Monday, June 20, 2016

A look at where Pitt football's roster stands and what they still need to add

QUARTERBACKS:  The Panthers have Thomas MacVittie and Central Florida transfer Bo Schneider coming in this season and Ben DiNucci will be a redshirt sophomore next year. Schneider will have to sit out this season so he will also be a redshirt sophomore next year. Verbal commit Kenny Pickett will also be added to the mix next year. With four young quarterbacks returning, the numbers won't be a problem. Many fans may want to add yet another quarterback in the 2017 class but that is unlikely. You never want to use too many scholarships on quarterbacks because only one can play at a time which means you have a lot of scholarships being used for players that won't be on the field. On the other hand, you have to make sure you have at least one that can be a quality starter.

The most likely of the group to fit the bill as a potential quality starter is MacVittie, who hasn't even started attending classes at Pitt yet. That's obviously not ideal. Unless he really shows he's ready to see time, which is unlikely for most true freshman quarterbacks, he may redshirt, which means he could be the starter next year without ever taking a snap. Schneider has some skill and appears to be the most likely competition for MacVittie, but since MacVittie has a much higher ceiling it wouldn't be ideal if he can't beat out Schneider. DiNucci is a wildcard but he didn't see the field last year and he probably won't see it this year so his future is currently very much up in the air. And of course Pickett will be a true freshman in '17 so he will likely redshirt.

Bottom line: Not to much too much pressure on him, but it's not an understatement to say that the success of the Pat Narduzzi era pretty much depends on the success of MacVittie. Of course there's always a chance that somebody else comes in out of the blue, and that someone could be either someone on the roster already, or not on the roster currently, but as of now it pretty much comes down to MacVittie. Pickett could also turn into a very good quarterback but that's at least three years down the road. Pitt's program can go far with a good quarterback but an All-American quarterback can take them to a completely different level. That's why finding a quarterback with excellent potential every year is a must, and why finding an elite talent is even better. Whether or not this staff is capable of finding that special quarterback is still left to be determined. It could be MacVittie or it could be Pickett. But it will be a constant struggle to find that special one that the program needs to become a top 20 caliber program.


RUNNING BACKS: This may be, along with the secondary, the deepest and most talented group for the near future. Returning ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Qadree Ollison will be back for two more years after this season, and Darrin Hall, who has all-star potential, will have three years. That's good enough right there, but then Rachid Ibrahim will be back for two more years, and spring camp surprise Chawntez Moss will just be a true freshman this year. If that's not enough, highly talented Todd Sibley has verbally committed to Pitt and big time Florida athlete Bruce Judson is still a possibility. Fullback is even strong for the future as excellent blocker George Aston will have two more years after this season.

Bottom line: This unit is an embarrassment of riches for the Panthers and with running backs like this Pitt will be running the ball down the throats of opponents for many years.


WIDE RECEIVERS: There's a lot of candidates in this group, but it still remains to be seen if any of them have all-star potential, and truthfully only incoming freshman Ruben Flowers even looks like a possible No. 1 receiver. The good news is that there are some really good, if untested, possibilities as a No. 2 and slot receiver. Zach Challingsworth and Jester Weah will be redshirt seniors in '17, and beyond that will be Tre Tipton, who will be a sophomore this season, and incoming freshman Aaron Mathews and '17 verbal commit Darian Street. There's some potential there, but none have produced much yet, if at all, so their future contributions are still very much up in the air. In the slot, Rafael Araujo-Lopes and Quadree Henderson will have two years left after this season, and incoming freshman Maurice Ffrench, like Henderson, has speed to burn. Henderson could be very good and may get his chance to show if he's a special player starting this season. Judson, if he ends up at Pitt, could join Henderson and Ffrench to form a ridiculously fast trio in the running back/wide receiver/return man jack-of-all trades game breaker department.

Bottom line- This unit is in desperate need for an elite talent that will help the No. 2 and slot receivers succeed. Without a big time No. 1 receiver opening things up for the rest of the offense, it will be more difficult for the other receivers, and the running game, to flourish. Flowers may fit the bill, but there needs to be at least one elite receiver added in each of the '17 and '18 classes. One wildcard here may be '17 verbal commit Paris Ford, an elite talent that's been pencilled in at free safety, but has the ability to be a big time receiver too.


TIGHT ENDS: Former UCLA transfer Chris Clark is scheduled to start in '17 after sitting out this season, but behind him there isn't much. And even though Clark will only be a redshirt sophomore next season, if he shows a lot he could leave early for the NFL draft. Even if Clark stays for the '18 season there won't be much to go with him unless the staff adds two more tight ends in the '17 class.

Even with the former No. 1 high school tight end in the country on the team, which Clark was, there appears to be an opportunity for a good prospect to play right away at Pitt. For that reason, one would think that it's possible that the staff can land two good ones. And they have offered many, which is all the proof that you need that Narduzzi knows just how much two tight ends are needed. One option is big, athletic Charles Reeves who would be a huge pickup at the position because the other tight end then could be a developmental tight end with a high ceiling.

Bottom line- The numbers here are very week and if for whatever reason Clark doesn't work out things could get ugly. On the other hand, if Clark lives up to his potential and the staff lands a talent like Reeves then the unit is suddenly a strength. It's a very important time for Tim Salem's unit.


OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: The unit is pretty loaded at the moment but thanks to former head coach Paul Chryst most of the talent are in the upper classes. Stars Dorian Johnson and Adam Bisnowaty will be gone after this season and Jaryd Jones-Smith and Alex Officer will only have one more season after this year. Converted tight end Brian O'Neill will be a redshirt sophomore this season but he has potential to be a high draft choice so there's no guarantee that he will be at Pitt for his full eligibility. If he does stay for two more years after this season that would obviously be very helpful for the future. Alex Bookser is also a redshirt sophomore this year that has excellent potential.

The fact that Jones-Smith, Officer, O'Neill, and Bookser will be available for at least '17 means the line is not a desperate stage, but after those four, things are more up in the air and the next group has to be developed . That group will come from the likes of Aaron Reese and Carson Baker, who will both have one more year after this season, Mike Grimm, who will have two, Tony Pilato and Alex Paulina who will have three, and incoming freshmen Justin Morgan, Zach Williams, and Brandon Ford. Owen Drexel is the first to verbally commit for '17. Reese, Baker, and Grimm are veterans that haven't shown star potential and the rest are completely untested. And while the younger group have very good potential they are not considered elite prospects.

Bottom line: The unit could still be very good or maybe even excellent in '17 because Jones-Smith, O'Neill, Bookser, and Officer are very talented, but then things get a little more suspect. That's not unusual as offensive linemen develop later and you never know when someone like the lesser recruited O'Neill will turn into a star. Offensive line coach John Peterson could do an excellent job with the young players and get the most out of them, but as former elite prospects Johnson, Bisnowaty, and Bookser show it's best if the big talent is already within them. For that reason, the staff needs to add at least an elite lineman in each of the next two classes, and preferably a total of three over the next two classes, but the new staff has yet to show that they can secure that type of lineman.


DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: This unit was very weak until Narduzzi arrived on the scene but he strengthened it to a large degree very quickly. Even with Ejuan Price, Shakir Soto, and Tyrique Jarrett  moving on after this season there's plenty left. But Rori Blair, Justin Moody, Jeremiah Taleni, and Allen Edwards will also be gone in two years. Tennessee transfer Dwayne Hendrix has the highest upside of the bunch and if he lives up his potential he could leave after this, his redshirt sophomore season, and at the very least will likely be gone after next season. And if he's not then he didn't live up to his potential.

With eight members of the line likely moving on in the next two years there needs to be young talent to take up the slack, and thankfully for Pitt fans Narduzzi has already started that process. Converted linebacker James Folston has potential, and he also has two more years after this season, but the future mostly rests with incoming freshmen Zack Gilbert, Rashad Weaver, Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, Rashad Wheeler, Patrick Jones, and Bryce Hargrove. That's an excellent group and next season they should be running the show on the line. But it may not stop there as more elite prospects are interested in playing on the line for Narduzzi, including local star Donovan Jeter who appears to have the Panthers as his leader. In fact, the Panthers are involved in so many good linemen that it's pointless to list them all at this time.

Bottom line: There will be a transition period in two years when the next group will take over but it's such a talent group that it should be seamless. Despite the large group of players leaving over the next few years, this is looking like a very strong unit in the future.


LINEBACKERS: The veterans in this group are solid, but the younger bunch have much more upside. Bam Bradley, Mike Caprara, and Matt Galambos will be gone after this season, and Quintin Wirginis will be gone after next season, but waiting in the wings are Jalen Williams and converted wide receiver Elijah Zeise who are redshirt sophomores this season, and redshirt freshmen Anthony McKee and Saleem Brightwell. Zeise is especially intriguing if he stays at the position, and McKee can fly. The incoming freshmen group of Kaezon Pugh, Chase Pine, and Elias Reynolds are very good, and '17 verbal commitments Cameron Bright and Kyle Nunn are very good athletes that with development could be very good college players. But it doesn't stop there and the staff has targeted many top prospects at the position, including elite Nathan Proctor, local Kenny Robinson, and legacy Connor Heyward.

Bottom line: Zeise (if he stays at the position), Brightwell (if he gets bigger), McKee, Pugh, Pine, Reynolds, Bright, and Nunn are potentially the best group of linebackers the program has had in years, but none of them have done a thing yet so the talent needs to keep being added. Luckily for Pitt fans, Narduzzi and his staff seems to be on the case.


DEFENSIVE BACKS: Terrish Webb, Reggie Mitchell, and Reggie Lewis will be gone after this season and Avonte Maddox will be gone after next season. The star of the group, Jordan Whitehead, will be a true sophomore this season and if he leaves for the NFL after his junior year than he will also need to be replaced. But top defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so there's a lot of top talent to take over.

Dennis Briggs and Phillipie Motley will have two more years after this year and Dane Jackson, Malik Henderson, and Jay Stocker will all have three years left after this season. But most of the talent will be in the superb incoming freshmen class of Damar Hamlin, George Hill, Henry Miller, Bricen Garner, Phil Campbell, and Therran Coleman. If that's not enough, the '17 verbal commitments includes Paris Ford already. But, like I said previously, defensive backs love to play for Narduzzi so the staff is not done adding big time talent at the position for this class, and beyond.

Bottom line: This group is clearly flat out loaded, as was expected when Narduzzi was hired, and there's no reason to think that it won't continue.


71 comments:

  1. No mention of James Connor at RB?

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    1. I have to assume that it's very unlikely that he'll be back after this season.

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  2. I didn't know they were looking at Heyward as a LB. Did Loe leave due to the numbers at DB. He has been looking around at other schools for a while.

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    1. It appears that Pitt was having some second thoughts.

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    2. I wouldn't say that Pitt was having second thoughts, that is a little misleading. Pitt has other options out there and the kid wanted to see what else was out there, Pitt basically said not on their watch if he wanted to test the waters they weren't going to hold his spot. Other schools are showing interest and he has every right to go through the process(he will only get to do it once) and Pitt had every right to say go ahead but we can't assure you we will have room in the class.

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    3. That's having second thoughts. Not surprisingly he was realizing that Pitt was loaded at safety so he wanted to look around but at the same time Pitt didn't stand in his way because from what I've been told they were having second thoughts about whether or not he was worth keeping. Trust me, if they really wanted him they wouldn't just give up on him because he was looking around.

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  3. OK thanks. Do you know why Pitt didn't offer that Bordner kid from Ohio. The DE's seem to be drying up quickly. Kid looks impressive.

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    1. There's still 21 DEs they've offered that haven't committed yet so there's still plenty of options.

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  4. A little worried about QB (seems like MacVittie, who wasn't even rated that highly, has to be a star from day 1 or they are in trouble), and WR. But the rest looks really good.

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    1. MacVittie was a top 100 overall prospect by 247, and they were the recruiting service that saw him the most in person.

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    2. Well that's a good thing, but pretty much no one but the very very top prospects are ready as redshirt freshmen, I hope they have a plan B besides just throwing him in there in 2017 with no experience at all.

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    3. I'd feel better about MacVittie as a redshirt freshman than I would as a true freshman playing. One year in the program would do a world of difference for him.

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    4. This isn't 1980, plenty of QBs are ready as RS FR. It's like some of you guys don't know anything about college football

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  5. longsufferingpittfanJune 21, 2016 at 9:54 AM

    Chris,

    Mike Grimm came in very highly rated, but very little has been mentioned about him. Any reason why? Thanks.

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    1. He hasn't shown much yet. But he still has time.

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  6. Chris, I just read your latest post and I have a question/observation. This article talks mostly about 2017, with sidebars about 2016. I don't remember you writing about the 2016 season, so I went back and looked at your posts for the last year and couldn't find a post about the 2016 season. I am somewhat confused about this. Could you please clarify as to why your current post is mostly about 2017? Thanks

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    1. It's about the current class and what they need to bring in right now. At the end of summer I will have stuff about the upcoming season.

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  7. OK, thanks for the clarification. Look forward to your article re: your expectations for Pitt FB for 2016.

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    1. I wait until just before the opener because so many things will happen during preseason practices.

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  8. Doke when you going to unblock me from twitter

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    1. It depends on who you are and what you said.

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    2. well my biggest grievance was that I disagreed with you on twitter.....you have decent stuff to say, but man grow some thicker skin bud

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    3. People disagree with me all the time. Some for many years. But if you disagree by calling me a name then I'm going to block you.

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    4. Fair enough but I don't think I did.....anyways

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    5. Well what's your Twitter name and when did I block you?

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    6. @koromaus and I have no idea when you did

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  9. Chris, is Pitt still in it for Wade? 247 is trending to PSU.

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    1. They're still in it. He's just trending to them because he was just there and sad it was starting to feel like home. Everyone seems to vote on what a kid says last. Having said that, I've said for a long time that his dad has stars in his eyes and I don't think Lamont will end up at Pitt.

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  10. Guys when your recuiting with the big boys it's going to be a long prosses.I like what there doing big schools can't get them all.

    JC

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  11. Posting a few articles may garner interest from the blather faithful....just sayin home boy.

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    1. Evalu8r - After your finished reading and commenting on Chris' articles here on Panther's Prey you might want to jump over to a new Pitt football blog - The Pitt POV. (pittpov.com)

      I started it two weeks ago and shifted over from being the football writer on The Pitt Blather to my new venture. L kept all the associated media credentials, etc... so that remains intact - same type articles - different venue.

      I don't really touch on recruiting so much mainly because Chris does such a good job with that and I end up linking to this blog regularly.

      Anyway - a lot of the Blahter readers have come over to The Pitt POV also, we are getting good discussions and the site has done well and is growing daily. It is different than Panther's Prey in that I post something at least 5 times a week and shoot for every day whereas Chris does his deep research and puts out these incredibly detailed, and fun to read, articles.

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  12. Are all white western pa kids Catholic wow! What's the Irish doing that all won't to go there?

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  13. Chris, on the pantherlair podcast the idea of pitt using multiple rb formations & integrating them into the pass game more has been brought up a few times now. Once by andre powell, once by chris peak regarding a comment narduzzi made about moving conner to wr (jokingly, obviously).

    To me, its a no brainer that they should do it given that pitt is 5 deep at rb and the closest thing to a proven wr pitt has only had about 25 catches last year (ford). Theres only so many carries to give & if ibrahim, hall, moss can produce id hate to see them ride the bench.

    Do you think the staff will actually employ 2,3, even 4 rb sets and pass to them frequently? Or is this just empty coach speak?

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    1. I think they'll definitely utilize their RBs. In fact, I think they'll run them into the ground. And why not? It's a loaded position. Play to your strengths.

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    2. Couldn't agree more. If they do, and a few wr's step up (which im not overly optimistic about) then this offense could be in the top 1/4th in the country

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  14. College football and basketball is and always will be about the $$$ when it comes to players

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  15. With each new committment I get less and less excited about this 2017 class....

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    1. That's too bad because it's a good class. And the best is yet to come. The biggies for Pitt always come later.

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  16. Well it just seems so similar to every Pitt class of the past 20 years. I thought with an extra year to build relationships Narduzzi would improve over past recruiting, but it's just a bunch of mid-level 3 star guys with no other good offers, which is what they've always gotten.

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    1. The class isn't even halfway complete yet. And if you look at the supposed 4 star prospects Pitt signed in the last 10 years or so you would be shocked at how many failed. Rivals telling you someone is a 4 star should not be the standard. If they knew how to rate players they'd be employed by a college, not an Internet website. I'd take the opinion of Pat Narduzzi over Mike Farrell any day.

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    2. I'd trust his opinion too if all things were equal. It's not the opinion of Narduzzi though. I'm sure he's trying to get the highly rated guys too. He's not passing on them because he likes the 3 star guys better, the higher ranked guys just don't want to come to Pitt and he's picking the best from what's left.

      You can debate star rankings, but if you look at the top rated rivals classes every year, most of them are the teams that finish the best every year: Alabama, Florida State, Michigan, OSU. Sure some prospects are incorrectly rated, but that's why you need to get a lot of the high ranked guys to cover for the ones that fail. The good teams do that every year.

      Also, you can go by avg. star ranking per recruit if you want, but rivals also rates within the star-groups. 3 star guys go from 5.5-5.7. All of Pitt's 3 star guys are not only 3 star guys, but on the lower end of the 3 star group, with 5.5 ratings. If that isn't enough to convince you, just look at the other offers most of these guys were getting.

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  17. Also, the rivals rankings of Pitt recruiting classes of the past 10 years have pretty much matched up with their level of success on the field.

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    1. I didn't mean individual player rankings I meant overall class rank. My mistake that wasn't clear.

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  18. Aaron Donald, Darrelle Revis, Dion Lewis, and James Conner were 3 stars. Antonio Bryant was a 2 star. Deaysean Rippy, Chris Burns, and Jack Lippert were some of the 4 stars. What more proof do you need that it means nothing?

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    1. Sure you can find guys here and there that are mistakes. I meant overall.

      Overall, the teams with the highest ranked classes end up doing the best. Look at the teams that have rated in the top 10 from 2010-2015 and look how well most of those teams did last year. Not every single one, but most.

      In Pitt's specific case, overall their classes from the past 10 years have been medicore and unexciting, and the overall team performance on the field has matched that.

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    2. Pitt is not going to get top 20 classes right off the bat. They have to start winning first. There are better options out there for kids right now. Pitt has to make themselves more desirable by winning.

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    3. Well I agree with you 100% on that. I just don't see what so far has made Narduzzi any more exciting than any other coach they've had, besides his more entertaining personality. If not recruiting class rankings, what can we go by?

      And 8-5 record was nice, but when they actually got to the part of the schedule where they played good teams, they finished 2-4, and the recruiting rankings are about where they've always been. I want to believe, I just don't see the reason for all the optimism.

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    4. He's been there one year and went 8-5. And he has added some very talent HS players and transfers.

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    5. I seem to recall that Aaron Donald was rated as a 4-star recruit. I remember that because I was surprised that a guy that small (6' and 250 lbs. back then) could be ranked so highly as an inside DL.

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    6. Also, correct me if I'm wrong, but I seem to recall that James Connor was only a 2-star recruit. Which makes your point even more.

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  19. Chris, 2 Commits this week and no posts? Get back on the horse Buddy. This is a great blog.

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  20. I couldn't agree with you more Chris. The coaches are the talent scouts. We have to depend on their insights to get this job done correctly. The "5 Star" system isn't necessarily a bad way to evaluate talent but we're not going to be in the hunt for the obvious talents untils we're top 10 consistently. That said, I'll trust the staff to make good decisions and recruit guys who will develop into stars.

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  21. Look there doing the best they can all most of the wpial good player are white suburban kid that don't go to city school there net is wide not over by a long shot.if you really look there getting there players not there first choice but kids that fit.....

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  22. Anon@4:52PM

    Get someone to edit your posts. Bad spelling, run-on sentences, etc. Did you pass your English classes?

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  23. I thought his use of the word "there" three times in his last sentence, and not a single one of them correct, was pretty special.

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  24. Question for yall why would ups fans buy Pitt season tickets?would they not be able to buy just that one game on line?Chris anyone?

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    1. I don't understand how it was cheaper. Price for the PSU game is 110. What season tickets are 110....I think it was because it was the only way to obtain them while still relatively cheap...

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  25. It is important for PItt to finish in the top 30 in recruiting and hopefully crack the top 25 if we get a few breaks this year. Once we get to a top 25 ranking, the sales pitch changes for our recruiters.

    We can then say to a recruit to look at the trajectory of the program since Narduzzi arrived. "With you joining the team, we can take the next leap from 25 ranking to top 15" and so on. It is a process. The foundation is being laid.

    It would be a good idea to do a recruiting update and also the progress of Pitt camp. I can see a 9-3 season with a solid start 2-1. The middle of the schedule is all winnable and I think Miami will be beatable as their schedule is brutal coming into the Pitt game. NC, lost their bigtime qb. Go 9-3 and Pitt is top 20. End top 20, the recruiting class improves tremendously, which kicks off the 18 recruiting cycle!

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  26. That good thinking hope it comes true.

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  27. Chris, do you think that Pitt will be able to hold onto Narduzzi for more than 5 years? If he leaves would the program collapse?

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    1. Collapse may be a bit strong. If he left after turning Pitt into a power than there's a chance that they'll promote from within and they can sustain what Narduzzi built. As for whether or not they can keep him, they better. The difference between good programs and great programs is how much money they put into it. So if they won't to be great instead of good they'll pay him to stay.

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  28. Chris would like your thoughts on the Jeter kid.His final five didn't have NDNOW HIS OV TO THEM SCOUT HAS him HIGH on them now?

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    1. I think he'll end up at Pitt. He just doesn't want other schools to know so that they won't stop recruiting him.

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  29. Doke - Any response to the folks melting down on message aboard about the state of recruiting to date for the 2017 class? Know you've been bullish on Twitter about how you think Narduzzi will close this class--and about the players he's pulled in.

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    1. The class will be fine. It's not a problem.

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    2. I get the "I trust the coach more than the star rankings" thinking, but doesn't that make it really tough to evaluate any class because no coach is ever going to talk badly about the players they end up with. They'd never say "well we REALLY wanted this guy but got this guy instead". So if you throw out the ranking, what can you really determine?

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  30. They got 2 big Kids at a position of need. My question is what took them so long to offer?They were right in there back yard.we are talking tight end here.

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  31. I see Exree Loe committed to WVU. Why did he drop Pitt for a mostly lateral move? Was he encouraged to drop his commitment or, was he scared that Pitt had a secondary that was too talented and he was scared of the competition?

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    1. It was a combination of him not liking the competition at Pitt, visiting other schools, and Pitt not seeing a fit anymore.

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