Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Mid-day recruiting update

Khaleke Hudson committed to Michigan, which isn't a surprise, but at least he will help beat Penn State instead of help them win.

But the good news is that Missouri DL coach Chris Wilson is going to the Eagles. He is the reason Keyshon Camp was planning to visit Missouri this week. Wilson was hired by Missouri this season, but before that he was the DL coach at USC, and he's the one that got Camp committed to USC initially. This bodes very well for the Panthers.

The Final Stretch

Signing day is Wednesday, February 3rd, and there's no contact allowed on Monday or Tuesday of next week. That leaves Pitt just five more days, including today, to finish this class strong. For the most part it looks like the Panthers are down to four targets.

Damar Hamlin will take his official Pitt visit this weekend (teammate and friend Bricen Garner will officially visit also), and I and everybody else thinks he will pick the Panthers when he publicly announces his choice on Monday. We'll find out soon enough.

K'Von Wallace has exploded in the last few days, and has recently picked up offers from Clemson, Michigan State, and Ohio State. He's still expected to spend the last weekend before signing day on an official visit to Pitt, and Narduzzi and four of his assistants stopped by to see Wallace at home yesterday. If he even keeps the visit to Pitt, with Ohio State and Michigan State pushing for him, that's a great sign. He really likes Pitt and the Panthers were probably the favorite until this latest flurry. This weekend will show us a lot. Will he show up, and if he does, can put do enough to land him? Stay tuned, because this one will be a dogfight. I know many see Clemson, Michigan State, and Ohio State offering and automatically think Pitt is out of it, but that's not necessarily the case. As I've always said, all offers aren't created equally. Those three schools may be offering in case another prospect falls through. If they are, and Wallace knows that, that could benefit Pitt. He also doesn't have much time to get to know Ohio State and Michigan State, and barely any time to get to know Clemson, though he's visiting them today. He got to know Pitt quite well in the past few weeks, however, and if he visits this weekend, he will know them even more.

Florida wide receiver Darnell Salomon liked his Temple visit, and it looks like it will be either Temple or Pitt. If he visits Pitt officially this weekend, and he's scheduled to be there, then you have to expect the Panthers to pull ahead for him.

It appears that another Florida 4-star, Keyshon Camp, is down to Pitt and Missouri. He loved his visit to Pitt, but Missouri has employed the coach that recruited him initially to USC. he's visiting there this weekend, then committing on signing day.

McKeesport star Khaleke Hudson is verbally committing today. It doesn't appear to be Pitt, but there's always a chance that he will still visit this weekend.

There is one already committed player that seems to be driving Pitt fans crazy. Linebacker Chase Pine, continually says he is solid with Pitt, even though for months there were reports that he was going to visit various schools. Now he is going to visit both Virginia Tech and Maryland before signing day. Linebacker coach Rob Harley is adamant that no players he recruits will flip, and this is his recruit, so we'll see what happens. The Panthers need linebackers, and if Pine does flip then they'll only be two joining the program this year.

Penn State has approached at least Rashad Wheeler, Maurice Ffrench, Therran Coleman, Bryce Hargrove, and Phil Campbell to see if they were interested. All turned them down. They were also trying to land Amir Watts and Camp. That didn't work either.

Former McKeesport linebacker T.J. Neal is transferring from Illinois, and wants to be closer to home. That could include Pitt. Neal had over 100 tackles last year, and as a graduate transfer he is eligible immediately.

The Panthers 2006 schedule is now complete:

9/3  Villanova
9/10  Penn State
9/17  at Oklahoma State
9/24  at North Carolina
10/1  Marshall
10/8  Georgia Tech
10/15  at Virginia
10/22  OFF
10/27  Virginia Tech
11/5  at Miami
11/12  at Clemson
11/19  Duke
11/26  Syracuse

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Panthers land two more for defense

It's been a very good weekend for Pat Narduzzi and his staff. On Saturday, New York linebacker Elias Reynolds chose the Panthers. The previous Rutgers commit is solidly built at 6'3" and 230 pounds. Known as a tough, strong run defender, I expect that Reynolds will eventually end up in the mix at middle linebacker. He is the third Rutgers commit to flip to Pitt, joining giant offensive lineman Justin Morgan and hard-hitting safety Phil Campbell.

On Sunday night things got dramatically better when former Western Michigan commit Amir Watts committed. The 6'3" 260 pound Chicago native exploded in the past six months and was courted by the likes of Penn State, Nebraska, Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa State, and Kentucky. He became a 4-star prospect after wowing at the Semper Fidelis All-American Game practices. Watts can play at defensive end or defensive tackle. I think he will end up at tackle where he can use his brute strength and catlike quickness.

Watts was on of two prospects that officially visited the Panthers over the weekend. The other was 4-star defensive tackle Keyshon Camp, 6'3" 275 pounds, of Lakeland, FL. The former USC commit de-commited while on his visit to Pittsburgh. He is still considering Michigan, Missouri, and possibly Ohio State. He already visited Michigan and is considering visiting Missouri next weekend. His defensive line coach at USC is now the defensive line coach at Missouri, but Camp enjoyed his visit to Pittsburgh very much.  He's expected to announce on Signing Day, Feb. 3rd.

Wide receiver target K'von Wallace dropped Virginia Tech as a suitor, which was looking good for the Panthers since Wallace is a Virginia native, but he just picked up a Clemson offer on Sunday and that is making things more iffy.

Darnell Salomon, the much discussed 4-star wide receiver from Florida, visited Temple this past weekend. The city got covered in snow, and it was the first time Salomon ever saw snow in person. He is visiting Pitt next weekend, along with many others (including Damar Hamlin), and there isn't expected to be snow. With it basically a two school race between Pitt and Temple, you have to like Pitt's chances.

On the downside, McKeesport HS star Khaleke Hudson has announced that Michigan and Penn State lead over Pitt and UCLA. His mother was quoted as saying that she felt at home at Michigan, and it was clear that she loved it there. Hudson left there without committing, and did the same at Penn State this weekend, but it's not looking good for the Panthers. He's scheduled to visit Pitt next weekend, but we'll have to see if he still makes it.

Also possibly troubling is that New Jersey speedster Maurice Ffrench is now being wooed heavily by Penn State. You can't really blame him considering the talent the Panthers are bringing in at wide receiver and cornerback, the two positions he could play at Pitt, but he's a fast and exciting player that will be tough to lose, especially to the evil ones.

As of now, Pitt has EIGHT prospects that were ranked 4-stars by one of the recruiting services, and I'm including transfer Chris Clark in that. The other seven are Thomas MacVittie, Ruben Flowers, Juwann Winfree, Amir Watts, Chase Pine, George Hill, and Kaezon Pugh. The Panthers have a legitimate chance of landing three more in Salomon, Camp, and Damar Hamlin. That would give the Panthers at least a top 25 recruiting class.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Jan. 22 Recruiting Update

Things are starting to get serious as signing day is just 12 days away and the Panthers are trying to end with a bang. Local star Damar Hamlin will be announcing on KDKA news on Feb. 1 eight after his official visit to Pitt. This weekend he (and Khaleke Hudson) is scheduled to visit Penn State, but we'll see if weather in PA changes that.

Speaking of weather, now 4-star Chicago DT is scheduled to visit Pitt this weekend. He's the only official visit listed though I'm sure the staff will have some local commits come in to help woo him. As long as he can make the trip with the impending snow situation (roughly 3-4" in Pittsburgh predicted at the moment), I think there's a pretty decent chance that Pitt can close the deal with him.

Florida WR Darnell Salomon was expected to visit Washington State on the weekend of the 29th, and fit Pitt in for a midweek visit before that, but he's now cancelled that visit out west and will visit Pitt on the 29th instead. He's visiting Temple this weekend and the Florida native probably won't be thrilled with the ton of snow they are about to receive. The weekend of the 29th at Pitt will be an impressive group (Hamlin and Hudson included), so you have to think the Panthers have a really good chance to land Salomon.  If they do then that means Pitt will have landed a 4-star QB, three 4-star WRs, and the former No. 1 TE prospect in the nation.

Cincinnati commit WR/DB K'von Wallace looks to be flipping and Pitt is looking good. He is also visiting next weekend and it looks like other than the Cincinnati official visit that he already took, Pitt will be his only other visit. Like Maurice Ffrench he could play WR or DB, and like Ffrench, if he committed to Pitt his position will be determined later. Wisely, the staff sometimes just wants to add great athletes, then worry about where they'll play later.

Pitt's first Junior Day is Feb. 6 and I expect some excellent prospects there. Unlike last year, the staff already has their meathooks into high level talent because they had a whole extra year to recruit them. That means the 2017 class may end up to be even better, and this one could end up being top 25 nationally.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Jan. 21 Recruiting Update

I think it's more and more likely that Henry Miller will eventually end up at Miami. I can see Damar Hamlin coming to Pitt and Miller going to Miami. Obviously Pitt fans would love both, but with Miami coming on strong I don't see the Florida native turning them down.

The Panthers staff are crisscrossing the country visiting both committed players and players that have not committed. But they are also offering, and visiting, some excellent 2017 prospects. or at least visiting their schools since technically they can't meet them face to face.

One of those 2017 prospects, New Jersey defensive tackle Fred Hansard, would probably be the best player Pat Narduzzi has added yet. The 6'3' 315 pound Hansard is huge, quick, and talented. He's the type of player that would dominate the line of scrimmage which would make the Pitt defense superb. The competition, however, will be steep, to say the least. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, and Michigan State are just some of his offers. Big, highly talented defensive tackles are so high in demand that virtually everybody will offer him eventually. The good news is that he absolutely loves Narduzzi. I don't think he'll end up at Pitt because at the end of the day Pitt is not Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan yet, and getting such a great non-local player to come to Pitt is not easy, to put it mildly.  But Narduzzi is going all out of him so you never know.

In the same boat is '17 Delaware linebacker Avery Roberts. The 6'1" 215 pound Roberts would be another ideal fit for the Panthers, especially since they still need to add quality linebackers. Other than Pitt, his offer list includes the likes of Penn State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Stanford, Miami, Oregon, and Oklahoma. Fast and tough, Roberts is one of the best linebacking prospects in the country so again this is an uphill battle. But Panthers linebacker coach Rob Harley is an excellent recruiter and he will make it his mission to try to steal Roberts.

A third '17 prospect that's now on Pitt's radar is North Carolina defensive end/defensive tackle  Matthew Butler. The 6'3" 260 pound Butler was recruited by Matt Canada at NC State where he offered him. Canada now offered him for Pitt, and the Panthers join schools like Penn State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, and Duke.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Jan. 20 Recruiting Update

Damar Hamlin was in attendance at the Pitt basketball game against NC State last night, and despite watching the Panthers play terribly, things clearly went well with Hamlin and Pitt. The Oakland Zoo made it their mission to woo Hamlin and did it by chanting things like "Hamlin Island" while Hamlin was in the Zoo and taping himself in the foreground enjoying the chant. He also retweeted a sign directed at him from the Zoo with a photo of the city landscape and with words about not forgetting where you came from. I still don't see how he doesn't choose Pitt.

Linebacker coach Rob Harley went to the home of New Jersey linebacker Elias Reynolds last night and it's looking like it's just a matter of time before the Rutgers de-commit chooses Pitt. Harley takes pride in getting linebackers that he has his hooks into so I can't see this one getting away.

Another potential flip is Virginia WR K'Von Wallace, who is currently committed to Cincinnati. Pitt offered last week and since then he also got offers from Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Arizona. He wants to visit Pitt. He's the perfect example of a good prospect that, because he's uncommitted late, his offer list goes through the roof because of programs trying to add a specific position late.

One potential huge addition could be current South Florida commit Darnell Salomon. Rivals first reported this so I did some poking around, and this one is intriguing, to say the least. From legendary Miami Central HS, the 6'3" 210 pound Salomon was once considered one of the top 50 prospects in the entire nation. At one time it appeared that he was heading to Alabama, and he also had offers from Auburn, LSU, Clemson, Miami, Florida State, Georgia, Notre Dame, USC, and just about every other big time program. So how is a kid this good available? Well, that's the bad news. While on a recruiting trip to Georgia he broke into a dorm room and stole a cell phone and a wallet. He denied taking anything until the phone was traced to his house in Florida. He was still wanted by Alabama, and others, until he pleaded guilty. He got five years probation and he sent a  letter of apology to then head coach at Georgia, Mark Richt. It sounds pretty bad and there's obviously a lot of trepidation about getting the reputation of bringing in such players. There's a reason why Temple and Washington State are his only other options at the moment. But from all accounts he's not a bad kid and the crime took place when he was just a sophomore in high school. It's tough to turn your back totally on a kid who makes a mistake when he was just 15 or 16 years old, and that's what Pitt can sell. Along with Jonathan Baldwin, he'd be the most physically gifted wide receiver the Panthers have had since Larry Fitzgerald. That's hard to pass up, and a wide receiving class of Salomon, Ruben Flowers, and Juwann Winfree would be amazing. Then there's Maurice French who could play at wide receiver or cornerback. If Salomon no longer causes trouble, he could be the steal of the century. But if he flops, the black eye to the university would not be good. Anyway, it appears Pitt is trying to get him in for a visit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jan. 19 Recruiting Update

I've been talking to the father of Thomas MacVittie for a long time, especially in the last month or so, and I've always been very confident that Jim Chaney leaving would not change the commitment of his son. The MacVitties are good people that believe in loyalty, and as long as the new offensive coordinator wanted them, they wanted to stay with Pitt. But Pat Narduzzi wisely found a coordinator that fits MacVittie perfectly. Narduzzi also made MacVittie the priority in this class by going out of his way to woo him before and after the hiring of Matt Canada. Mr. MacVittie told me that LSU was "relentless" about going to LSU but he told me last night that there will be no visit from Cam Cameron of LSU. It remains to be seen if that visit will happen, but even if it does it seems extremely unlikely that MacVittie will switch. The Pitt staff has practically become a part of the family and it's highly improbable that LSU could force a last minute switch. In fact, I'd call it a 1% chance.

Canada has also offered two 2017 quarterbacks that he's previously offered at NC State. Both Matt McKay and Hendon Hooker were in Canada's recruiting area so he has already built up a great relationship with both. Both are also strong armed and highly mobile, which shows what kind of quarterback Canada wants. MacVittie is the same so that's why it's such a great fit.

On the troublesome side, Florida defensive back Henry Miller is now being courted by both Miami and Ohio State. Miami has offered, but he appears to be a backup plan for Ohio State. I wouldn't be surprised if Ohio State offered Miller if Damar Hamlin chooses Pitt. Miller has a great relationship with the Pitt staff and other recruits in the class, so as of now the Panthers have the advantage. Hopefully he realizes that the grass is not always greener on the other other side of the fence, and sticks with the program that he's already comfortable with.

I still like Damar Hamlin going to Pitt, and I haven't wavered off of that for many moths now. As for Khalake Hudson, many are now predicting him to go to Michigan, but that's mostly because anybody that Jim Harbaugh wants, people assume that he will get them. That's not always the case, though, and Hudson left Michigan without committing. He's a level headed kid and I expect him to take his visits to Penn State and Pitt, then make a decision. I think it's pretty even among all three still. UCLA is probably too far away for him.

Amir Watts is another important prospect, and I feel there's a good chance that Pitt can sway him on his visit. He's close with Tom Sims, and the Chicago native will no doubt love the city atmosphere that the university provides.

Beau Bisharat, a 4-star RB from the Sacramento, CA area has recently de-committed from Stanford, and Pitt is trying to get him in for a visit. The 6'3" 210 pound Bisharat had Pitt in his top 10 after Rob Harley went to visit him in the Spring, and now they are going out to California to try to get him to visit the campus.

These are just a small sample of what's been going on. I will update daily (or more) during this final run up to signing day. It's going to be fast and furious. That's what happens when you become a player on the national scene.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Pitt has a new offensive coordinator

Pat Narduzzi has found his new offensive coordinator, and it's Matt Canada. Canada, who is going to be 44 in a few weeks is considered one of the better coordinators in major college football. He was recently the coordinator at North Carolina State for three years, but parted ways with Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren within the past week.

At NC State, Canada's offense were successful despite injuries and a lack of elite talent. In fact, last season he led NC State to their fourth best offensive output in school history, and the average yard per play was second best in school history. This season NC State scored the third most points in the ACC. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett could barely get on the field at Florida but after he transferred to NC State, he flourished under Canada with two year totals of 5,268 yards, 43 TDs, 11 interceptions, and 899 yards.

Before NC State, Canada succeeded Paul Chryst as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin. In that one year Wisconsin won the Big 10 and went to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin started the season by averaging 276 yards and 16.3 points over the first three games. Canada admitted that in those games he tried to do things the Wisconsin way. Starting with the fourth game he tweaked things in his own style and in the next ten games the Badgers averaged 437.7 yards and 35.1 points per game. Head coach Bret Bielema was reportedly overruling some of Canada's play calls and after Canada complained, Bielema gave him free rein in the Big 10 championship game, which resulted in 70 points and 640 yards, including 539 on the ground.

Prior to Wisconsin, Canada was also the offensive coordinator at Indiana (his alma mater), Northern Illinois, and Butler. He signed a three year extension prior to this season when Tennessee tried to hire him away as an offensive coordinator. He was also mentioned as a possibility to be the head coach this season at East Carolina. It unknown why Canada was let go at NC State despite his success.

Here is the official press release that Pitt sent me. It has more details:

For IMMEDIATE Release                                                                                               
January 8, 2016                                                                                                              
   PITTSBURGH—Matt Canada, a 24-year coaching veteran who most recently orchestrated some of the most productive offenses in NC State history, has been named offensive coordinator at Pitt by Pat Narduzzi

   Under Canada’s direction, NC State averaged more than 30 points per game each of the past two seasons. In 2015, the Wolfpack scored 33.2 points per contest, the third highest average in school history. 

   Canada’s Pitt appointment marks a reunion with Narduzzi. The pair worked together at Northern Illinois from 2000-02.

   “I’ve known Matt and his family for a very long time and I feel very fortunate to bring him to Pittsburgh,” Narduzzi said. “Matt is an innovative offensive mind, excellent teacher of quarterback play and strong recruiter and evaluator. He is a great leader who will provide our team and staff with a real spark. Most importantly, Matt is a tremendously loyal person who will be a great fit for Pitt.”

   “I’m thrilled and honored to join Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt football program,” Canada said. “I have tremendous respect for Pat as a person and professional. He truly does things the right way. Pat is building something special at Pitt and I’m ready to hit the ground running and begin contributing to the effort.”

   Canada served as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at NC State from 2013-15. This past season, the Wolfpack produced 412.8 yards per game—the fifth highest average in school history—despite losing leading rusher Matt Dayes (108.1 yards per game) to injury for the final five games. NC State led the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranked 11thnationally in time of possession (33:03).

   In 2014 NC State racked up its highest rushing total since 1977 with 2,659 yards. The Wolfpack averaged 6.0 yards per offensive play, the second-highest mark in school annals. 

   NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett thrived as a dual threat under Canada’s watch the past two years. Brissett threw 43 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions over his junior and senior seasons, earning the team’s MVP award each year.

   In 2014 Brissett was one of just three Power 5 conference quarterbacks with at least 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, 20 passing TDs and five (or fewer) interceptions. The others were Oregon Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley.

   Prior to NC State, Canada was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Wisconsin during the 2012 season. Led by All-America running back Montee Ball, the Badgers averaged 236.4 rushing yards per game to rank 13th nationally. Ball, who rushed for 1,830 yards and 22 touchdowns, was named the recipient of the prestigious Doak Walker Award, annually presented to the nation’s top running back. 

   Canada’s offense exploded in the 2012 Big Ten Championship Game, a 70-31 rout of Nebraska, to earn the Badgers a trip to the Rose Bowl. Wisconsin had two 200-yard rushers for the first time in school history and piled up 539 yards on the ground and 640 total against the Cornhuskers.

   In 2011 Canada was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for a Northern Illinois team that averaged nearly 40 points per game en route to an 11-3 record and the Mid-American Conference championship. The Huskies finished in the nation’s top 12 in scoring (12th, 38.3 ppg.), total offense (11th, 476.0 avg.) and rushing offense (12th, 234.1 avg.). Quarterback Chandler Harnish averaged 328.2 yards in total offense to rank ninth in the country and was named the MAC’s Most Valuable Player.

   Canada actually had two stints at Northern Illinois, also serving on the Huskies staff from 1998-2003. He oversaw NIU’s running backs (1998-2000) and quarterbacks (2001-02) before elevating to offensive coordinator in 2003. 

   NIU’s 2003 team upset Alabama, Maryland and Iowa State in earning a No. 12 Associated Press ranking. Canada’s offense featured All-America running back Michael Turner, who averaged 137.3 rushing yards per game to rank second in the country.

   From 2004-10 Canada coached quarterbacks at Indiana. He was the Hoosiers’ offensive coordinator his final four seasons (2007-10) after serving as passing game coordinator for two years (2005-06). The 2007 Hoosiers posted a school-record 412 points en route to the Insight Bowl, the program’s first postseason game in 14 years.

   Canada coached two of the most prolific quarterbacks in IU history in Ben Chappell and Kellen Lewis. The duo still ranks highly in various school passing categories. Chappell holds Indiana career records for completions (651) and completion percentage (.611), while ranking third in touchdown passes (45) and passing yards (7,251). Lewis holds the season record for touchdown passes (28) and ranks second with 48 career TD passes.

   Canada is a 1993 graduate of Indiana who began his coaching career as a Hoosiers student assistant (1992-93) and graduate assistant (1994-95). He earned his first full-time coaching appointment at Butler University, where he coached quarterbacks and wide receivers in 1996 and was the offensive coordinator in 1997.