I just have some thoughts and info that has accumulated over the past week or so, so here it goes.
1. The first thing I want to say is that PAT NARDUZZI IS HERE TO STAY!!! I understand that Pitt fans always expect something bad to happen, but with all due respect, don't be so paranoid. Only five head coaches in Pitt's modern history left for another school. Two of them (Johnny Majors and Paul Chryst) left to return to their alma mater, one of them (Ben Howland) returned home to coach the school he always grew up loving, one (Jackie Sherrill) left for a ton of money when Pitt had bad leadership, and one (Todd Graham) is a douchebag with no morals. Well, Narduzzi was born in Connecticut when his father was at Yale, and he spent his formative years in Youngstown before playing at Youngstown State. He's obviously not going to leave for Yale or Youngstown State. That means the only connection he is to Michigan State. First, Mark Dantonio is not returning to his alma mater, South Carolina. He's from Ohio and has spent his entire coaching career in the Midwest. Outside of the four years he spent in college four decades ago, he has no affiliation to the south at all. Not to mention that he'd be 60 next season, he has spent a lot of time getting Michigan State to where it is now, and he's treated like a god in East Lansing (including huge pay). Michigan State is also a better job. The legendary Steve Spurrier was only 44-40 in the SEC there, and it will always be an also ran in that highly competitive conference.
Also, Pitt is the closest major program to Youngstown at just over an hour. This is home for him. It's his area, it's his people, and he knows he can win here. Pitt is actually a better program than Michigan State, as Narduzzi would quickly tell you. It's very hard to recruit at Michigan State, whereas Pitt is surrounded by a very fertile recruiting area. Bottom line, coaching at a school doesn't give you some crazy, insatiable thirst to go back there as soon as you can. It's home that makes you want to go back, and home for Narduzzi is the Pittsburgh area. He really has no reason to go elsewhere. So relax and enjoy the man. As I said from the moment he was hired, he's the one you've been waiting for.
2. A win over Georgia Tech would be huge for Pitt's eventual win total, but I'm actually pessimistic for this game. Of Georgia Tech's four losses, three were on the road against tough competition (Notre Dame, Duke, and Clemson), and they lost at home (North Carolina) late to another excellent team. Plus, the law of averages says they won't lose 5 in a row.
3. The most encouraging thing about the fast start this season is that their actual on field talent is probably less than last year. The Panthers are without James Conner, Jared Jones-Smith, Rachad Ibrahim, Matt Rotheram, and TJ Clemmings. It's pretty obvious looking at that why the offense is struggling. Outside of Tyler Boyd there's simply no big time playmakers, and the offensive line has had two veterans replaced by the very mediocre Artie Rowell and the very raw Brian O'Neill. The future is extremely bright for O'Neill, who I think could be a first round possibility in the future, but he's just learning the position.
4. Even though the on field talent this year may be less, the talent level is about to go up. Don't get me started on the ridiculous Rivals ratings system, which penalizes Pitt for not having 20 recruits yet. That's just one of the reasons why you have to take rankings system with a grain of salt. Another is the quota that Rivals use. They only have 50 five star prospects and 250 four star prospects. But what if there are more than 50 or 250 that are worthy? Too bad. That makes no sense.
I can settle this debate once at for all, to be honest. At the moment Texas has two 4-star recruits and seven 3-star recruits. Rivals has them ranked No. 57, behind schools like SMU, Washington State, Illinois, Minnesota, and Wake Forest. And listen to this. SMU has no 4-stars, four 3-stars, and seventeen 2-stars, yet they are ranked above Texas. In average per recruit, Texas is No. 14, which obviously makes much more sense. So, bottom line, Pitt is actually No. 41, not No. 71, as Rivals lists. When it's all said and done, Pitt should be around No. 30.
Thomas MacVittie and Chase Pine deserve to be 4-star prospects and Maurice Ffrench is obviously a 3-star, not the 2-star they have him listed at. Pine is having a great year on defense and even at quarterback. He's been a major force on the field. Ffrench has been unstoppable in New Jersey and had over 400 total yards this weekend. He runs, he catches, he returns. He can do it all. And MacVittie is now healthy after an early season injury and is playing very well despite playing in the ridiculously loaded Cincinnati Catholic league. J.J. Cosentino of Florida State was a 4-star prospect at Pittsburgh Central Catholic because he was big, athletic, and had a strong arm. What was overlooked was that he was such a bad passer (less than 50%) that Central Catholic rarely let him pass. MacVittie has been much better this season than Cosentino ever was. And, by the way, he and his father absolutely love Pitt, and they've pretty much shut down his recruiting. That's why there are no more offers. In fact, his father often messages me with pro-Pitt comments and he can't wait for his son to get to Pitt.
5. As for recruiting, the first thing I want to say is that you shouldn't believe message board naysayers that Pitt has no chance for Miles Sanders, Kaezon Pugh, and Khaleke Hudson. Sanders has been secretly visiting Pitt for months and he's scheduled to have an official visit for the Notre Dame game. The Panthers could conceivably win that game and be 8-1. That's highly unlikely but let's say the Panthers are at least doing well at the time and Penn State is not. Both things are possible. It will cause a buzz at Pitt among the top local recruits if the Panthers have the look of a real winner. And Sanders could easily get swept up in that. In fact, what I've been told from those close to the situation, is that Sanders wanted nothing to do with Chryst so he committed to Penn State, but that if he still hasn't decided, he probably would have chosen Pitt. Basically, he got himself into a Penn State mindset, and he doesn't want to be disloyal. All along I said I would still take Penn State since he's already committed to them, but it would not surprise me for a second if he eventually flipped.
As for Pugh, he is not automatically targeted for West Virginia as many believe. He could absolutely end up going there, but Pitt was not happy about losing Aliquippa and they are all going all out to get them back in the fold. Both Chris LaSala and Rob Harley are on the case, and if they don't get him, it's simply because Pugh wants to play with Dravon Henry (for essentially one year since Henry will likely go to the NFL after his junior year).
Hudson may be a long shot for the reason that as a strong safety, he has no chance of playing over Jordan Whitehead. But Hudson takes great pride in keeping everybody in the dark, and that includes those closest to him. Nobody has any idea what he's thinking so anybody that says he's waiting for a Penn State offer or isn't interested in Pitt, is simply making it up.
6. As far as the other recruiting, I think Damar Hamlin, Aaron Mathews, and Zack Gilbert will be Panthers, and they will join MacVittie, Pine, Ruben Flowers, Therran Coleman, and Rashad Wheeler as the cream of the crop. But that won't be all. I expect a flip or two to Pitt, as well as a probably a few late Florida signings. I think Juwann Winfree is a real possibility, too. The one I am a little worried about is UCLA transfer Chris Clark, who seems to really want to play with his friends at Syracuse.
7. I expect the 2017 and 2018 classes to be even more impressive. I don't think Pitt will get Lamont Wade. He and his handlers are the type that loves the spotlight, and they find their value in where Lamont signs. I have a good feeling, however, with locals Paris Ford, Donovan Jeter, and Kenny Robinson. All three are big time talents. I also think there's a better chance than many think with LB David Adams and DT CJ Thorpe. Both would be crucial signings as they would make the middle of the Panthers defense very stout. A future DT combo of Jeter and Thorpe would make Pitt fans salivate. The Panthers will also be favorites for Brandon Ford's teammate at Upper St. Clair, Gabe Houy, and Devin Street's brother, Darian. Outside of PA, Ironhead's son, Connor Heyward, is a talented Georgia WR that the Panthers have a strong shot with, and elite Virginia DE Tyjuan Garbutt is another. Obviously there will be many more major targets as it's still relatively early for out of state targets. In 2018, it's all about Pine-Richland QB Phil Jurkovec. He will be a very highly rated national recruit his senior year. Trust me when I tell you that this is exactly the type of QB the Panthers need to make serious damage on a national level. And I like Pitt's chances- a lot. And he won't be the only really good WPIAL prospect in that class. I will have more in future posts, but let's just say that the WPIAL is strong again.
8. If Pitt could land Sanders, Clark, and Winfree the offense will get better in a hurry. Clark would probably have to wait a year, but Sanders would start immediately, and Winfree would join with Flowers, Quadree Henderson, and probably Mathews in a suddenly deeper receiving corps. On the opposite end, if they don't land all three, their future RB, WR, and TE units will still need a lot of help. It's a very crucial time in the development of the program.
9. Okay, this is when some people are going to lose their minds. The Pitt basketball team, and Jamie Dixon. Look, here is the way it is. Dixon is not doing everything right and he's in a very delicate spot at this point. His coaching is excellent. Trust me on this. You won't ever win an argument with any knowledgeable basketball person if you say otherwise. It's his recruiting that has been suspect. He doesn't have the perfect staff for him because while he's a great evaluator of talent, he does not close well. So basically he needs an ace recruiter, which he really doesn't have. But, Pitt will win this year, and they will win as long as Dixon is there. They will always win because Dixon is just that good of a coach. Now, he may not consistently win big like you got used to, but he will still win.
10. This year's team should go to the NCAA tournament, in what I assume will be around a 7-9 seed. Not many teams have a duo like Jamel Artis and Mike Young on their frontline. And after a year with a lot of dead weight, there's none of that this season. Every single scholarship player on the roster can play. Depth, youth, rebounding, perimeter shooting, and defense were all problems last year. Every one of those problems have likely been solved. Rozelle Nix, Rafael Maia, and Alonzo Nelson-Odoba are a three headed monster that's obviously better than having Joseph Uchebo, Derrick Randall, and an undersized Mike Young. Nix, Maia, and Nelson-Odoba are big, strong, they rebound, and they play defense. Graduate transfer Sterling Smith adds more defense, and his perimeter shooting will combine with returning Cam Johnson and newcomer Damon Wilson. By the way, the word I've been getting out of Pitt is that Wilson has been very good.
11. Assuming everybody that can come back, does come back, next season will still have a strong core of Artis, Young, Chris Jones, Sheldon Jeter, Ryan Luther, Johnson, Wilson, Nix, Jonathan Milligan, Justice Kithcart, and Corey Manigault. And there's two more to be added.
12. The key is what Dixon does in recruiting in the next year. Not only does he have two more to add in the '16 class, but he could have as many as seven more to add in '17. Dixon better get the recruiting situation improved before then, needless to say.
13. Speaking of recruiting, I talked to various coaches around the country that told me that Pitt completely mishandled the PG recruiting situation in the past few months. Kithcart was not even close to being the best of the bunch, yet that's the one they ended up with. In fact, one coach told me they could have had a better PG, Maliek White, had they waited. He called it "a colossal mistake" that Pitt had both visit at the same time. Another coach told me that it's unfathomable that Brandin Knight couldn't get fellow New Jersey native Myles Powell to even visit. White went to Providence, Powell went to Seton Hall, and former target Tone Carr went to Penn State. Not exactly inspiring to lose players to such programs.
14. One of the biggest excuses that people use as to why Dixon doesn't recruit at an excellent level is because of the lack of local recruiting talent. That's somewhat true but he inexcusably lost Maverick Rowan, and now he has elite local '18 targets Robbie Carmody and Curtis Aiken, Jr. on the horizon. He wasn't the first to offer either, which is pretty telling. In fact, every time I complained about a lack of an offer for Carmody, he favored it on twitter. So, basically, he wasn't thrilled about the lack of attention either. If he loses both, especially a legacy like Aiken, then he will forever be considered hopeless as a recruiter.
15. Lastly, Dixon will never be fired. Pitt is not crazy. What he's done at Pitt is a minor miracle. It's not nearly as easy to win here as you think. And if Pitt got rid of him, they will not get a big name. Nobody worth a damn will want to work for a school that fired Dixon. Believe that. The best hope is that he gets his recruiting in order. If he does he will continue to win. If you just realize that Dixon will win but will probably never be in the Final Four then you can just sit back and enjoy the fact that Pitt is still better than most programs. Not everyplace is destined for a national championship. In fact, few are. It is what it is. Pitt won't cheat, and without cheating there's no way they will ever be good enough to win it all. And if you want to root for a cheating team, there's plenty out there to choose from.