights ends just like him in camp.

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  15. What Wanny provided was stability and loyalty, something we now cherish a bit more now than back in 2010.

    Chryst seems to provide these elements. And for what he lags in recruiting vs Wanny, he may make up in teaching as well as having a better concept of college football. Wanny thought as a conservative pro coach -- that's who he was, for better or worse.

    My guess is that Wanny very much likes the direction that HCPC is taking this program (although in the back of his mind, he probably is thinking of how well he caould recruit Florida with Pitt in the ACC.)

    bill

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  16. Jerry "The Mole"June 14, 2014 at 2:56 PM

    Pitt has 0% chance of getting Whitehead. That's a 50/50 race between OSU and WVU, depending on where he'll get to play the earliest.

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    1. It's statements like this which give you no credibility. #molesarevirtuallyblind

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    2. Yet Gordo, check my history, I'm batting 1000 on my predictions

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  17. I realize Wannstedt was far from perfect and had some bad losses, but he was the right guy for the job and never should have been fired. The 2010 season was one of those years where there were bad vibes from the start: the ridiculous SI article about the most arrests out of the top 20 teams (Yes, people think it was in all of D-I, it wasn't. Besides, it made zero waves nationally since the program isn't as relevant as many think it is), Sheard's fight, Romeus' back, Romeus' mother being ill, starting on the road in Utah, which Pitt could have won had the Pitt player picked up the blocked punt and scored as opposed to just falling on it at the 5-yard line, alas settling for a field goal and missing out o four points.

    It appears now that the 2011 verbals Pitt had accumulated under Wannstedt aren't making huge impacts with their respective teams. That doesn't mean some wouldn't have contributed and the remainder of the class could have been filled with good players. One guy from Jersey who loved Pitt was Shaquille Calhoun, the Michigan State stud who's a potential first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft. The 2011 D-line would have started four seniors - Hargrove, Chas, Caregein and Lindsey with Donald, Ezell, Hale and Clemmings as the backups.

    I know Sunseri would have been the QB for three season, which he was anyway even with the coaching changes, and it would have been tough to win big games with him under center. But I feel Tino would have been better with three years of coaching under Cignetti as opposed to having three different coordinators. Having Lewis, Graham, Hyno, Street, Shanahan, Cruz, Hubie Graham and DiCiccio would have given Tino more stability in 2011 and 2012. Not to mention the schedules weren't brutal in 2011 or 2012. Both of those seasons could have been like 2009: 10-3 records, likely not winning the BE title, but winning games. Something this program has had a hard time doing since 1984.

    The unit besides QB where Wannstedt was struggling to recruit for a period was the O-line. But Pennsylvania has had a rebirth at the position and Dave could have rebuilt that unit comparable to where the group stands now under Chryst. It's not crazy to think the likely starting five in 2014 - Biz, DoJo, Rowell, Rotherman and Clemmings would be the starters if Dave was still the coach. Dave also could have filled positions via a Penn State transfer during the period that the players had the chance to bail. Over 10 players did so in 2012 and you'd have to think two or three would have matriculated to Pitt knowing Wannstedt was the coach.

    All that said ( I really just felt like typing), it is Chryst's program now with his players in the fold. For all the talk about Paul being the QB guru, the team is a Voytik injury away from having an awful season. This was a worry under Wannstedt and nothing seems to have changed. I don't care if there was bad luck with Chapman, that was Paul's guy and it happened, so that's the reality. Nothing really seems to have changed at Pitt, just the coaches and the players. Mediocrity still reigns. If Chryst gets to Pitt to an 8-4 record in 2014, give him an extension. Stability, stability, stability is what Pitt needs, not another coaching search.

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    1. Please give me the name of one good Quaterback that Wanny recruited? For all his "elite" prospects he never got an elite quarterback or if he did, they never developed under him. Please do not say Palko because he was a Harris recruit.

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  18. There is nobody, but maybe Cignetti would have reeled in a top-notch QB. Voytik is a Graham recruit, not Chryst's. We still have to wait and see on Paul's QB recruiting too. Could be for some time if Chad is a three-year starter.

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  19. Anon @ 6/16 2:48pm, Wanny recruited some really good RBs but just coulnd't get a good QB, Stull was very capable.

    Morelli was a heralded 5-star (Scout). Flacco, an unheralded 3-star. Bostick, Myers and Gonzalez all 4-stars .... go figure! (Myers actually tearing it up at John Carroll -- ans Gonzalez can well be a pro LB prospect this year, FWIW)

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  20. Let’s say Wannstedt did stick around and as the above poster said, the schedules in 2011 and 2012 weren’t very difficult. If Pitt did post back-to-back 10-3 records with Sunseri under center, the records under Wannstedt with Stull and Tino would have been: 9-4, 10-3, 8-5, 10-3, 10-3.

    That’s a 47-18 record with a winning percentage of .723.

    That wouldn’t be too bad for a coach who couldn’t recruit signal callers.

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