Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Pat Narduzzi expected to be next Pitt football coach

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi is expected to be named the next Pitt football coach, probably in the next few days. The 48-year old Youngstown, OH native is considered one of, if not the best, defensive coordinators in the country. 

He has been the defensive coordinator under Mark Dantonio since 2003 at Cincinnati. He was the coordinator there for three years, after a one year stint as the defensive coordinator for Miami, OH.  In 2007, Narduzzi followed Dantonio to Michigan State where he has been the coordinator until now.

Narduzzi's defenses have been in the top 10 nationally for the past four years. They are his creation so this is not the case of former defensive coordinator Dantonio calling the shots. Complete creation and implementation has come from Narduzzi.

The defensive style calls for aggressive play, especially from the cornerbacks who are in the face of the receivers at the snap. His defenses make a lot of big plays and are often among the national leaders in turnovers.

As for his staff, Narduzzi will probably try to bring DB coach Harlon Barnett and LB and Special Teams coach Mike Tressel. But Barnett is a Michigan State alum who could very possibly stay to take over for Narduzzi. That may leave Tressel to get a promotion to defensive coordinator for Pitt.  Tressel, who is the nephew of Jim Tressel, has been a coach at Michigan State for eight years. He is the Spartans' main recruiter for Pitt target Anthony McKee. 

For offensive coordinator, QB coach and recruiting coordinator Brad Salem may be an option. It's been rumored that Vanderbilt is interested in hiring to be their offensive coordinator. He has mentored  probable future first round draft pick Connor Cook, and when he was the running backs coach prior, he mentored Le'Veon Bell.

Back to Narduzzi, he seems like a perfect fit. He is from the same part of the country, he's a tough no nonsense guy, and he loves coaching football. From what I hear he really wanted this job and he considers it a destination job. 

There's always a concern of a learning curve since he's never been a head coach before, but his defenses should be spectacular eventually, and much improved immediately. He will also keep the pro style balanced offense that Pitt has been built for. If he finds an excellent offensive coordinator, then I think Pitt could be excellent in the near future. 

Narduzzi will also get a budget that's better than Pitt has ever had. New ACC money and a new chancellor is a good start for that, but also Narduzzi would not take this job unless he got a high budget for his staff.

Bottom line, I had him on my list and if I knew Pitt was this open to coordinators then he would have been near the top of my list. Part of me is still a little frustrated that Pitt has to hire coordinators instead of hiring away Power 5 head coaches like others do. And while I don't know any names I have no doubt that some big names were interested. But Pitt clearly fell in love with Narduzzi. And that's easy to do, to be honest. If Pitt built a head coach in a lab he might be Narduzzi. A better fit would be hard to find. I think he has a much higher ceiling than Paul Chryst and he's a much better fit. Because he was never a head coach I wouldn't consider him a home run hire, but he is definitely a big swing that could be a home run.

Friday, December 19, 2014

An Early Look at the loaded 2016 and 2017 classes in PA

1.  Michal Menet, Exeter Township HS (Reading) OT- At 6'5" and 270 pounds he already has nice size and his frame can add a lot more weight in future years. Tenacious and moves like a cat. Has the makings of an elite offensive lineman. It's rare for an offensive lineman to be so far along in his development this early but before his junior season started he was loaded with major offers. His current top five, all whom have offered, are Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida State, and Duke. Other offers include Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, Michigan, Miami, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Rutgers.

2.  Kaezon Pugh, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) LB/RB- The next great Quip and that's saying something because they have supplied some of those most talented players to ever come out of the state. And Pugh is right up there with them. Already a solid 6'1" and 210 pounds to go with his very good speed and athleticism. I always thought he'd end up at linebacker but he may be just as good if not better at running back. Runs angry. Could be a big star. Offers include Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Michigan State, Auburn, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Miami, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arizona, Missouri, and many more.

3. Miles Sanders, Woodland Hills HS (Pittsburgh) RB- Looks much more slight than his listed 5'11" 195 pounds, but he's a game breaker with excellent speed, quickness, and vision. As a bonus he also has great hands and could always end up at wide receiver if he gets beat out at running back. Committed early to PENN STATE or he'd have a lot more offers. Still got offers from Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, and Virginia Tech.

4.  Naseir Upshur, Imhotep Institute Charter HS (Philadelphia) TE/DE- A little small for tight end currently at 6'3" and 230 pounds, but he's a very good athlete who is just flat out vicious at the line of scrimmage. As a blocker he locks on the defender and destroys him until he's 10 yards downfield. More than a blocker, though, thanks to his speed, athleticism, and hands. Projects just as well as a defensive end. Major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Arizona State, Arizona, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Virginia Tech, Mississippi State, Florida, Nebraska, and Florida State.

5.  Karamo Dioubate, William Penn Charter HS (Philadelphia) DE/DT- A beastly lineman that came out of nowhere this season thanks to his athletic 6'3" 265 pound size and big time explosion and quickness. Right now he could play end, but if he keeps getting bigger, which is a real possibility, he will move inside. Either way, he's beastly. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan State, Florida, Miami, Virginia, Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple.

6.  Damar Hamlin, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) CB- Great cornerback height at 6'1" and when he fills out his 175 pound frame his size would be even more of a plus. Very good speed and quickness. Should be one of the best cornerback prospects in the country. Offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Michigan State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, and Duke.

7.  Brandon McIlwain, Council Rock North HS (Newtown) QB- Of all of the top prospects on this list he's probably the one that could go either way the most. At 6'0" 205 he doesn't have ideal size, and he's still raw as a passer, but on the other hand, he has a very strong arm and excellent speed and running ability for a quarterback. A lot will depend on the system he's in as he clearly isn't a pro style quarterback, but if he's allowed to run a lot then he could be very good good at the next level. Major offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, South Carolina, Auburn, Florida, Virginia Tech, Duke, Clemson, North Carolina, Miami, Arizona, and Tennessee.

8.  Connor McGovern, Lake-Lehman HS (Lehman) C/G- The best thing you can say about him is that major colleges are still finding him even though he's outside of Wilkes-Barre. It's not exactly a recruiting hotbed and to be honest I never heard of the high school before. Big at 6'5" and 290 pounds. Plays center, which is his preferred position, and he explodes onto his defender with quickness and tenacity. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, Michigan State, Miami, North Carolina, Boston College, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Maryland.

9. Cary Angeline, Downingtown East HS (Exton) TE- At 6'7" and 230 pounds his size is obviously one of his biggest assets. He's basically just a wide receiver now but he'll be a tight end in college. Needs to fill out obviously, and he will will need to learn to block from the tight end position, but with his very good speed, size, and length he is destined to be a pass catching tight end at the college level. Has early offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Ohio State, Miami, Michigan State, Duke, Boston College, Iowa, North Carolina, Northwestern, Rutgers, and Virginia Tech, among others.

10. Aaron Matthews, Clairton HS (Clairton) WR- To say this kid is a tall drink of water is an understatement. Already 6'5" and may not have stopped growing yet. At just 175 pounds his thin frame makes him look eight feet tall. The best part about his length is that he knows how to use it by using his frame to shield defenders and jumping to meet the ball. When he does that he's virtually unstoppable. Good, but not great speed, but with the skills he has he could be a force in college. Has early offers from Pittsburgh and West Virginia, among others.

11.  Khaleke Hudson, McKeesport Area HS (McKeesport) LB/S/RB- Not huge at 5'11" and 200 pounds but he's rock solid. In my opinion, he's best suited at safety but he could project as a smaller linebacker or a running back, too. Good athlete that hits like a ton of bricks. Offers so far include Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, and Boston College.

 12. Anthony Long, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) DT- Strong 6'3" 290 pound interior lineman with a good burst and athleticism for a man his size. Has a lot of potential. Early offers have come from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Boston College, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Temple, and Purdue.

13. Kobay White, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) WR- In college football these days schools want either really big receivers or small receivers with ungodly quickness. But every year there's a good receiver in PA that falls between those two. This year that's the 6'0" 180 pound White who has good speed, quickness, and hands. Among his offers are Pittsburgh, Michigan State, Virginia, Rutgers, Maryland, Georgia Tech, and Boston College.

14. Andrew Pryts, Hickory HS (Hermitage) S- The John Lynch of high school football, the 6'2" 195 pound Pryts can really lay the wood. Just a vicious hitter. Also has good range and hands. Early offers are from Pittsburgh, Penn State, West Virginia, Virginia, and Northwestern.

15. Aidan Howard, Gateway Area HS (Monroeville) WR- Tall, very athletic wide out at 6'5" and 165 pounds. Way too light now but once he fills out he could be a big time player. Very good speed, too. So far only UMass has offered but there will be more.


These players just finished their sophomore seasons so this is just a preliminary list. There are more out there from this class that will be very highly recruited, and some of these players may not develop as expected. But for now these are some of the class that are already getting some college attention. I have separated the first two players because they are already in an elite category and it's going to be hard for anybody to pass them up as the two best players in the class. It's too early to rate the rest this early so they are listed in alphabetical order.

D'Andre Swift, St. Joseph's Prep HS (Philadelphia) RB- He was already considered one of the top two players in the state for the '17 class even before the state championship game, but that showed that he could be one of the best in the country for the class. At 5'9" 195 pounds he's solid, but he also has great speed, quickness, and vision. Could be a superstar. Already has offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Rutgers, Iowa, Syracuse, and Temple.

Lamont Wade, Clairton Area HS (Clairton) CB- The eastern side of the state has Swift but the western side has Wade. A rock solid 5'10" and 185 pounds already, he possesses excellent speed, athleticism, and quickness. Had an amazing year as a running back this season and could be an elite running back or wide receiver in college just as easily, but it appears that cornerback is where most will want him. Already has offers from the likes of Pittsburgh, Penn State, and West Virginia.

David Adams, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) LB- Took over for injured college prospect Ron George this season after an injury ended George's season, and he didn't miss a beat. Already 6'2" and 215 pounds, he is a tough, old school linebacker that just knows how to play football. No offers yet.

Damion Barber, Harrisburg HS (Harrisburg) DE- Highly athletic and quick pass rusher and he's already 6'4" and 220 pounds. Once he fills out he's going to be even more of a terror. Will definitely be among the top players in the class. Has early offers from Rutgers and Temple.

Paris Ford, Seton-LaSalle HS (Pittsburgh) S- An Ed Reed-type of safety who has the length, speed, quickness, and range to be a big time safety in college. At 6'2" and 175 pounds he has a great start on size and he already uses it with his hard hitting style. Also a very good basketball player. No offers yet but they will be coming.

Robert Hainsey, Gateway Area HS (Monroeville) OT- Already 6'4" and 270 pounds so he should be big enough by the time he enters college. Very good feet which is what gets you offers as a lineman. And he already has offers from Penn State, West Virginia, Michigan State, and Temple.

Josh Lugg, North Allegheny HS (Wexford) OT- Has a chance to be the the top lineman in the state thanks to his 6'6" frame and great feet. Just 260 pounds now but he will fill out over the next two years. Pittsburgh is his only offer now but there will be plenty more.

Dewayne Murray, Stell Valley HS (Munhall) RB- At 5'10" 180 pounds he has the speed, quickness, athleticism, vision, and toughness to be a big time running back in college. He also has great hands and is an exceptional punt returner. Barring injury, he's on pace to be the top rusher in WPIAL history. Old Dominion is his lone offer this early but many more will come soon.

CJ Thorpe, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) OT- Just a sophomore this year but he's already 6'5" and 300 pounds. He uses his size well by aggressively knocking the hell out of anybody that gets in his way. West Virginia is his first major offer.

Darius Wise, Beaver HS (Beaver) CB- Big time athlete with excellent speed and quickness. Also another kid who could get basketball offers. Could get a lot of offers at cornerback. Already has a BYU offer for some reason.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Final PA Top 20 for the 2015 Class

1. Jordan Whitehead, Central Valley HS (Monaca) CB- Excellent speed and quickness on a now muscular 6'0" 185 pound frame. He can also play on offense and is an excellent return man. Throw in the fact that he's a good kid that is very mature and he's the closest thing to a sure thing in this class. Chose to stay home and play for PITTSBURGH over Penn State, Ohio State, West Virginia, Alabama, Michigan, Michigan State, Georgia, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Virginia.

2. John Reid, St. Joseph's Prep (Philadelphia) CB- A bit on the smallish size at 5'10" and 180 pounds, but he was born to play cornerback. Possesses excellent speed and plays bigger than he is. Willing in run support despite size, but it's his ball skills that are really impressive. Great instincts and knowledge of the position. Has the potential to be an excellent college cornerback. Chose PENN STATE over the likes of Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Michigan, Michigan State, Alabama, Miami, Virginia, Maryland, and Arizona.

3. Ryan Bates, Archbishop Wood HS (Warminster) OT- You know you're an exceptional offensive lineman when you commit a year before you can sign and you still can chose PENN STATE over schools like Pittsburgh, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Auburn, Miami, and South Carolina. Needs to add a lot of size as he currently looks almost like a tight end at 6'5" and 280 pounds, but he has good length, and excellent quickness, flexibility, and feet.  He's also very aggressive. Bottom line, once he gets bigger and stronger he may be a beast.

4. Saquon Barkley, Whitehall HS (Whitehall) RB- Has impressed more and more over the past year and now he's a legitimate elite prospect. Solidly built at 5'11" and 200 pounds, he has very good speed to go with excellent quickness and vision. Also has good hands. Plays with a swagger. Committed to PENN STATE way back in February or he would have a lot more offers, but it was enough time to get them from Pittsburgh, Rutgers, North Carolina, Boston College, Syracuse, and Temple.

5. Shareef Miller, Frankford HS (Philadelphia) DE- This is a player I like the more and more I watch him, even though there's not a lot of film on him. Great length at 6'4" and 232 pounds but obviously he needs to add a lot of size. He's very thin right now, but he's also highly athletic with an excellent burst coming off the edge. He looks physically more like an elite wide receiver at the moment but once he gets bigger he has the potential to be a big time pass rushing end. Offers include Pittsburgh, Penn State, Oregon, Michigan State, West Virginia, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Arizona, and Arizona State.

6. Kevin Givens, Altoona Area HS (Altoona) DE/OLB- I know many will think I put Givens so high because he's going to Pitt, but the truth is, I had him at No. 16 until some assistant coach sources I know kept raving about him to me. So I put on his senior tape and I was wowed. Last season he was promising but raw. Now he's a beast. At a rock solid 6'2" and 230 pounds, Givens already has the physique of an NFL linebacker. He's also very quick and explosive with above average speed. He can project on offense at running back but he's best on defense. He's expected to get a look at linebacker first and I think that's his best position. He's already so thick that I don't see him gaining much more size. For that reason he may have less than ideal size for end, especially since 6'2" is a little short for end. Committed to PITTSBURGH very early so he didn't get any other major offers.

7. Sterling Jenkins, Baldwin HS (Pittsburgh) OT- One of the more controversial prospects for those that have seen him beyond combines and game tape (meaning not national recruiting websites) because the truth is, he isn't elite as an actual player in high school. In fact, despite his great offer list, he didn't make all-conference as a junior and was only honorable mention as a senior. He's huge at 6'8" and 300 pounds but he's not nearly as strong as his size. Not yet, anyway. He also has good feet for his size, but he also doesn't always use them well. You get the point. Basically he has huge potential because not many linemen are that big and can still move. But he is very much a boom or bust player. Chose PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Ohio State, Michigan, Alabama, Nebraska, Virginia Tech, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, and Tennessee.

8. Andre Robinson, Bishop McDevitt HS (Harrisburg) RB- Stocky at 5'9" and 205 pounds. Runs hard between the tackles despite size. More quick than fast and doesn't project in college to be a breakaway threat though he has good speed. Excellent vision and fantastic hands. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Maryland, and Rutgers.

9. DJ Moore, Imhotep Institute (Philadelphia) WR- Worked hard since last season and made himself a top recruit. He doesn't stand out in any one facet but his strength is that he has no glaring weakness. Not big, but solid at 6'0" and 200 pounds. Not a speed demon, but fast. Not highly athletic but makes all of the catches and runs well with the ball once he grabs it. Very good hands and route runner. Chose MARYLAND over Pittsburgh, Virginia, Duke, Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, and Temple, among others.

10. Ryan Buchholz, Great Valley HS (Malvern) DE- Size is what makes Buchholz a very good prospect and you can't teach 6'6'. That wingspan could help him be a big time defensive end but if doesn't pan out there he can add to his 240 pound frame and be a defensive tackle or offensive tackle. Not a great athlete, but he does move well for somebody his size. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Rutgers, Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, Purdue, and a few others.

11. Nick Bowers, Kittanning HS (Kittanning) TE- Very good all around football player who already has good size at 6'4" and 240 pounds. More of a receiver than a blocker right now, so blocking is a skill that he will have to work hard on, but as a receiver he has good speed and athleticism, and he catches everything in sight. He even runs the ball out of the quarterback position and runs reverses. Committed to PITTSBURGH over Penn State, Temple, and Purdue.

12. Jake Cooper, Archbishop Wood (Warminster) LB- Tough and athletic natural football player that has good strength and quickness. Solidly built at 6'1" and 230 pounds. Is probably best suited for the inside.  Excellent against the run but needs a lot of work on pass defense. Committed to PENN STATE over Pittsburgh, Duke, Boston College, Northwestern, Syracuse, Temple, Georgia Tech, Illinois, Virginia, and Rutgers.

13. Josh Adams, Central Bucks South HS (Warrington) RB- Dominant in his area thanks to his 6'2" 210 pound size and very good speed and athleticism. Runs effortlessly but there's always been a worry that he'd get too tall, never a good thing for a running back. There's been talk that he'd move to wide receiver or linebacker, but it appears he'll be tried at running back first. That will happen at NOTRE DAME where he committed after offers from Pittsburgh, Penn State, Stanford, Boston College, Rutgers, and Temple.

14. Jay Stocker, Coatesville HS (Coatesville) S- Very athletic with good speed. Very skinny at 6'2" and 185 but has the frame to add a lot more. Great range in the passing game and against the run he attacks the line of scrimmage like a bullet. Has a lot of potential. Offers from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Duke, Maryland, Syracuse, Boston College College, Virginia Tech, Cincinnati, Virginia, Illinois, and Rutgers among others. Pittsburgh and Syracuse appear be the current leaders.

15. Kyle Shurmur, La Salle College HS (Glenside) QB- Good 6'4" height with the frame to add more muscle to his 215 pounds. Father is current Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, so he has a high football IQ. A pocket passer without running skills, but he has an accurate arm and can make all of the throws. Chose VANDERBILT over Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Central Florida, Illinois, and Temple.

16. Alex Paulina, Canon McMillan HS (Canonsburg) C/G- Big and strong at a rock solid 6'3" and 290 pounds. Moves very well despite his size. Will probably end up at center at the college level. Played on a very bad team in his career and he's had some concussion issues which could be a factor in the future. Chose PITTSBURGH very early so his only the other offer was Virginia Tech.

17. Freddie Simmons, Catholic HS (Bethlehem) WR- Exciting receiver and return man that runs extremely well after the catch. Very good speed and quickness. Good 6'3" height but must fill out his 180 pound frame. Originally committed to Rutgers but he has recently decided to go back onto the market. Has offers from not only Rutgers but also West Virginia, Virginia, Wake Forest, Purdue, Kansas, California, San Diego State, Hawaii, and Central Florida.

18. Hayden Mahoney, Malvern Prep HS (Malvern) OT- Played right tackle and protected the blind side of star lefty quarterback, and future Pitt Panther, Alex Hornibrook. Great length at 6'5" and 280 pounds though clearly he needs to add at least 20-30 pounds at the college level. Moves very well. Needs to get stronger. Committed to MIAMI, FL over Northwestern, Boston College, and Virginia Tech.

19. Johnny Petrishen, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) S- Another sleeper heading into the season but he's wide awake now after an excellent senior season. Very good size for the position at 6'2" and 200 pounds. Good speed and athleticism. Very good range and football instincts. Very accomplished return man and returns a lot of punts for touchdowns. Pittsburgh, Penn State, and Virginia appear to be the favorites. Among the other 30+ offers are Maryland, Northwestern, Wake Forest, and Syracuse.

20. Amir Ealey, Coatesville HS (Coatesville) TE/DE- A little bit of a sleeper heading into the season but his combination of a solid 6'4" 230 pound frame and good athleticism and speed was too good to stay hidden for long.  Could project as a defensive end but it looks like he could get a good at tight end first. In a bit of a surprise he chose SYRACUSE over Pittsburgh, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, Rutgers, North Carolina, Temple, Central Florida, and UConn.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Next Pitt coach (continually updated)

Top Choices

Justin Fuente
Age: 38
Born: Tulsa, OK
Alma mater: Oklahoma, Murray State
Salary: $1.066 million

One of the hottest coaches in the country after turning around a previously awful Memphis program.  In just three seasons he has directed Memphis to a 9-3 record. The three seasons before he was hired Memphis was 5-31.

He made his bones as the TCU offensive coordinator from 2009-11. In those three seasons TCU was 36-3 with the Horned Frogs setting records behind quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Casey Pachall.

But it's not offense that has been leading the way for Memphis where the Tigers were No. 50 nationally this season. The offensive coordinator is Darrell Dickey who was the head coach at North Texas for nine seasons. Even though the Tigers offense has not been fantastic yet under that has more to do with personnel. The things he could do with Chad Voytik, James Conner, and Tyler Boyd makes the head spin, though he is another spread offense devotee.

But it's defense that's been more impressive, ranking No. 22 nationally.  Missouri alum, and Oklahoma native, Barry Odom, has been the defensive coordinator for all three of Fuente's seasons, and his turnaround of the defense has been highly impressive.

Fuente may be too young for Pitt, which would be a major mistake. He had only 51 scholarship players when he got to Memphis and in three years he has proven to be one of the next big things in the coaching world. He's also a no nonsense coach, yet refreshingly honest and charismatic coach, that players, fans, and media would love.

Fuentes just got a one year extension that takes him through 2017.

Doc Holliday
Age: 57
Born: Hurricane, WV
Alma mater: West Virginia
Salary: $600,000 + $145,000 possible bonuses

Much older than the other candidates and he'll be 58 before next season started. But with age comes experience and Holliday has tons of it. He started at his alma mater, WVU, where he stayed for two decades. He finished there as the associate head coach, and then followed that up with two more associate head coach stints at NC State and Florida before returning to WVU to again be the associate head coach for Bill Stewart for two years. When Dana Holgerson replaced Stewart instead of Holliday he went to WVU's hated rival, Marshall, where he struggled for three seasons before going 22-5 in the last two seasons.

This year Marshall is 12-1, though admittedly it's against one of the easiest schedules in the country. But the Thundering Herd have been destroying people. Marshall is No. 2 in total offense nationally, including No. 6 in rushing and No. 17 in passing.

Holliday not only has the experience, and the success as a head coach, but he's also one of the best recruiters in the nation, especially in Florida. There seems to be a lot to like on paper, and it helps that he probably will never end up at WVU at this point. As an added bonus for some, he so dislikes WVU now that he'd probably lobby the administration to play them again.

Next Level

Current Head Coaches

Mark Hudspeth
Age: 46
Born: Louisville, MS
Alma mater: Delta State
Salary: $1.025 million

Probably the top non-Power 5 head coaching candidate currently. In fact, he's been called the next big thing for the past few years and is said to have the "it factor". He's never coached outside of the south which is good because he has a lot of connections in the talent rich south. I'm sure some will wonder if somebody that has only been in the south could succeed in the north, but they're both in the US. It's not like he has to move to Russia. Johnny Majors was from Tennessee, Jackie Sherrill was from Oklahoma, and Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon were from California. In other words, if you can coach you can coach anywhere.

As a head coach he was 66-21 in seven years at South Alabama. Five of his seven seasons resulted in double digit victories. He left to become the WR coach and Passing Game Coordinator for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State for one year. The next season he took over at Louisiana-Lafayette where he was 9-4 each of his first three seasons, and 8-4 so far this season. The university's only other 9-win season came in 1976 so that record is much more impressive than it sounds. In his first season he led the Ragin' Cajuns to their first bowl in 41 years. He's 3-0 in bowl games beating San Diego State, East Carolina, and Tulane. Overall, his career record is 101-37 in 11 years, and his first year at South Alabama is the only losing year in his career.

Hudspeth is a very passionate player's coach who has gone into the team's weight room and bench pressed 370 pounds and 225 pounds 25 times. He is also revered in Mississippi where both Mississippi State and Ole Miss fans want him to be their coach should they need one.

He just signed a six year extension that will pay him an average of $1.075 million over the contract. That's a very good contract for the Sun Belt Conference, but Pitt would pay more than twice that amount.

While he's known as a very good recruiter, Hudspeth runs a spread offense which the Panthers may not want to go back to. It's not a highly productive spread, however, and his teams at Louisiana-Lafayette generally finish around the middle of the pack nationally. His defenses have also been average. But, it is at a very low level program so you can only expect so much from him.

Bottom line, he'd easily be in the top list if he wasn't so beloved in southeast. He has the look of somebody that will end up in the SEC very soon. For that reason, he may not be interested in Pitt and vice versa. Would be a major hire, though.

Matt Wells
Utah State
Age: 41
Born: Sallisaw, OK
Alma mater: Utah State
Salary: $600,000

One of the top young head coaches in the country even though he's only been a head coach for two years. Wells finished 9-5 last season and 9-4 so far this season. This season was even more impressive considering the Aggies were down to their fourth string quarterback. Star quarterback Chuckie Keeton played in just the first three games. Utah State finished No. 78 in total offense this season, obviously a product of their quarterback problems.

The defense under Wells has been better finishing No. 36 this season after being No. 12 last season. The defensive coordinator is Todd Orlando, the former UConn defensive coordinator from Pittsburgh. He's one of the more successful defensive coordinators in there country over the last decade. Why his coordinator career consists of stints at UConn, FIU, and Utah State is anybody's guess.

Wells was the offensive coordinator for this first two seasons at Utah State, under Gary Anderson, and in 2012 his offense set multiple school records with Keeton as the starter.

He's considered one of the top young head coaches in the country and even though he is currently at his alma mater he has not closed the door to getting a bigger job. Of course as somebody that lives and works almost his entire life in the western part of the country, there's always a chance that he could want to go back west eventually if he came to Pitt.

Would be a big get for Pitt but he's a western guy so the match may not be there.

P.J. Fleck
Western Michigan
Age: 34
Born: Sugar Grove, IL
Alma mater: Northern Illinois
Salary: $392,000 + a possible $236,000 max in bonuses.

A future star at a top program, but he's only 34 (barely) so that's probably a deal breaker. The former Northern Illinois star wide receiver was the WR coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and that was one day after accepting the offensive coordinator job at his alma mater. The one day is his grand total of coordinator experience. But even though he's young, Fleck has coached under some impressive people. He got his start as a graduate assistant under Jim Tressel. He's also worked under Greg Schiano

At Western Michigan he took over a 4-8 team and immediately went 1-11. At 32 he was the youngest major college head coach in the country. He immediately rescinded all of the offers for players that already committed. That was very controversial and it didn't help that he followed it by winning just one game in his first season.

With the hounds already at his door he responded by signing the best MAC recruiting class since the internet sites started rating them. The result is that he was 8-4 this year and was named the MAC Coach of the Year. He also is a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award for national coach of the year.

To say Fleck is an interesting personality is an understatement. At practice he lined up at receiver and torched the team's best cornerback. He also has done the polar plunge for charity (shirtless), and did a coaches only video of "Harlem Shake". His mantra of "Row the Boat", which is a sensation in Kalamazoo, is a call for the team to focus as one.

Bottom line, his age alone is something that will probably keep him from ending up at Pitt, but then you throw in his over the top personality that probably won't go over well in a pro city like Pittsburgh. He's somebody that seems very unlikely to replace Paul Chryst unless Pitt really changes how they do things. He just signed an extension through 2020, though it's doubtful that the buyout is prohibitive.

Pete Lembo
Ball State
Age: 44
Born: Staten Island, NY
Alma mater: Georgetown
Salary: $475,000

This is a name that's been bandied about by college insiders for awhile now, but some of his buzz may have lessened after Ball State ended up 5-7 this season. In four years Lembo is 30-20, but it was in his second and third seasons, when Lembo went 19-7, that he gained the buzz in the first place.

Lembo also had head coaching stints at Lehigh (44-14, 5 years), and Elon (35-22, 5 years). Overall in 14 seasons Lembo is 109-56, an average of 8-4. He's also 0-5 in playoffs and bowl games. But that can be a bit deceiving. The best program he's coached is at Ball State and they've only had two winning seasons in the 14 years before Lembo arrived. The two seasons prior to Lembo's arrival the program was a combined 6-18. The school thinks enough of him that he got a recent five year extension that made him the highest paid coach in the MAC. At Elon, the program was 14-42 in the five years before he arrived.

Bottom line, he's a very good, well respected coach, but he's more about solid efficiency than an exciting coach with a high ceiling. It seems like the Panthers could do better, but he's the kind of solid citizen that Pitt may like. And after all, they hired Michael Haywood from the MAC, and Lembo is much more accomplished.

College Assistant Coaches

Mario Cristobal
Alabama OL
Age: 44
Born: Miami, FL
Alma mater: Miami, FL
Salary: $475,000

Yes, it's him again, and this time he's an even better major college head coach candidate. I know Pitt fans downplay Cristobal but he's a great candidate. He did a remarkable job at Florida International, a place where it's nearly impossible to win. But he did win in his fourth and fifth seasons (the only time in the program's 13 year history that they had a winning record. After a 3-9 record in his sixth season, Cristobal was fired. After he was fired, the FIU athletic director received massive criticism in the college football world for the decision. FIU is 5-19 since Cristobal was fired.

After being hired by Miami as the TE  and associate head coach under Al Golden, he left six weeks later to be the offensive line coach at Alabama. There, under Nick Saban, Cristobal raised his profile by continuing his excellent recruiting. In fact, he's considered one of the best recruiters in the country.

Still young and charismatic, and with head coach and recruiting experience, Cristobal will become a Power 5 head coach soon.

Of course there's the big elephant in the room and that's that Pitt tried to hire him before. What happened exactly, nobody knows for sure. Did Pitt or Cristobal pass? And if Cristobal passed, what would it take to change his mind?

Truthfully, though, I don't expect the Panthers to go down this road again, especially since Steve Pederson wanted to hire him last time and the administration may not be too dependent on his opinion anymore.

Pat Narduzzi
Michigan State DC
Age: 48
Born: New Haven, CT
Alma mater: Youngstown State, Rhode Island
Salary: $907,000

Considered by many as the best defensive coordinator in college football over the past few years, Narduzzi has interviewed for a handful of jobs over the last few years. Last year he won the Broyles Award as the best assistant in college football.

Narduzzi started his coordinator career at Miami, OH in 2003. After just one year he was hired by Mark Dantonio for the same position at Cincinnati. After three successful years there he moved with Dantonio to Michigan State. He was up for the Cincinnati job but it went to Brian Kelly instead.

Narduzzi has interviewed for head coach jobs in the past and would have had the UConn job if he wanted it. But he has been picky in finding the right job. Texas A&M tried to hire him away at one time, but thanks to a family of Michigan State donors that donated money to raise his salary, he stayed with the Spartans. He's currently the highest paid assistant in the Big 10.


Greg Schiano
Age: 48
Born: Wyckoff, NJ
Alma mater: Bucknell

This may be a long shot but the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach is obviously a big marquee name that would immediately give the Panthers instant credibility. While he was a disaster at Tampa Bay he did the seemingly impossible and turned Rutgers into a winner. He was 68-67 overall at Rutgers but 49-28 in the last six seasons, including an 11-2 record in 2006.

Schiano, who is still only 48, would recruit extremely well in eastern PA and New Jersey, and he would no doubt have great defenses, but his personality may be a bit too big for the conservative Pitt administration.

Removed from the list:

Tom Herman
Ohio State OC
Age: 39
Born: Born in Cincinnati, OH and raised in California
Alma mater: California Lutheran
Salary: $555,000

The administration will probably want to go for somebody with head coaching experience this time, but if they want to take a flyer on a coordinator, this is the ideal choice. Herman is literally a genius and by that I mean he is actually a member of Mensa. On the football field he may be a genius, too.

The former wide receiver started as a wide receiver coach but after just four seasons he became the offensive coordinator at Texas State. He was just 30 at the time and in his first season Texas State finished No. 8 nationally in offense. After two seasons he moved with head coach David Bailiff to Rice where Herman led the Owls to two amazing offensive seasons. In the second season, Rice had not one but two receivers with over 1,300 yards receiving, a tight end with 111 catches, and a quarterback that was the conference MVP.

Herman then moved on to Iowa State to work with then new head coach Paul Rhoads. Again he broke school records which caught the eye of Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Now in his third season with the Buckeyes, Herman just won the Broyles Award given to the top assistant coach in the country. Ohio State finished No. 7 nationally in total offense despite playing three quarterbacks due to injuries.

Herman, who is also considered an exceptional recruiter, runs a no huddle, fast paced, spread offense, but not a fancy, gimmicky one. Like Pitt, Ohio State has massive offensive linemen so the Panthers biggest asset, the offensive line, should not be compromised.

Bo Pelini
Age: 46
Born: Youngstown, OH
Alma mater: Ohio State

Pelini was just fired from Nebraska in what was considered a controversial move by many, mostly because in seven seasons Pelini was 67-27, including 9-3 this season. Pelini lost four games in every season but this season when he didn't get to coach in the bowl.

Pelini will get paid nearly 8 million dollars total for the next four years so he's in no hurry financially to find another job. He may not find it at Pitt anyway. At one point the Panthers were interested in Pelini but his volatile personality is contradictory to the image that Pitt tries to follow. For those reasons he seems like a long shot.

Teryl Austin
Age: 49
Born: Sharon, PA
Alma mater: Pittsburgh
Salary: ?

Have to put a Pitt guy on the list but he's only been a coordinator for two years. Of course one of those years was in Florida and one is this year with the Detroit Lions where he's leading one of the best defenses in the NFL.

He was a very good recruiter in his day but he's only recruited one year in the last decade. He may also be getting NFL interviews after this season. It's debatable if he's really a "Pitt guy" that would find this his dream job since he's never coached at Pitt and he doesn't seem to talk about them a lot.

But I have to add him because you never know if the administration wants a Pitt alum.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Pitt 76 Duquesne 62

Good performance by Pitt tonight and I much needed win. The Panthers were favored by 8.5 and won by 14.

1. The most impressive layer was clearly James Robinson, who has been a whipping boy for many, so it was good to see him come up big. On the night he had a career high 23 points, while also adding 5 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals, and a block. Very impressive.

2.  Robinson is averaging 12.7 ppg this season. As a freshman he averaged 6.1 ppg and as a sophomore he averaged 7.6 ppg.

3.  Josh Newkirk was also very good and added 16 points, including 3-4 from three. He also added 4 rebounds and 5 assists.

4.  Another player who has had a lot of criticism, Joseph Uchebo, came up with his best performance of his career with 12 points and 9 rebounds.

5.  Chris Jones had another good game with 12 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, a steal, and a block. He's now averaging 9.8 ppg for the season.

6. In the last two games Newkirk is averaging 16 ppg and Jones is averaging 15 ppg.

7. Mike Young had just one point and went 0-3 from the field, but he also had 7 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a steal.

8. Jamel Artis had a dry spell but he's been more productive lately,. He was both good and bad in this game (sometimes on the same play), but he did come up with 9 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. In the last three games he's averaging 8.7 ppg and 7.3 rpg.

9.  Pitt held Duquesne to 37.1% from the field.

10. The Panthers out rebounded the Dukes 45-37.

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 Season- Special Teams and Coaching

Special Teams:  This unit has been feast or famine in recent years with some aspects good and some aspects bad. There was improvement this season as most aspects ranged from good to mediocre rather than good to bad.

For the first half of the season Chris Blewitt looked like an all-star but things went south in the second half of the season. In the first six games he was 9-9 in FGs. In the last six games he went 5-10.  Punter Ryan Winslow averaged just 39.9 per punt and finished No. 83 nationally. The team also finished No. 73 in net punting. In other words, out of the Panthers two kickers they got a half of a good season out of one of them.

The return teams had better luck. The team finished only No. 65 in punt returns but Tyler Boyd finished No. 17 nationally thanks to a hot finish. The kickoff team finished No. 43 nationally. The defense for the returns were pretty similar finishing No. 67 in kickoff return defense and No. 30 in punt return defense.

Overall: A good, but not great year and that's an improvement. It could have been significantly better if Blewitt didn't, well, you know.

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

Coaching:  The most controversial facet of the team which is understandable when the head coach that is 19-19 has some questionable coaches on his staff. It's not fair to name names, but if I did I would name Matt House, Inoke Breckerfield, and Chris Haering as coaches that Pitt should upgrade.

As for Chryst, first of all, he needs to correct his staff. He also has to stop losing to teams like Akron. Yes, Pitt is young and young teams sometimes do the unexplainable, but that's an inexcusable loss.

On the bright side, the team is extremely young, and in fact was the youngest team in the nation. I will get into details in a future article, but the offense improved immensely and it's obvious that Paul Chryst is in the process of doing wonders with Chad Voytik. The offensive line has been totally transformed with top talent and the running back unit is loaded. The wide receivers need to develop because it's pathetic that there's only one accomplished receiver on the team right now, and the tight ends are still criminally underutilized, but all in all the offense is good and getting better. In fact, next year, on paper, Pitt has the offensive talent of a top 20 team- at least.

Then there is the defense. I've said this before but it's important to keep reiterating it. When a head coach has his expertise on offense he needs to have an experience coordinator and staff on defense. Instead he has a neophyte coordinator who has yet to prove his worth and a few other members of the staff that have yet to prove themselves as coaches or recruiters.

The recruiting on defense and at quarterback are still questionable as is recruiting so many running backs. The front seven has no elite prospects at all as of this writing. There's no doubt that some defensive linemen an linebackers will develop well, maybe even into stars, but you can't count on that all the time. The same can be said for young quarterbacks like Adam Bertke and Alex Hornibrook. Either may turn into a big time quarterback and both are fine development prospects, but it's still a failure on Chryst's part, with his lofty reputation, not to be able to land an elite quarterback. And why the Panthers need seven running backs, and counting, is beyond me, especially since they only play one at a time.

No head coach is perfect. Nick Saban and Bill Belicheck has made mistakes, too. But the mistakes Chryst are making are correctable. if he can correct them and continue to add personnel that fits his personality then he may eventually succeed. But at the moment he is still a .500 coach that is still trying to find his way.

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

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 season- Defense

Defensive Line: This is where things start to get ugly. The one thing that stands out in this unit is that Aaron Donald's greatness made up for a lot of holes last season. Senior David Durham, a former fullback, was the best defensive end. That's a problem. Durham was better this year than last year but he still had just 28 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 2 pass breakups, and 1 fumble recovery. Shakir Soto, who the defense was depending on entering the season, was even worse. For the year he had 30 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, no sacks, no pass breakups, and no fumble recoveries. Throw in his embarrassing tirade against Miami and he was a total disaster this season.

At least there is some hope with the reserves, especially true freshman Rori Blair, who ended up with 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, and 2 pass breakups. Redshirt freshman Luke Maclean was looking good through the first four games, but an ankle injury cost him the rest of the season. But in those first four games he had 7 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 0.5 sacks. In other words, in just four games he did more than Soto did all season.

At tackle, like Soto, much was hoped for from Darryl Render. The replacement for Donald was never going to live up to that level, and he surely didn't, but he played much better than Soto. On the season he had 31 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and a forced fumble. Beside him, nose tackle KK Mosely-Smith had 27 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, no sacks, a fumble recovery, and 3 pass breakups. The numbers don't wow, but the nose tackle in Pitt's system is to hold the line so those numbers are actually pretty solid.

Redshirt freshman Justin Moody played little but when he did he showed flashes. He totaled just 8 tackles on the season, including a tackle for loss, a half of a sack, and a pass breakup. Yes, even he joined the "more production that Soto" group. Tyrique Jarrett was the primary backup up at nose tackle until he missed the last five games of the season with an injury. He still hasn't lived up to his potential and totaled 7 tackles (all assists). He didn't record a tackle for loss, sack, pass breakup, fumble forced, or fumble recovery.

Bottom line: Obviously another Donald was not expected, but this was a bit ridiculous. The pass rush was virtually non-existent, and it wasn't much better against the run. The Panthers were No. 51 nationally against the run but they also gave up 4.4 yards a carry and 24 rushing yards. Pretty bad. And how bad were the defensive ends? Donald had more sacks as a sophomore tackle than the entire group of ends. The good news is, Blair and Maclean appear to already be better than Soto and Durham.

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

Linebackers: Big things were expected from returning seniors Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas, and while they had decent seasons, they did not progress from last year. Gonzalez had 74 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 pass breakup (compared to 6 last year), and one fumble recovery. Thomas had 71 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, no sacks, 2 pass breakups, a fumble recovery, and an interception. Again, these aren't bad numbers from these two but they aren't necessarily good numbers for starters either. Middle linebacker Matt Galambos got the start in the middle but he also disappointed. He finished with 64 tackles, one tackle for loss, no sacks, one pass breakup, and one interception. He did finish better, though, with 23 tackles in the last 3 games. That projects to 92 tackles over the season.

Bam Bradley was solid, if not spectacular, in reserve, with 32 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, one sack, 2 pass breakups, and an interception. Fast Nicolas Grimsby had a position invented for him that would enable him to make big plays. It didn't work. He finished with 24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, and no sacks. He was actually better the year before when he had no position invented for him.

Bottom line: This was supposed to be the strength of the defense but they weren't much better than the other units, even with the return of veteran starters Gonzalez and Thomas.

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

Defensive Backs: With offseason losses this unit was looking like a disaster, but to be honest thanks to Troy Douglas this unit wasn't as bad as it looked like it was going to be.  In fact, it was the best unit on the defense. Let's start with the weak link, despite his experience, and that's Lafayette Pitts. The redshirt junior had 36 tackles, a tackle for loss, 4 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. That doesn't look bad until you realize that he was picked on more than any starter. That's especially bad when the other starting cornerback, Reggie Mitchell, was never a cornerback until the offseason. He did very well and ended up with 55 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, a sack, 2 forced fumbles, and 6 pass breakups.

True freshman Avonte Maddox struggled at times but he clearly made strides as the season progressed. He finished with 27 tackles and 3 pass breakups.

At safety, Ray Vinopal had 62 tackles (down from 83), and 2 tackles for loss, 7 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles, and 2 interceptions. He was probably the best player on defense but statistically he actually had a better season last year. Terrish Webb began the season as the other starter and played well until he was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Through the first eight games he had 33 tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, 3 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions. Pat Amara took over for Webb and performed very well, especially for a true freshman. He ended up with 18 tackles, a tackle for loss, one pass breakup, and an interception.

Bottom line: Thanks to Mitchell's successful move and the development of true freshman Maddox and Amara, this unit was actually pretty good. They finished No. 21 in pass defense, No. 34 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 39 in third down defense. On the downside, the Panthers finished No. 74 in interceptions.

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

Overall: This defense finished No. 28 nationally in total defense but they weren't nearly that good. When you look at the personnel and some of the stats it's amazing that they managed to rank so highly. The defense had no touchdowns, and they were also No. 113 in fumbles recovered, No. 65 in red zone defense, No. 110 in sacks, No. 121 in tackles for loss allowed, and No. 107 in turnovers gained. That's quite awful.

On the bright side, the secondary was good and could get much better next season. Also, the young players on the team seem to already be better than the upperclassmen.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pitt Football Final Unit Grades for 2014 Season- Offense

Quarterbacks: This was quite an iffy position for the first half of the season. Redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik struggled passing in his first season as a starter, but he compensated some by running well. In the second half of the season, however, Voytik's passing improved while he continued to be successful running also.

In the first six games Voytik was 84-143 (58.7%) for 949 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. He also ran for 169 yards. In the final six games Voytik was 74-109 (67.9%) for 1,062 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions while running for 257 more yards. For the season Voytik completed 62.7% for 2,011 yards, 15 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, and ran for 426 yards. He was also only sacked 19 times. He ranked 30th nationally in passing.

Voytik clearly got better as the season progressed, even more impressive when considering the fact that the competition was tougher. Voytik got more confident as he gained experience. He's also tough as nails and a great leader.

Behind Voytik there was virtually nobody else and the Panthers dodged a major bullet with Voytik staying healthy. Former walk-on Trey Anderson completed 11 of 18 passes and threw a touchdown. Adam Bertke successfully redshirted.

Bottom line: Voytik made strides though he still isn't capable of winning a game by himself. That day may come, though, if he continues to improve. With the lack of depth and a starter that can't win games by himself, the grade can only be so high, but the future with Voytik is bright.

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

Running Back: James Conner had an All-American caliber season and had more votes than any player on the ACC all-conference team. He was virtually unstoppable when the offensive line and the threat of Voytik gave him any chance at all. On the season he ran for 1,675 yards and an impressive 6.0 yards a carry. That was the fourth highest total in the country.  He was also second in the nation with 24 TDs, which also broke Tony Dorsett's school record. Not much more to say then he's a superstar.

As if Conner wasn't enough, backup true freshman Chris James displayed lightening speed and a tantalizing future by rushing for 404 yards and a 4.9 average. He also had 4 touchdowns. Isaac Bennett ran hard and averaged 5.3 yards a carry and 255 yards. He also caught 12 passes with an impressive 10.4 yards a catch. He had both a rushing and a receiving touchdown. Rachid Ibrahim was even more impressive with 221 yards rushing and an incredible 7.9 average. He also showed his normal great hands out of the backfield with 9 catches. If that wasn't enough Jaymar Parrish is one of the best blockers in the nation. He's technically an H-Back but he is often in the backfield as if he's a traditional fullback.

Bottom line: This is my first ever final grade of an A+, and for good reason. An All-American caliber 250-pound record setting halfback, lighting speed with James, tough runner with Bennett, versatility with Ibrahim, and a devastating blocker. The Pitt backfield is the real deal.

Last Season's Final Grade: C
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: A
Final Grade: A+

Wide Receiver: This unit has a superstar in the fantastic sophomore Tyler Boyd, and then an enormous drop off.  Even with the passing game struggling for much of the season, and no other viable options to throw to, Boyd still came up with 69 catches for 1,149 yards, a 16.7 avg., and 8 touchdowns.  As Voytik progressed, so did Boyd. In the first half of the season Boyd had 428 receiving yards. In the second half of the season he had 721 yards receiving yards.

Manasseh Garner was the other starter for most of the season though injuries cost him the last three games. Even before that, though, his season was a disappointment with 17 catches for 211 yards (11.8 avg.), and 2 touchdowns. Sophomore Dontez Ford filled in for Garner but has only 3 catches for 50 yards on the season. Kevin Weatherspoon chipped in 12 catches for 149 yards. Ronald Jones has 9 catches for 79 yards but he's back in the doghouse and he hasn't played in the last four games. Adonis Jennings inexplicably had his redshirt burned for 6 catches and 55 yards.

If you're counting at home that means Boyd had 69 catches and the other six wide receivers that caught a pass totaled 48.

Bottom line: Boyd is one of the best Pitt Panthers ever but the rest of the unit was extremely weak this season.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: B
Midseason Grade: C
Final Grade: C

Tight Ends: Every time I get to this unit I am disappointed. The talent is there, but unfortunately they don't get to show it. Unless of course you watch them block. The starter, J.P. Holtz, had just 18 catches for 166 yards, and 3 TDs. But he continues to be a devastating blocker. Injury prone Scott Orndoff continues to disappoint and had just 3 catches on the season. The H-Back Parrish added 4 catches for 25 yards.

Bottom line: I used to give this unit the benefit of the doubt but with Orndoff disappointing so much I finally have to lower their grade. But Holtz and Parrish are such wonderful blockers that it still gets a positive grade.

Last Season's Final Grade: B
Preseason Grade: A-
Midseason Grade: B
Final Grade: B-

Offensive Line: It seemingly took forever for the Panthers to have a good offensive line again but that day has finally come. Right tackle TJ Clemmings completed his transformation to defense by becoming All-ACC First Team and a possible fist round draft pick. Guard Matt Rotheram made third team and had a good year. The other three starters were more hit or miss, but thankfully more hit than miss.

Starting center Artie Rowell went down very early but redshirt freshman Alex Officer proved that he could be an all-star in the future. He didn't have the experience or leadership qualities of Rowell but he still didn't miss a beat because he is more physically talented than Rowell.

The other two positions were divided by redshirt sophomore Adam Bisnowaty, true sophomore Dorian Johnson, and redshirt freshman Jaryd Jones-Smith. The youth is evident, but the talent is there. Bisnowaty started at left tackle, but would rotate to guard in place of Johnson, and Jones-Smith took over for Bisnowaty.  All three were inconsistent at times, especially in the middle of the season when even Clemmings had some bad moments, but the fact that the Panthers are No. 14 nationally in rushing and Voytik was sacked just 19 times is all you need to know.

Bottom line: Finally the day has come and it was worth the wait. And the best part is, the unit should be even better for years to come.

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

Overall:  It's pretty obvious that the offense was mostly Conner and Boyd, but it worked. The coaches used them as often as they could, they stayed healthy, and they didn't buckle. They lived up to their lofty reputation as players and leaders. And when Voytik noticeably improved as the season went on, Conner and Boyd improved even more. The offensive line also improved as did the great blocking from Holtz and Parrish.

Put it all together and the Panthers were No. 41 in total offense, No. 14 in rushing, No. 28 in first downs, No. 13 in fourth down percentage, No. 21 in 3rd down percentage, 23rd in red zone offense, and 12th in tackles for loss allowed. Put it all together and that's an offense that's much better than average. And this is with a quarterback that's not a finished product, one passing target, and a majority of the line that's still very young.  What does it all mean? Mostly that Paul Chryst has built a very good offense, but it's still only half built. It should only get much better.