Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Year 3 Dip

Prior to this season, I talked about how often in year three of a coaching tenure, there is a bit of a dip. It happens because any good players from the previous regime have graduated, and any that weren't good, or didn't fit with the new style, were weeded out. Therefore this is a gap between the players of the past coach, and the too young players of the new coach. Also, this usually is only the case of a team that doesn't have a ton of talent. At elite programs there is usually so much talent, and usually such good freshmen coming gin with the new coach, that this dip doesn't happen. Even programs that are considered elite now, like Clemson and LSU, were not elite when the coaches below took over.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson- Took over for Tommy Bowden, who averaged an 8-5 record. Swinney took over at midseason for Bowden, and he went 4-3 on a team that ended up 7-6. In his second season, he went 9-5. In his third season, he fell to 6-7. He then won 10-14 games in the next six seasons, and is on his way to do the same this season.

Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech- Took over a 7-6 team from Chan Gailey. Went 9-4 and 10-3 in his first two seasons, then went 6-7 in his third year. He's had 8, 9, and 11 seasons since.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina- Took over for interim head coach Everett Winters, who was 7-6 in his lone season. In Fedora's first two season he went 8-4 and 7-6. In his third season, he went 6-7. In his fourth season, he went 11-3.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State- Took over for Les Miles after a 7-5 season. He went 4-7 and 7-6 in the first two seasons, then in year three he also went 7-6. Then he won 9 games each of the next two years, and then had 11 and 12 win seasons right after that.

Gary Patterson, TCU- Took over a 10-2 Dennis Franchione team, and went 6-6 in his first season before going 10-2 and 11-2 in the next seasons. In year four he went 5-6, then ripped off 11-13 wins six more times over the next seven years. Not the third season, but still interesting.

Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia- Took over a 9-4 Bill Stewart team and went 10-3 and 7-6 in his first two seasons before falling to 4-8 in season three.

Mark Dantonio, Michigan State- Took over a 4-8 John L. Smith team and went 7-6 and 9-4 in his first two seasons. In year three he went 6-7. He then won 11-13 wins five times over the next six years.

Butch Davis, Miami- Took over a 10-2 Dennis Erickson team, and went 8-3 and 9-3 in his first two years. In year three he went 5-6. In his next three years at the school he went 9-3, 9-4, and 11-1.

Mike Leach, Washington State- Took over a 4-8 Paul Wulff team and went 3-9 and 6-7 in the first two seasons, before going 3-9 in year three. In year four he went 9-4.

Nick Saban, LSU- Took over a 3-8 Gerry Dinardo team. He went 8-4 and 10-3, then in year three he went 8-5, which was his worst season there. The next year he won the National Championship.

Bret Bielema, Wisconsin- Took over a 10-3 Barry Alvarez team, then went 12-1 and 9-4 in the first two years. In year three he went 7-6, which was his worst season at the school. In the next three years he won 10 games, and then 11 games twice.

Gus Malzahn, Auburn- Took over a 3-9 Gene Chizik team, and went 12-2 in the first season. In year two he went 8-5, and year three he went 7-6, which was his worst season at the school.

Kevin Sumlin, Houston- Took over an 8-5 Art Briles team, then went 8-5 and 10-4 in the next two years. In year three he went 5-7. In year four he went 12-1.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Top 25 Update (Oct. 16)

Using my own points formula, this is how the teams are ranked for what they've accomplished instead of what they may accomplish. Remember, this not ranked at how good the teams are, merely what they've done against their schedule so far. The cream will rise to the top as the season goes further along.

1. TCU- The large road win at elite Oklahoma State has gone a long way. A road win, against an elite team, on the road, is the most points I give on the scale. If Oklahoma State stops being elite, the points for that win will lessen. They also have wins over WVU and Kansas St, two teams currently projected to be bowl teams. But even with a blowout win against Kansas this week, their rating may drop because I have Kansas in the "poor team" category, a rarity for a Power 5 school. Beating a poor team, especially at home, doesn't do much for your rating. They still have games against Texas (home), Texas Tech (away), and Oklahoma (away), plus Iowa State (away) may also move from the average category to the good category. There's a lot of points there, but there's also a few chances to lose.

2.  Georgia- Great win at Notre Dame, plus blew out Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. On the downside, they played two lower division teams in Appalachian State and Samford. Their last five games- Florida (neutral), South Carolina (home), at Auburn (away), Kentucky (home), and Georgia Tech (away)- will give the Bulldogs plenty of chances to keep getting a lot of points.

3.  Miami- No great wins, but four of the five wins were pretty decent so far, with a blowout at Duke and a win at Florida State, and home wins against Georgia Tech and even a good Toledo team. But they are also helped in these rankings by playing only five games so far. The rest of their schedule is not very difficult, so unless they go undefeated they will probably drop a decent amount. Home games against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame are their only tough games left.

4.  Alabama- There's no doubt that this is the best team in the country right now, but they are hurt in these rankings because of their less than stellar schedule. Even a win over Florida State doesn't mean as much because they aren't the elite team that was expected. Their best win was at Texas A&M by 8, and they aren't even a top 25 team yet. The only three remaining games that could be competitive are LSU (home), Mississippi State (away), and Auburn (away).

5.  Penn State- A poor schedule so far makes them lower than the No. 2 ranking that they are in the other polls. Their best win so far is at Iowa, and they are not even close to a top 25 team. That will change, however, as the next three games are Michigan (home), Ohio State (away), and Michigan State (away). That will determine their fate one way or the other because after those three the schedule gets  extremely easy again.

6.  USC- Two of their good wins- Texas and Utah- were both at home, and barely wins, but they still count as wins over good teams. They also blew out a very good Stanford team, and also beat projected bowl teams Western Michigan, California, and Oregon. Only a 3 point loss at Washington State has prevented them from probably being in the top three. They need to get all of their points now, though, because after playing Notre Dame next week, the schedule gets a little easier.

7.  Clemson- They were on a roll with wins against Auburn, Louisville, and Virginia Tech, but a loss at a mediocre Syracuse team is devastating. They still have games against the likes of Georgia Tech and Florida State at home, and NC State and South Carolina on the road, so if they run the table they will probably still be in the top four.

7.  UCF- This is a tough one. The only good team they've played is Memphis, but they beat them by 27. Maryland is an average P5 team, but they won there by 28. They only have two tough games left- at Navy this week, and USF at home in the finale. That will determine where they end up. If they go undefeated, they will be playing on New Year's Day. But because of their schedule, if they lose, they will probably drop a good bit.

9.  Wisconsin- To be honest, they may have the easiest schedule I've ever seen for a P5 team. Their out of conference schedule is Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and the worst BYU team ever. And they don't play Penn State, Michigan State, or Ohio State. They have Michigan at home in the second to last week, and if they get past them, they should be undefeated. But the schedule is an embarrassment.

10. Notre Dame- Only one loss, a tough 1-point loss at home to Georgia, but also only one quality win- a 20-point win at Michigan State. But the rest of the schedule will determine everything as they still have USC (home), NC State (home), Wake Forest (home), Miami (away), Navy (home), and Stanford (away).

11. Oklahoma- They have a huge 15-point win at Ohio State, and a 5-point win against Texas, but after that, the schedule has been very weak. And the loss at home to Iowa State was brutal. They still have Kansas State (away), Texas Tech (home), Oklahoma State (away), TCU (home), and West Virginia (home), so there's plenty of chances to get impressive wins.

12. Washington State- A couple of good wins against USC at home, and a 23-point win at Oregon, but then they got demolished by 34 at California. That will be hard one to come back from, but they close the season with Stanford (home), Utah (away), and Washington (away).

13. Michigan State- A 20-point loss at home to Notre Dame hurt, but they also have good wins against Western Michigan, Iowa, and Michigan. They still have Penn State (home), and Ohio State (away).

14. Michigan- The biggest win, against Florida in the opener, doesn't look as impressive now, and a loss at home to rival Michigan State is making a lot of people think that this team may not be excellent. They could change that perception easily, however, because they play at Penn State this week, and they play at Wisconsin, and at home against Ohio State, in the last two games.

15. Ohio State- Obviously this is an elite team, but they played one tough team all year, and that Oklahoma team walloped the Buckeyes on their own turf. But with games against Penn State (home), Iowa (away), Michigan State (home) and Michigan (away), they have the opportunity to skyrocket up the rankings.

16. Oklahoma State- They had one big game, at home against TCU, and they got beat much more soundly than the 13-point difference. They probably don't have enough on the schedule to get back into the top four with only Oklahoma (home) their only huge game left. After that, the tougher games are at WVU, and at home against Kansas State.

17. North Carolina State- Their two biggest wins- Florida State and Louisville- doesn't look as great now, and their neutral loss to South Carolina wasn't a good thing either. Their next two games, however, are at Notre Dame, and at home against Clemson, so that will determine how high they'll climb, or how low they'll fall.

18. Washington- A marquee team, but their out of conference schedule is Rutgers, Montana, and Fresno State, and their best win was probably California or Colorado. Combine that with the recent loss at Arizona State, and you can see why they're down this far. They have UCLA (home) and Oregon (home) coming up, then end the season with Stanford (away), Utah (home), and Washington State (home) so they have a chance to rise up the rankings. They probably won't be able to get back into the playoffs, though.

18. San Diego State- A big win against Stanford really helped, but a loss at home to Boise State ruins any chance for an undefeated season. The rest of the schedule is weak.

20. Stanford- After two tough early losses at USC and San Diego State, they've ripped off four straight wins, including a win at Utah, and a 42-point win against Oregon. There's still a lot of chances for impressive wins with games on the horizon against Washington State (away), Washington (home), and Notre Dame (home).

21. South Florida- Yes, they're undefeated, but the schedule has been insanely easy. In fact, the best win is probably at home against Illinois, and they are a poor team. They only have two tests on the entire schedule with Houston (home) and UCF (away) coming in the future.

22. South Carolina- A loss at home to Kentucky really hurts, and they also have a 7-point loss at Texas A&M, but a neutral win against NC State and three other P5 teams help get them into the top 25. They still have Georgia (away), Florida (home), and Clemson (home), so it's going to be a struggle to stay ranked.

22. Virginia Tech- They only have one good win so far, and that was a neutral game against West Virginia. The only other good team they played was Clemson, and they got thoroughly handled in that one. Their other wins were against Delaware, East Carolina, Old Dominion, and Boston College. East Carolina and Old Dominion are among the worst teams in the country this season, and Delaware is an FCS school. The only tough games left are Miami and Georgia Tech, both away.

22. Memphis- Their best wins are UCLA and Navy, both at home. Their lone loss was a 27-point loss at UCF. This Thursday, at Houston, is their only tough game remaining.

25. Auburn- A very talented team, but the wins included Georgia Southern and Mercer, and the only good win is Mississippi State. There are also two losses, albeit at Clemson and LSU. Upcoming games against Texas A&M (away), Georgia (home), and Alabama (home) will make it difficult for them to even stay in these rankings.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ranking the college football programs

As always, for some reason people misunderstand what I mean by program. I'm not talking about how well the school is performing right now, or even the last few years. I'm talking about what each program has at their disposal that they can sell players and perspective coaches- money, recruiting area, tradition, fan base, conference, etc.


ELITE 

Alabama
Auburn
Clemson
Florida
Florida State
Georgia
LSU
Miami
Michigan
Notre Dame
Ohio State
Oklahoma
Penn State
Southern California
Tennessee
Texas
Texas A&M


GOOD

Arizona State
Arkansas
Brigham Young
Georgia Tech
Iowa
Louisville
Michigan State
Nebraska
North Carolina
Oklahoma State
Oregon
Pittsburgh
Stanford
Texas Christian
UCLA
Virginia Tech
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin



MIDDLE OF THE ROAD

Air Force
Arizona
Baylor
California
Central Florida
Colorado
Illinois
Indiana
Kansas State
Kentucky
Maryland
Minnesota
Mississippi
Mississippi State
Missouri
Navy
North Carolina State
Northwestern
Oregon State
Purdue
Rutgers
South Carolina
South Florida
Syracuse
Texas Tech
Utah
Virginia
Washington State


BELOW AVERAGE

Army
Boston College
Duke
Iowa State
Kansas
Vanderbilt
Wake Forest


Monday, October 9, 2017

Ranking the top 25 by what they've actually accomplished

Having a top 25 at the beginning of the season is absurd, and every season roughly half of the preseason top 25 does not end up in the final top 25. The main reason for that obviously is that people can not see into the future. Common sense says that the rankings should not be done before the halfway point, which is where we are at now.

Another related problem is that even the rankings at the halfway point of the season are done by what voters think they know, rather than what they actually know. A lot of big name programs, like Penn State and Ohio State, have not done anything yet that would put them in the top 10, like in the case of Ohio State, or in the top 5, as in the case of Penn State. They could both be playing for the National Championship at the end of the year, but then again they may not be top 10 teams at all. It's too soon to say, because neither have not beaten anyone excellent yet. Ohio State's best win is at Indiana, and Penn State's best win is at Iowa. Washington is another example with their biggest win being at Colorado.

All three may end up great, but they should only be ranked so highly until they actually play better teams. That will definitely be coming as they all have much bigger opponents on the horizon. And if they beat those teams, then they should be ranked that highly.

Just as some highly ranked teams being ranked lower than expected may raise some eyebrows, so will the lofty rankings of teams like San Diego State and UCF. But San Diego State beat a good Stanford team, and UCF, while not playing anybody excellent, have beat teams by an average of 29.3 points. Also, unlike a lot of the bigger programs, these types of programs usually don't schedule any creampuff opponents. This helps them accumulate decent wins throughout their schedule.

Which brings me to the criteria. Points are awarded for wins over three category of teams- elite (top 10 type), good (bowl team), average (pretty much everybody between FBS bowl teams and the truly terrible FBS teams and lower divisions).

Degrees of points are also awarded for home or away wins or losses, plus dominance of the win or loss (14 points is what I use).

Ultimately, this is how teams have done so far, and not what they may do. If a team like Penn State, Ohio State, or Washington keep winning, they will be in the top 5 at the end, and at the end is when it matters. Alternatively, because the schedules of San Diego State, Navy, UCF, and USF won't be as tough, they will have a more difficult time staying up there. The reasons are because, one, wins by teams in stronger conferences will pick up more points in the last half of the season, because of tougher opponents, and, two, any losses of the four lesser profile programs will be hurt by lesser schedules (because the teams in their conference aren't as strong). Of course if a team like San Diego, UCF, South Florida, or Navy, do go undefeated, they will be ranked in the top 10, and rightfully so.

1. Clemson
2. Georgia
3. TCU
4. Alabama
5. Washington State
6. Miami
7. Wisconsin
8. Penn State
9. USC
10. Washington
10. San Diego State
12. Notre Dame
13. Central Florida
14. Navy
15. South Florida
16. NC State
17. Oklahoma
17. Oklahoma State
17. Michigan State
20. Ohio State
21. Auburn
22. Michigan
23. Texas Tech
24. Virginia Tech
24. Stanford

Notes:

Alabama is being hurt by a weak schedule that they couldn't have expected. Florida State, LSU, and Tennessee have all disappointed. Auburn may prove to be the only elite team that they end up playing. Of course if they win all of their games, the accumulation of points will still put them into the playoffs.

Penn State has Michigan, Ohio State, and Michigan State in their next three games. Needless to say, if they win all three, they will have earned their current No. 3 ranking.

Ohio State and Auburn being so low may be surprising. Both have "good" losses- Ohio State to Oklahoma, and Auburn to Clemson- and because both opponents are elite, they did not lose a lot of points because of a loss. But they did miss out on potential points by not winning a game. Also, neither have particularly good wins. Ohio State's biggest wins are Indiana and Maryland. Auburn's biggest wins are Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Missouri. Only Mississippi State could be considered a good win.

Related to the above note, Ohio State still has Penn State, Iowa, Michigan State, and Michigan. Auburn has LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Alabama. Obviously if either, or both, wins all of these games, they will be ranked near the top. They just haven't done it yet.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Preview of Pitt's Defense and Special Teams This Year and Beyond

DEFENSIVE LINE:  In recent years, the Panthers have had some excellent players, like superstar Aaron Donald, and Ejuan Price, but overall there was a lot of mediocrity in this unit. Coming into this season, there are no lineman that has reached, or even approached, the level of Donald and Price yet, but for the first time in years the unit has more than a few players with a big upside, especially at tackle. The downside is that they're all very inexperienced.

At end, the starters will be 6'4" 260 pound redshirt junior Dewayne Hendrix, and 6'4" 255 pound redshirt senior Allen Edwards. Though both are upperclassmen, Hendrix has played in just two career games, after transferring from Tennessee, and being injured all of last season. Edwards is a junior college transfer that has played in just seven games. The good news, though, is that both are talented. Hendrix has high NFL draft choice ability, but he can't seem to stay on the field. Even in practices this season he has been banged up. If he stays healthy, he can have a big year, but so far that's still a big question. Edwards is a very good athlete and is also very capable of having a big season.

Behind these two up are much younger players, though they also have very good ability. Maybe the best of the younger group is 6'5" 265 pound redshirt freshman Rashad Weaver. The former Michigan commit has great size, and has made big strides in the past year. Two others that will likely see the field are 6'4" 250 pound redshirt junior James Folston, and 6'2" 225 pound redshirt sophomore Jimmy Medure. Folston is a former linebacker that has bulked up to play end, and Medure is an undersized walk-on who may be used in special pass rush situations. It says a lot about him that an undersized walk-on can get on the field with the talent that surrounds him.

Three other ends- 6'5" 245 pound redshirt freshman Patrick Jones, 6'4" 255 pound Deslin Alexandre, and 6'1" 250 pound Kaezon Pugh- have shown potential, and will only get better, but appear to be behind the others for now. Jones does have the ability, if he keeps improving during the season, to see some snaps. Pugh is a former local star with a lot of ability, but he's still trying to learn the end position after moving from linebacker.

While the ends are showing improved depth, the tackles are quickly becoming flat out loaded with both talent and depth. The starters to be begin the season look to be 6'4" 290 pound redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp, and 6'4" 280 pound redshirt junior Shane Roy. Camp originally committed to USC, and he has NFL potential. Roy is a former 220 pound DE that was brought in by Paul Chryst, but he has held off the young studs to earn his spot.

Putting pressure on both will be 6'4" 295 pound redshirt sophomore Kam Carter and 6'3" 285 pound sophomore Amir Watts. Carter played at Penn State at one time, before ending up for a year in junior college. He is loaded with talent, but he needs to stay focused. Watts was a pleasant surprise early last season before fading late. He is a bull. He was my pick for being a breakout player this year but he has been banged up in practices, and hasn't been able to beat out the surprising Roy.

Behind these four, there is still young talent in 6'3" 290 pound Rashad Wheeler, 6'2" 315 freshman Jaylen Tywman, and 6'5" 255 pound Carson Van Lynn. Wheeler and Tywman are already good enough to produce this season, if they are forced into action. Van Lynn has moved from defensive end, to offensive tackle, and now defensive tackle.

The future- The only senior in this group is Edwards, though theoretically Hendrix could have a huge year and go to the NFL draft early. But assuming that doesn't happen, this unit will be even more loaded next year. All of this young talent will presumably get better, and tackles Devin Danielson and David Green, and ends John Morgan and Noah Palmer, are arriving next season.


LINEBACKER:  This unit continues to be a work in progress, though the coaching staff seems to like the starters more than most people, and you would think they would know.

The key in the middle is 6'0" 220 pound redshirt sophomore Saleem Brightwell. He didn't play a ton last season, but when he did he showed that he had a real nose for the ball. It will be interesting how he holds up in the middle with his size. Physically he may be better suited for the outside, but he's smart and the staff needs a starter after 6'2" 245 pound senior Quintin Wirginis got suspended for the first three games. A three year backup and situational third down player, Wirginis is a proven playmaker. Ideally, he would come back and earn the middle spot so that Brightwell can move back outside, but the staff seems more than okay with Brightwell in the middle. Also getting snaps will be 6'2" 240 pound redshirt freshman Chase Pine, who could be a future star. Elias Reynolds, a 6'2" 235 pound redshirt freshman, has been banged up in practices this season, but should be more in the mix in the future.

On the outside, the starters will be 6'0" 225 pound redshirt junior Seau Idowu, and 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Elijah Zeise. Idowu is a former walk on, and the staff loves him. Statistically, he had a good season last year as a starter, but he has yet to prove that he's a difference maker. A lot depends on him this season to turn into that kind of player. Zeise has the size and athletic ability to be really good, but after missing last season with an injury, he is still unproven. He now has his chance, and like Idowu, it's crucial that he produces.

After that, things get even more suspect. Battling to get on the field will be 6'2" 215 pound redshirt junior Jalen Williams, 6'0" 235 pound redshirt junior Brian Popp, and 6'2" 215 pound redshirt sophomore Anthony McKee. Williams is a former safety, Popp is a walk on, and McKee hasn't been able to make any mark at all in what is about to become his third season in the program.

All three freshmen- 6'1" 210 pound Albert Tucker, 6'0" 210 pound Cam Bright, and 6'3" 200 pound Kyle Nunn- will probably redshirt, though clearly if any become capable they shouldn't have too much trouble getting onto the field.

The future- Assuming Brightwell, Zeise, and Idowu remain the starters, all three starters will be back next season. The staff will be desperate for at least two of the three freshmen this season to be able to make a strong move next year. Wendell Davis will be arriving next season, but clearly much more than him is needed.


DEFENSIVE BACKS:  It's no secret that the secondary last year was a disaster, and it seems almost impossible to be as bad this year. One of the players that took a lot of heat last season was 5'9" 180 pound senior Avonte Maddox, who I expect to bounce back this season. The starter at the other corner will probably be either 5'10" 175 pound redshirt junior Philipie Motley, or 6'0" 180 pound redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson. Motley was the leader for awhile in practice, but injuries have prevented him from participating in more recent practices. The two sleepers are the two freshmen- 5'11" 185 pound Damarri Mathis, and 6'0" 190 pound Jason Pinnock. Mathis has been so impressive in camp that he could end up starting early in the season. Pinnock may also see the field, and adds much needed size to the position. Therran Coleman, a 6'0" 195 pound redshirt freshman, has a lot of potential, but injuries have hampered him so far this year. If he regains his health, he should be a major contender for playing time. The last remaining corner is 6'0" 190 pound redshirt sophomore Malik Henderson.

At safety, things look a little better, even though 5'11" 195 pound junior Jordan Whitehead will miss the first three games because of a suspension. It's a major disappointment for a player that should be a leader. Beating Penn State or Oklahoma State in the first three games was going to be hard enough, but Whitehead's absence could be potentially devastating. Taking over for him at free safety, until he comes back, will be either 6'2" 190 pound redshirt sophomore Jazzee Stocker, or 6'1" 180 pound redshirt freshman Bricen Garner. Stocker has the experience edge, so he will likely be the starter, but Garner is a smart player that has a nose for the ball. Both will be tested a lot playing against Penn State and Oklahoma State without Whitehead.

At strong safety (technically Pitt calls it boundary safety, but I've been using traditional terminology throughout so people won't be confused), 5'10" 195 pound redshirt junior Dennis Briggs will be the starter. He was a backup to Whitehead last season when Whitehead was the strong safety, and he showed flashes as a playmaker. He's a very smart, steady player. He will be pushed, however, by 6'1" 195 pound redshirt freshman Phil Campbell, and possibly even 6'3" 205 pound redshirt freshman Henry Miller. Both would provide the size that the secondary is desperately lacking.

Also in the mix is 6'1" 190 pound sophomore Damar Hamlin, who is the mystery man in all of this. Once a highly touted recruit, he has struggled with injuries since he's been at Pitt.

Last, but certainly not least, is 6'0" 175 pound freshman Paris Ford, who has star potential, but came into camp two weeks late because of eligibility issues. Narduzzi claims he will redshirt, but that seems unlikely. Expect him to play, probably early in the season.

The future: Maddox will graduate, and with the troubles he's had in college, I would expect Whitehead to go to the NFL early. But after that, everyone else will be back, and finally there will be some real experience in the unit. But, even so, three incoming freshmen this season- Mathis, Pinnock, and Ford, are all talented enough to be starting next season, and if they are, the talent level will go way up for the first time in years. Two newcomers added to the mix will speedy 5'9" cornerback Marquis Williams, and 6'2" cornerback Judson Tallandier, who will bring much needed size to the position. The wildcard here is local star Kwantel Raines, who has yet to make a decision, but who also has the Panthers very high on his list.


SPECIAL TEAMS: After being the kicker for four years, Chris Blewitt is gone, and despite sometimes being up and down, he will always live in the hearts of Pitt fans for the game winning field goal against eventual National Champion Clemson. His replacement is 6'3" 190 pound redshirt freshman Alex Kessman. He's yet to kick in a game, so it's unknown how well he will do, but he does have a very strong leg.

The punter, for the fourth season, will be 6'6" 215 pound redshirt senior Ryan Winslow. His career thus far can best be described as average, but he will have one more season to make his mark.

As for the return game, Quadree Henderson was a First Team All-American return man last season, so enough said.

The future- If Kessman succeeds, it will obviously be huge for the program because they will have their kicker for four years. Waiting in the wings to replace Winslow is 6'1" 215 pound freshman Kirk Christodoulou, who trained at the best punting academy in the world, in his native Australia. Henderson will also be back next season so that will remain a huge strength.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Preview of Pitt's Offense This Year and Beyond

QUARTERBACKS:  Nathan Peterman became the second transfer quarterback in the row for the Panthers to be drafted, and this year's starter, Max Browne, is aiming to be the third. The 6'5" 230 pound Browne comes in as a graduate transfer from USC, where he began last season as a starter before losing his job to phenom Sam Darnold. Browne is a former top quarterback prospect coming out of high school, and some even considered him the top prospect at the position. He has all of the physical tools to be a first round NFL draft choice, but he hasn't done anything of consequence in his college career yet. This is his last chance to reach his potential so the incentive for him to be great this season is there.

His primary backup will be 6'2" 220 pound redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci who was up and down in his emergency appearance in the bowl game last season, but he was only a redshirt freshman, and it was a highly stressful time to make a debut. He's not very big, and he doesn't have an exceptionally strong arm, but he's scrappy, smart, and mentally tough.

Behind both will be 6'5" 225 pound redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie, and 6'2" 215 pound freshman Kenny Pickett. MacVittie has great size, a very good arm, and has big time speed for a quarterback, but he's still somewhat raw, which isn't surprising considering he's just a redshirt freshman and only started one season in high school. Pickett was a pleasant surprise in the spring, and combines brains with good athleticism and a very accurate arm.

The future: Once again the Panthers will have to find another quarterback next season, and the battle between DiNucci, MacVittie, and Pickett will be interesting. DiNucci has a leg up this season because he's been at the college level longer, but MacVittie has the most raw physical ability of the trio, and Pickett has the physical ability and smarts to be a future starter. It's probably ideal if MacVittie or Pickett make the jump mentally that DiNucci did entering this season since they appear to have a higher ceiling, but it would be foolish to ever count out someone as tough as DiNucci (as I have before). Incoming next year will be Nick Patti, who will be redshirted in his first year. He is at a similar level coming into the program as the quarterbacks currently on the roster so for the next few years it will be a competition to see who progresses the most. Finding a big time starter next year is imperative if the program is ever going to reach a higher level.


RUNNING BACKS:  The legendary James Conner has finally moved on, and while there's a lot of raw talent in the unit this season, it may be unrealistic to think that any individual running back can reach the high level he sustained as a Panther. But last season the Panthers were ranked No. 28 nationally in rushing offense, and with what should be a good passing game and an excellent offensive line, there's no reason why they can't statistically finish in the same general area nationally, even if it has to be done by committee.

The starter to begin the season appears to be 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Qadree Ollison, who practically disappeared last year with just 33 carries after winning the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year Award with 1,121 rushing yards and 12 total TDs as a redshirt freshman. Needless to say, Pitt needs to him to be the player he was two years ago, and not the player he was last year. He's not a game breaker, but he's big and he generally moves the chains.

Behind him at halfback, there will be four players battling for carries, and it's not out of the question that any of the four could eventually wrestle the starting job away from Ollison.

The two other veterans returning are 5'11" 220 pound junior Darrin Hall, and 5'11" 210 pound sophomore Chawntez Moss. Hall was a hyped recruit coming out of Ohio, but in his first two seasons he's only had 100 carries. He's averaged 4.2 yards in those carries so he's not been a flop, but he still has yet to reach the level that was expected of him. With so many young running backs on the roster this may be his last chance to make his mark. Moss had flashes as a true freshman, including a 12 carry, 91 yard performance against Marshall, but he faded as the season progressed, getting just 6 carries in the last 5 games. He's quick and runs hard so his future should still be rosy.

The two incoming freshmen are 6'0" 205 pound AJ Davis, and 5'9" 215 pound Todd Sibley. Both have excellent futures. Both may also redshirt, though I wouldn't be surprised if at least one doesn't make his presence felt immediately. In fact, Davis has been getting praise by the coaching staff in camp so it's looking like that he will get a chance to play this season.

As far as fullback, the man, the myth, the legend, George Aston, is back, though he may miss a lot of time this year after being injured in practice. The 6'0" 245 pound redshirt junior is good running with the ball, catches well, and is a fantastic blocker. His return this season, and next, is crucial as he is the heart of the team. Behind him, there really are no other options with his ability, so tight ends will have to pick up the slack until he returns. Next year, fullback/tight end Jay Symonds will arrive to eventually take over once Aston leaves. At 6'4" and 248 pounds, he is big and brutish.

The future: There's five talented halfbacks, and one fullback, who all, theoretically, will be back next season. And there's still a chance that Virginia speedster Coleton Beck signs for next season, and that is mostly a luxury signing. Needless to say, this position should be a strength in at least the next few years.


WIDE RECEIVERS:  This position was suspect leading into last season, but suddenly it has very good potential. The leader of this group is 6'3" 215 pound redshirt senior Jester Weah, who has gone from being a player that fans hoped would transfer, to a potential high draft choice. Weah always had the size, strength, and big time speed, but he was also raw and had suspect hands. But last season that all changed as he ended up with 36 catches, 870 yards, and 10 TDs, while also averaging a ridiculous 24.2 yards a reception. Starting beside him will be 5'8" 190 pound junior Quadree Henderson. As a sophomore, Henderson had just 26 catches for 286 yards, and 1 TD, but as a rusher he had 631 yards and 10 TDs, with an incredible 10.5 yards a carry. With Tre Tipton out for the season with an injury, his replacement as the third starter will probably be 5'11" 190 pound sophomore Maurice Ffrench, who showed flashes as a freshman last year.

While only Weah has ideal size, and Henderson and Ffench have yet to show all around receiving skills, the speed of the trio is extremely impressive. Anything under 11 seconds in the 100 meters is very fast, and Weah (10.59), Ffrench (10.69), and Henderson (10.80) all are well under that mark.

Others that should see time should be 6'4" 205 pound sophomore Aaron Mathews, 6'3" 205 pound redshirt freshman Ruben Flowers, and 5'9" 190 pound Rafael Araujo-Lopes. Mathews missed a lot of time in preseason practices so he's behind, but his size will get him on the field. Flowers has size and athleticism, and is starting to come into his own after a redshirt season. Araujo-Lopes is a former junior college player that has been a pleasant surprise due to his quickness. He is also a very good special teams player.

Three true freshmen- 6'1" 205 pound Michael Smith, 6'0" 205 pound Dontavius Butler-Jenkins, and 6'1" 180 pound Darian Street- have very good potential. Street will redshirt, but Smith and Butler-Jenkins have the ability to see the feld this season if they progress fast enough.

The future- Only Weah will move on after this season, and most of the receivers on the roster this season are underclassmen, so the numbers will only improve in the near future. Tipton will be back, and will hopefully finally be healthy for a full season. Smith and Butler-Jenkins should be much bigger factors next season. Cameron O'Neil is an under the radar receiver that will be arriving next year, and he's another good athlete to add to the mix.


TIGHT ENDS:  The Panthers have had good success with the position over the years, and it's looking like a strength again this season. The two veterans that will get most of the snaps will be 6'6" 260 pound redshirt sophomore Chris Clark, and 6'6" 260 pound redshirt senior Matt Flanagan. Clark is a former No.1 tight end prospect in the country that originally played at UCLA. His recruitment, and transfer, was a circus, and his reputation took a hit for it, but he's finally getting his chance to live up to his potential. He has NFL first round ability so he has the potential to have a big year. Flanagan is a graduate transfer from Rutgers, and was mostly asked to just block at Rutgers, but the Pitt staff has been very impressed with his overall game. Expect him to take over a lot of Aston's role in the playbook until the big fullback comes back. Both players will be major factors in the offense this season. Redshirt senior Devon Edwards is a big 6'4" 275 pound blocker that will see some snaps for that purpose.

Three very intriguing freshmen have also arrived, and they all are big and strong. The most ballyhooed of the bunch is 6'5" 280 pound Charles Reeves, who has fantastic athletic ability for that size. He has star potential down the road. The other two- 6'7" 275 pound Grant Carrigan, and 6'4" 245 pound Tyler Sear- are locals. Cardigan has especially great size, and may be more of a receiving threat. Sear is tough as nails, and should develop into a very good blocker, if not more.

The future- On paper, Flanagan and Edwards will move on after the season, though if Clark has an impressive season he could conceivably leave early for the NFL. Ideally, Clark stays around for at least next season so that the younger players will not be asked to start just yet. Matt Alaimo is a talented player that will join this group next season. He is a complete tight end, but is an especially good blocker.


OFFENSIVE LINE:  Two longtime starters- Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson- graduated, but the unit still looks talented and deep. The star is redshirt junior 6'6" 305 redshirt junior Brian O'Neill, who will move from right tackle to left tackle this season. He has first round NFL ability. After that, things get much more muddled, even though the possibilities are many. Taking over at right tackle should be 6'7" 320 pound redshirt senior Jaryd Jones-Smith, who would finally get his chance to be a starter. The guards will be 6'6" 315 pound redshirt junior Alex Bookser, 6'4" 315 pound redshirt senior Brandon Hodges, and 6'4" 340 pound redshirt senior Alex Officer. Bookser was expected to step up to another level this year, but he will miss the first game for disciplinary reasons. It may cost him his job throughout the year, because his lack of dependability has led to the arrival of Hodges, who is a graduate transfer from Texas. Officer was the starting center last season, and had some snapping problems. He is the probable starter at left guard. At center, 6'3" 315 pound redshirt junior Connor Dintino, a former nose tackle, is in a battle with 6'3" 300 pound redshirt freshman Jimmy Morrissey, a former walk on that received a scholarship today. It's also possible that Bookser moves to center, if Dintino and Morrissey are not up to snuff.

After those seven, there's still good talent. Giant 6'6" 350 pound redshirt freshman Justin Morgan, 6'5" 310 pound redshirt freshman Brandon Ford, 6'6" 310 pound redshirt freshman Bryce Hargrove, and 6'5" 320 pound redshirt sophomore Tony Pilato are all showing very good progress as underclassmen, and if any has to play this season, they will likely get the job done.

Incoming freshmen that should be redshirted are 6'6" 280 pound Gabe Houy, 6'3" 270 pound center Owen Drexel, 6'5" 315 pound Jerry Drake, and 6'5" 325 pound Carter Warren. They all have very good potential, especially Drake, who could play this season if he need be.

The future: Four of the top group could move on after the season, with O'Neill possibly leaving early for the NFL, and joining Jones-Smith, Officer, and Hodges. But all will not be lost as Bookser and the top two centers will be back, and Morgan, Ford, Hargrove, Pilato, and Drake, at least, should be ready for the next level. The incoming class will include 6'6" 310 pound juco Chase Brown, who could be an instant starter, and two locals- Blake Zubovic and Jake Kradel- who are also highly promising.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Pitt Basketball Prospects Bios

Marcus Carr, Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL)- The 6'1" 170 pound native of Toronto is the probable starting point guard so he's going to have to be ready for the rigors of the ACC immediately. Luckily for Pitt, there's a good chance that his skills and maturity will prevent him from getting overwhelmed as a freshman. A good, but not elite athlete, but that doesn't prevent him from being a shutdown defender and getting into the lane. An average to slightly above average shooter currently, but he has the ability to be above average, out to three point range, with some fine tuning. Extremely smart and under control with the ball in his hands. Exceptional passer that puts the ball right where it has to be without having to be showy to get it there. Tough, both mentally and physically. Blew out ACL two years ago, but is completely recovered. Borderline top 100 player that had offers from the likes of Baylor, Virginia Tech, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Minnesota, and Cincinnati.

Bottom line- Fans will compare him to James Robinson a lot since they have a lot of the same attributes. Both are smart and consistent, but Robinson is bigger and stronger, and Carr is a better defender. If Carr improves his shooting, which Robinson never did to a great degree, he has the potential to be even better. Either way, I'm looking at the potential to eventually be a 10-12 ppg, 5 apg, 2 spg player, while providing excellent defense and steadiness.


Khameron Davis, Forest Trail Academy (Kernersville, NC)- The 6'4" 190 pound Colorado native spent time at various schools, before ending up at a year at a prep school, but he still has four years of eligibility. The combo guard does not have topnotch offensive skills, but he is a good finisher thanks to his excellent athleticism. Defense is his specialty, and the staff think he can be a lockdown defender thanks to his athleticism and ridiculous 6'10" wingspan.

Bottom line- He was about as under the radar as a player could get, but if all he ever does is become a defensive stopper off the bench, then he will be a good pickup. I'm not saying he won't some day develop into more, but at the very least being a defensive stopper is very possible.


Monty Boykins, Lafayette graduate transfer- The Ohio native is a 6'5" SG with nice size and very good shooting ability. He especially has excellent potential as a three point shooter. Averaged only 6.6 ppg in his career, with a season high of 10.7 ppg as a junior, the only year that he started, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career. After starring in high school in suburban Cincinnati, he lost all but the first six games of his senior season due to an ACL injury. At the time he was being recruited by the likes of Notre Dame. After ignoring advice to go to prep school to recover from his knee injury, and get back on the radar of major programs, he decided to go to Lafayette instead, where he played in 21 games before injuring his wrist and sitting out the rest of the year. As a sophomore he played 31 games, starting seven, and averaged 4.7 ppg. As a junior, he finally became a full-time starter, and ended up with a career high 10.7 ppg, while making 54 threes at a 35.8% clip.  He was looking to have a big senior year before missing the entire season again, this time with a shoulder injury. Not a good free throw shooter, and an average defensive player.

Bottom line- Barring injury, which is a big question with him, he can be a three point threat, and the Pitt staff does believe that he can replicate his junior production while at Lafayette.


Parker Stewart, Union City HS (Union City, TN)- The 6'4" SG, a former Ole Miss commit, is an intriguing late pickup for the Panthers, mainly because of his excellent three point stroke. Not an elite athlete, but he's smart and crafty, and he can also play point guard. Good passer and his length may offset his lack of elite athleticism to help get him into the lane. A coach's son, his dad is the head coach at UT-Martin. Other than Ole Miss, he was also offered by the likes of Florida, Georgetown, LSU, Iowa State, Butler, NC State, Memphis, Kansas State, Missouri, and Wisconsin.

Bottom line- A late gift for the Panthers when they really needed one. Will be his best as a catch and shoot off guard, but if he can overcome average foot speed, he could play some at the point, and may even prove to be an above average ACC player.


Jared Wilson-Frame, Northwest Florida State College (Niceville, FL)- Junior college star with a vast array of skills. At 6'5" and 230 pounds, he has the size to be a small forward, and the skills to be a shooting guard. NBA body already, as he's build like a linebacker. He's average to slightly above average defensively, but he's got what it takes physically to be better than that. Offensively is where he shines, though. He can use his big frame to rebound and score inside, and he can make shots all over the floor, including from three point range. He's also a very good passer. The Connecticut native at one time or another received offers from UConn, Providence, VCU, Georgia, West Virginia, Iowa State, and Wichita State. Well coached by Steve DeMeo, a respected longtime assistant in the major college ranks, mostly at Providence. He has two years of eligibility.

Bottom line- There's no doubt that he's the most talented of this group, and he also has the best chance to be a star. If he can live up to his potential immediately the next two years for the Panthers won't be as dire as many expect. That's a lot to put on a newcomer, but he's very mature physically and mentally.



Shamiel Stevenson, Hillcrest Academy (Phoenix, AZ)- Elite athleticism is the best trait for this 6'6" small forward. The Canadian native is solidly built already, and has off the charts hops. Can play some power forward because of his toughness and 230 pound build, but also has the athleticism and perimeter game to be a small forward. He's listed officially by Pitt as both a forward and a guard so that shows you that they believe in his versatility. Very good defensively and has a nice outside shot that should only improve. A sleeper, and late bloomer, that had offers from schools like Georgia Tech, Arizona State, USC, and VCU.

Bottom line- One of my two picks for the biggest sleeper in this class. If it ever comes together for him he has the chance to be a very good college player.



Samson George, First Love Academy (Washington, PA)- A native of Nigeria, via New York City, the 6'7" 220 pound power forward originally signed with Iona, but an eligibility issue sprung him loose to come to Pitt. He still will have four years or eligibility despite actually enrolling at Iona earlier in the year. An undersized power forward with the ability to put the ball on the floor a little, but his real strengths are toughness and rebounding. One member of the Pitt staff described him to me as "crazy tough". Had offers from the likes of USC, VCU, and Rutgers.

Bottom line- You can never have enough junkyard dogs, and that's exactly what George brings to the program.



Terrell Brown, Tilton School (Tilton, NH)- Big 6'10" 240 pound power forward/center with extremely long arms. Brown has very good shot blocking ability and uses his long arms to rebound well. Also a good passer for a big man. But his real strength is his shooting ability, out to three point range. The very well respected New England Recruiting Report, the main source for prospects in the region, raves about what they call his "vast potential". They also say that he has become more aggressive over the last year, which was one of the biggest complains about him. Brown was nearly a full year younger than other kids in his class until he went to prep school for a year. In that prep year, he had an excellent season against elite competition.

Bottom line- My other big sleeper in this group, he has the size, the shot blocking ability, and great shooting range for a big man. He could cause major mismatches if he develops as expected.


Peace Ilegomah, Montverde Academy (Montverde, FL)- Another native of Nigeria, the 6'9" 235 pound center is still developing offensively, but he uses his body and athleticism to rebound very well. Great anticipation and long arms makes him a potentially excellent shot blocker. Runs the floor very well. Didn't start playing basketball until he was 14 years old.

Bottom line- He still has a way to go offensively, but he's big, athletic, he can rebound, and he can block shots.


2018 Additions



Malik Ellison, St. John's transfer- Technically, he's on the team now, but will have to sit out this year due to transferring. The son of Louisville great Pervis Ellison, the 6'6" 215 pound shooting guard has yet to reach his potential, but with two years to play still, his best basketball is still likely to come. Averaged 7.4 ppg over his two seasons at St. John's, and has the potential to be a good shooter. He did make 30 threes at a 34.3% clip as a sophomore. Very good athlete and great length for the position. Good defender. Wasn't a good throw shooter at St. John's. Flashed as a sophomore with 22 points against Penn State, 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists against Syracuse, 23 points against DePaul, 15 points and 6 rebounds against Providence, and 11 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists against Georgetown.

Bottom line- The probable starting shooting guard in 2018.



Bryce Golden, Saint James School (Hagerstown, MD)- Tough as hell 6'9" 240 pound power forward that can do a little bit of everything. Very competitive and always plays hard. Good basketball instincts. Surprises defenders with his athleticism. His AAU coach calls him a "bully". Has some good offensive skills but needs to look to score more. Very good rebounder. Currently a poor free throw shooter.

Bottom line- Has some good skills for a power forward and could pair with Brown in the future to form a nice one-two punch.


Summary- Like the Kevin Stallings era, it will probably take a few more years to really know how good, or how not good, this class is. I mentioned throughout about the potential of each prospect, but it's common sense that not all of these players will reach their potential. But likewise they will not all fail. How many succeed, and to what degree, will determine what the university does with Stallings a few years down the road. Wilson-Frame has star potential, and Carr, Stewart, Stevenson, Brown, Ellison, and Golden have the ability to be good all around players in the next few years. Davis has a chance to be a defensive specialist, Ilegomah can be a shot blocking force, and George's hustle and toughness can only help the program. The raw talent is there to be good eventually. Stallings is good coach, and if given enough time he'll turn Pitt into a winner again. But with a new AD, and a segment of very vocal fans who never bought into Stallings from the start, he won't have many seasons to prove that. Whether the Panthers are good enough, fast enough, to get back into the NCAA tournament before the administration at the university gives up on Stallings is the race that we'll all have to watch now. But at least he now has his players, so he will live or die with them. And that's the only way to truly judge him.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

How Pitt football can finish out their 2018 class

QUARTERBACK: The Panthers will only take one, and that one will be 6'3" 195 pound Nick Patti. For the longest time it looked like Kevin Doyle would be the man, but he continued to drag his feet, and the Panthers moved on to Patti. The New Jersey native has a good arm and is very athletic. With Patti, Kenny Pickett, and Thomas MacVittie the three quarterbacks taken in Pat Narduzzi's three full classes, the Panthers still have not brought in that guaranteed big time talent, though all three have very good potential as developmental quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACK: With what should be a small class (probably around 16-18), and Chawntez Moss, Todd Sibley, and AJ Davis all with many years of eligibility, this is not a position that the Panthers will spend much time on this year. Of course if a big time halfback wants to come, they'll probably take him. Big, tough 6'4" 255 pound Massachusetts native Jay Symonds has been brought in to be used much the same way as living legend George Aston, which is as a fullback and H-Back, with some blocking and receiving skills. It's not often you see kids that big used as a fullback, and that's a testament to his good agility for his big size.

WIDE RECEIVER: Again, with a small class and a young group already, they will probably not take many- quite possibly just one- this year. Who that will be is anybody's guess because they don't appear to be close to landing anyone obvious yet. Like at quarterback, Narduzzi still hasn't landed that guaranteed big time No. 1 receiver talent at the position, and ideally the one that he lands in this class could be that type of talent. I wouldn't be surprised if it came late, maybe from Florida where they grow elite wide receivers on trees (not literally).

TIGHT END: The staff landed a good group of tight ends in the last class, but there's room for one more, and there's two excellent options for that spot. Local star TJ Banks is already a well put together 6'5" 250 pounds, and he has the athleticism to match. He has big time potential, and landing him would be huge. The secondary option is Ohio native Keaton Upshaw, who at 6'7" 225 pounds is a different kind of tight end. If the Panthers land either, they succeeded at this position.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Local lineman Jake Kradel, who has already committed, could factor in at guard here, but the 6'4" 290 pounder could also end up at defensive tackle. The staff is in good shape with linemen on both sides of the ball, and how well they do with each side may end up determining where he begins. Other real possibilities are Jimmy McKenna, Chris Bleich, Blake Zubovic, Chase Brown, and TJ Bradley. Ideally, they land three of this group, though I don't know if they would turn away four if they could get them. McKenna needs to add a lot of weight to his 6'5" 250 pounds, but he has excellent feet. The 6'5' 305 pound Bleich is a former Penn State commit that many think is leading towards Nebraska. Zubovic went to the same local high school as Dorian Johnson, and the 6'5" 300 pounder seems to be leaning pretty heavily to the Panthers. The 6'6" 310 pound Brown and the 6'7" 290 pound Bradley are juco teammates that currently play in Scranton. Brown has two years of eligibility, and Bradley has three. With Bleich more of a long shot, if the Panthers can land Zubovic, McKenna, and Brown and/or Bradley (all very possible), that would be a magnificent haul for the program.

DEFENSIVE LINE: At tackle, the aforementioned Kradel could be a factor here, but two other local tackles could also be major additions. Devin Danielson is a 6'3" 290 pound force, and Pitt is probably the favorite with him. There is also David Green, a smaller, yet very athletic tackle at 6'2" and 255 pounds. He has been very quiet during his recruitment, but the Panthers are heavily in the mix. Other possibilities include massive Washington, DC native Cam Goode, who at 6'0" 310 pounds is a nose guard-type, and 6'5" 270 pound Spencer Anderson, a Maryland native that could project on offense, too.

At end, the Panthers have already got commitments from Danielson's high school teammate, Noah Palmer, as well as Maryland native John Morgan. Palmer is thin, but has good length and quickness. Morgan is a stocky 6'3" and 240 pounds, but he's strong and knows how to rush the passer.

LINEBACKER: Commit Wendell Davis has already committed, and the 6'2" 220 pounder is a very good start. There could be a few more since the Panthers have made inroads with some very good talent at the position. The best of this group is Columbus native Brian Asamoah, who at 6'0" 210 pounds is ideal for the star linebacker position. Pitt has to beat out the likes of Michigan and Penn State for him, but from what I hear the Panthers are very much at or near the top currently. Floridian Kenny Bastida recently named Pitt and Michigan State his top two. Another Ohio native, Jeslord Boateng, has the Panthers in his top group.

DEFENSIVE BACK: Cornerback Judson Tallandier, a high school teammate of Morgan in Maryland, is already in the fold, and that's a good start. There's no other cornerbacks that are reportedly close to joining him (which doesn't necessarily mean there aren't any that are close), and since you can never have enough defensive backs (and athletes), I could see the staff adding another if it's possible.

As for safety, local star Kwantel Raines can be a safety or an outside linebacker, and he would be a fantastic pickup. Another local, Marcus Hooker, can also project to safety or linebacker.

Summary: The Panthers currently have seven commits, and could add roughly ten more, though the exact number is never fully known until much later in the recruiting season. For the sake of argument, let's go with the number 17. Here would be an example (not a prediction) of how this class could realistically shake out:

QB- Nick Patti
FB- Jay Symonds
WR- Probably one from the south
TE- TJ Banks
OL- 2 of 3 of Jimmy McKenna, Chase Brown, TJ Bradley
OL- Blake Zubovic
OL/DL- Jake Kradel
DT- Devin Danielson
DT- David Green
DE- John Morgan
DE- Noah Palmer
LB- Wendell Davis
LB- Brian Asamoah
LB/S- Kwantel Raines
LB/S- Marcus Hooker
CB- Justin Tallandier


Like I said, that's just a general idea. It never goes as planned. But that would be a very good smaller class. They won't get all of those, though if they get similar to that, and especially land Raines and Asamoah, then this class will be a major success.

And is usually the case, I'm sure there will be one or two major names toward the end of the cycle that the staff will try to swoop in and steal at the last minute. Just like they did with players like Keyshon Camp, Amir Watts, and AJ Davis, three big time prospects that at this time of the year where not mentioned prominently with Pitt.









Friday, March 3, 2017

Top 10 WPIAL 2018 Prospects (Pre-Spring Edition)

A look at the top 10 prospects in the WPIAL heading into the camp and combine season.

1. Phil Jurkovec, Pine-Richland HS (Gibsonia) QB- Already 6'5" 190 pounds, he's also very athletic, and he has a good arm. An elite, nationally recruited player, he would have been a huge coup for Pitt, but he has already committed to Notre Dame. The Panthers will continue to recruit him, but I doubt that anything will come of it.

2. Kwantel Raines, Aliquippa HS (Aliquippa) S- Great length at 6'3" 190 pounds, plus he has very good speed and athleticism. Also has the frame to add enough weight to be a smaller linebacker, too. Should come down to Pitt or Penn State, but other early offers have come from WVU, Louisville, Virginia Tech, LSU, Michigan State, Wisconsin, California, Maryland, and TCU.

3. Devin Danielson, Thomas Jefferson HS (Jefferson Hills) DT- Already a solid 6'3" and 290 pounds, this kid is quick, strong, and tenacious. Appears to like Pitt the most so far, and the Panthers have offered, as have WVU, Virginia, Louisville, UCLA, and others.

4. Blake Zubovic, Belle Vernon Area HS (Belle Vernon) OT- A true left tackle prospect, who is also very quick for a kid that's already 6'6" and 295 pounds. He is also has a body with little fat, so he can get much bigger. Played some defensive end last year and was a bit of a force at that huge size, which shows you just how mobile he is. Pitt was the first offer, and they may appear to be the leader, but other offers so far include WVU, Virginia, Northwestern, NC State, Maryland, Boston College, and Minnesota.

5. Jake Kradel, Butler Area HS (Butler) OG/DT- Tough kid that will get a lot of offers, not only because of talent, but because he can project at center, guard, offensive tackle, and defensive tackle. Most want him for offense, but the Panthers like him as a defensive tackle. He definitely has the size and quickness to be a good defensive player in college. He and his family are big Pitt fans, and season ticket holders, so that can't hurt. Pitt has offered, and other offers include WVU, Boston College, NC State, Maryland, Minnesota, Wake Forest, Iowa State, Purdue, and Rutgers.

6. David Green, Central Catholic HS (Pittsburgh) DT- Even though he's currently listed at 6'2" and 250 pounds, he looks much bigger than that. Moves well, strong, and tenacious. Should eventually be around 285 pounds, and when he reaches that size, he could be a destructive wrecking ball in college. Early offers include Pitt, WVU, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Rutgers, and Iowa State.

7. TJ Banks, East Allegheny HS (North Versailles) TE- Has the great frame at 6'5" and 230 pounds to easily had 25 or 30 pounds in college. At that size, with his strength and athleticism, he could be a beast. Pitt has offered, and are in great shape. WVU, Maryland, and Syracuse are among his other offers.

8. Julian Major, Penn Hills HS (Pittsburgh) WR- At 6'1" and 170 pounds, he needs to fill out a lot, but he is a fast and slick receiver that could be very good in college. I have no idea why Pitt hasn't offered, but Wisconsin, Arkansas, Kentucky, Boston College, and Iowa State have so far.

9. Marcus Hooker, New Castle HS (New Castle) S- Doesn't have blazing speed, and he's not really big at 5'11" 185, but he's athletic, strong, and tough. The younger brother of  former Ohio State safety Malik Hooker, and to me strong safety seems looks like his best position. Early offers include WVU, Rutgers, Cincinnati, and Temple.

10. Kenny White, West Allegheny HS (Imperial) CB/S- A solid 6'0" 185 with good straight line speed. Could project at safety, or maybe cornerback. Iowa State and Buffalo are his early offers so far.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Post-LOI Look at the Pitt Defense and Special Teams

DEFENSIVE LINE: All-star defensive end Ejuan Price is gone, as are starting defensive tackles Tyrique Jarrett and Shakir Soto. That's the bad news. The good news is that there's a lot of raw talent remaining, especially at tackle.

First, at end, where 6'4" 260 pound redshirt junior Dewayne Hendrix should finally get his chance to shine. The former Tennessee transfer has NFL potential, but because of his transfer, and then an injury in the opener last year, he has barely played in the last two seasons. With a big season, he could be a high NFL draft choice, so the incentive is there to have a big year. Now he just has to live up to his massive potential.

At the other end, the position looks wide open. Redshirt senior Rori Blair, 6'4" and 245 pounds, has started 20 games in his three seasons, but he still hasn't been better than mediocre. He had 5 sacks as a redshirt freshman, but then had 5 sacks the next two seasons combined. Another 6'4" 245 pound senior, Allen Edwards, has only been on the field for one season because he came from the junior college ranks, but he started 4 games last season, and looked promising at the end of the year. He came up with 1.5 sacks in that time, but also 13 tackles, which is only 9 fewer than Blair. Redshirt junior James Folston, 6'3" 245 pounds, also lettered last year, and will be in the mix.

Those three will be pushed by at least two redshirt freshman, and maybe four. The two for sure- Patrick Jones and Rashad Weaver- have ideal size. Jones is 6'5" and 250 pounds, and Weaver is 6'5" and 255 pounds. Both have a lot of promise, and Weaver, a former Michigan commit, got the attention of Pitt of Pitt coaches in practices last year. The third, 6'1" 240 pound Zack Gilbert, is one of two wildcards. He has great potential, but sat out last season because of a heart condition. If he gets a clean bill of health, he will be a possibility to see the field.

Another wildcard is redshirt freshman Kaezon Pugh. Recruited as a linebacker, there has been some talk that he is moving to end. If he does, he better be bigger than the 6'1" 210 pounds that he was listed at this past season, because that will not be big enough this year to play at that position. If he gets up to 230 pounds before the season, though, then he could be a major contender for playing time.

Two incoming freshmen- 6'4" 250 pound Deslin Alexandre, and 6'5" 240 pound Carson Van Lynn- will be redshirted, but should have bright futures.

At tackle, things look a little more promising. In fact, things are getting downright exciting. Holdover Jeremiah Taleni, a 6'2" 290 pound redshirt senior, was recruited from the state of Hawaii by former Pitt coach Paul Chryst a long time ago, but to his credit he stayed, and now he's finally getting a chance to be a major part of the defense. Despite playing in just 7 games last year, and starting only 3, he still came through with 24 tackles and 3 sacks.

At the other tackle spot, it may come down to two highly recruited players that came to the Panthers last year- 6'3" 280 pound sophomore Amir Watts, and 6'4" 280 pound redshirt freshman Keyshon Camp. Watts played sparingly in 6 games last season, and in what little time he was on the field, he showed that he can be a bull. I predict big things from him, maybe as soon as this year. But to do so he will have to beat out Camp, who also has big time potential

But there is more on the defensive line than just those three. Redshirt junior Shane Roy, 6'4" 280 pounds, will be a veteran in the mix, and it's possible that 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior Mike Herndon, who I mentioned in the offense article as a possibility to move back to that line. With him, it just may come down to see where he's needed more for depth.

Redshirt freshman Rashad Wheeler, 6'3" 290 pounds, also has a bright future and could be in the mix as soon as this year, and 6'4" 300 pound juco redshirt sophomore Kam Carter has the size, strength, speed, and talent to play a lot immediately. He could even start if Watts or Camp aren't ready to take over as a starter. Incoming 6'2" 315 pound freshman Jaylen Twyman will probably be a future starting nose tackle, but the depth may afford him the opportunity to redshirt this season.

Bottom line- While the experience level is very low with this group, the talent level is pretty high. There would be some questions in a starting line of Hendrix, Edwards, Taleni, and Watts, as an example, but potentially it can also be a very good starting line, especially if Hendrix and Watts live up to their potential. Carter is also capable of providing instant impact, maybe even as a starter. Then there are possible surprises like Weaver, Gilbert, Pugh, Camp, and even Edwards. As of the time of this writing, the Panthers don't have a defensive line coach, so it will be interesting to see who is named, and if he can ultimately unlock the potential of this group.


LINEBACKER: Three out of the four leading tacklers at linebacker have moved on, but that's not a bad thing. The truth is, the unit has been, at best, mediocre for years.

At middle linebacker, Matt Galambos has departed, but that means 6'2" 240 pound redshirt senior Quintin Wirginis finally gets his chance to start. He has been brought in on third down for the past few seasons, but even in limited time he was more productive than Galambos in many ways. He is also much faster and more athletic. It's likely that this will be an upgrade.

The same may be said of the other two linebacker spots. At the "star" linebacker, which is on the long side of the field, 6'0" 210 pound redshirt junior Oluwaseun Idowu returns after starting last season. The former walk on amassed 74 tackles, but didn't make a lot of splash plays. His main competition could be 6'2" 225 pound redshirt junior Elijah Zeise, who is bigger and at least as athletic. He was neck and neck with Idowu entering last season, but was lost for the season in the opener. His development is crucial for the unit.

Three younger contenders will also throw their hats in the ring. Anthony McKee, a 6'2" 210 pound redshirt sophomore, has not got on the field yet, and now is the time or he'll be in danger of getting passed over. Two incoming freshmen, 6'2" 210 pound Cam Bright, and 6'1" 210 pound Albert Tucker, can fly. Both may redshirt, because it's a tough position to play as a true freshman, but because of their topnotch speed and athleticism their future is very bright. Both are the type of star linebacker that Idowu is not, and that the defense needs, so the best case scenario is that one of them surprises in camp and works their way onto the field in their first year.

Middle linebacker and the "money" linebacker spot are pretty interchangeable, but a starter will be needed at the money linebacker to go alongside Wirginis in the middle. That shouldn't be a problem. The two main contenders here are 6'0" 210 pound redshirt sophomore Salem Brightwell, and 6'2" 220 pound redshirt freshman Chase Pine. Brightwell showed a lot of promise as a redshirt freshman last year, and had a knack for making plays. He should only get better. Pine redshirted last year, but he also has the skills to get on the field a lot this year.

A potential backup in the middle could be 6'2" 225 pound redshirt freshman Elias Reynolds, who has the potential to be a strong run stopper. Incoming freshman Kyle Nunn, who at 6'3" and 200 pounds is very athletic, will probably redshirt, but he also has very good potential.

Bottom line: This group is still a work in progress. There is some potential, but there are also still a lot of questions. Wirginis should do well in the middle, but there's no experience behind him. Brightwell and Pine should make a nice duo at the money linebacker if they can overcome their inexperience. At star linebacker, there needs to be an upgrade over Idowu, and maybe a healthy Zeise can be it. Depth on the outside is also a question, unless McKee or one of the freshman come through.


DEFENSIVE BACK: Last year, this group was a disaster. I just may get that out right away. The good news is, it should be better this season, and maybe even a lot better.

Beginning with the cornerbacks first, the leading contenders to start should be 5'9" 180 pound senior Avonte Maddox, and 6'1" 180 pound sophomore Damar Hamlin. Maddox has been a lightning rod for some fans, but that's mostly unfair. The Panthers faced an obscene amount of top quarterbacks and receivers last year, and Maddox, with little help from the free safety spot, was put in a pretty impossible position. In those situations, all but the most elite cornerbacks would struggle. He did end up with an incredible 8.5 tackles for loss, plus 3 interceptions, and 8 more pass breakups. Saying he was the best cornerback for the Panthers last year is damning him with faint praise, but he was.

Hamlin, as any Pitt fan knows, was an elite prospect when he arrived at Pitt last season, and the fans clamored for him all year. Unfortunately, Hamlin, who was behind at the beginning of the season because of injuries, was injured again once he finally did get on the field. He struggled when he was out there, but he was a true freshman, and should be much better next year. All he has to do is stay on the field.

Hamlin and Maddox are far from sure things to start, however, since there are five other candidates that will try to wrestle the starting spot away from them. The three returnees of those five are 6'0" 180 pound redshirt sophomore Dane Jackson, 5'10" 175 pound redshirt junior Phillipie Motley, and 6'0" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Malik Henderson. Both Jackson and Motley showed at times that they could develop into solid corners in the future.

Two very exciting redshirt freshman are entering the scene in 6'0" 190 pound Therran Coleman and 6'3" 205 pound Henry Miller. Coleman is a local kid that has big time athleticism, while Miller is the rare physical freak that can play cornerback at 6'3". If either, or both, play up to their massive ability this year, it would be a godsend.

Two incoming freshman- 6'0" 190 pound Jason Pinnock, and 5'11" 185 pound Damarri Mathis- have excellent length and speed. Both could be really good in the future, but the chances are great that they'll both redshirt.

At safety, things also look better. At strong safety, 5'11" 190 pound junior Jordan Whitehead returns after breaking his arm late last season. He wasn't quite as good as a sophomore as he was as a freshman, but he still has the ability to bounce back to being a possible All-American candidate.

At free safety, Terrish Webb struggled immensely last season, but he is gone, so a new starter will have to be found. That shouldn't be a problem with 6'0" 175 pound freshman Paris Ford arriving on the scene. It's not often that I pencil in a true freshman as a starter, but if Ford doesn't start the opener, he will most likely, barring injury, start soon after.

But there are other good safeties in the mix, too. Backing up Whitehead at strong safety should again be 5'10" 190 pound redshirt junior Dennis Briggs. Competing with him for time will be 6'1" 195 pound redshirt freshman Phil Campbell. At free safety, battling Ford for minutes will be 6'2" 185 pound redshirt sophomore Jay Stocker, and 6'1" 175 pound redshirt freshman Bricen Garner. Stocker got some time on the field at the end of last season, while Garner has a nose for the ball.

Bottom line- It's going to be hard to convince some people that the secondary could be a lot better, but I have to say anyway that there's a real possibility that the secondary could be a lot better. If Whitehead returns to form, and Hamlin and Ford live up to their potential, there will be an enormous improvement. And these are three elite talents so it's not unimaginable.

Also, last year's underclassmen, like Jackson, Motley, and Stocker, should get better now that last year's shellshocked season is over. Throw in some very talented redshirt freshmen like Coleman, Miller, Campbell, and Garner, and you can see that there may be light at the end of the tunnel sooner than people think.


SPECIAL TEAMS: Chris Blewitt and his unfortunate name are gone so a new placekicker will have to be named. The most likely option will be 6'3" 180 pound redshirt freshman Alex Kessman. He arrived at Pitt as a gray shirt last season, and he now will be on scholarship. He has a great leg, but what he does under pressure is still to be determined. Giving him some competition will be preferred walk on freshman Grant Kersh.

For the fourth straight year the punter will be 6'5" 210 pound redshirt senior Ryan Winslow. He was 35th nationally in net punting last year but his career 41.3 yard career average is mediocre. It will be tough to beat out a player about to be a four year starter, but Winslow will be pushed by incoming 6'1" 210 pound freshman Kirk Christodoulou. What's most interesting about Christodoulou is that he's from the Australian training facility that is cornering the market on excellent punters, not only in college football, but also in the NFL.

The return man on punts and kicks will again be 5'8" 190 pound junior Quadree Henderson, and since he was a consensus All-American at the position last season, it's safe to say that this is a team strength.


CONCLUSION: Once again, on paper, the defense looks to be behind the offense. It was very apparent that former head coach Paul Chryst recruited much better on offense than on defense, so the offensive side of the ball was much further ahead in Narduzzi's first two years. But surprisingly, Narduzzi's staff is also recruiting better on offense, than on defense, at least as far as players that are ready to play early in their career. Put another way, on the offensive side, the staff is recruiting more established talents, whereas on the defensive side, the players being brought in are more developmental.

That's not to suggest that the defense won't be very good soon, maybe even this year. There's a lot more talent, athleticism, and speed than what the defense had when Narduzzi arrived, but few of those players have actually established themselves on the field yet.

Whitehead is still the only known commodity on the defense. Maddox should at least be solid, while others, like Wirginis and Taleni, were good during spot duty, but now have to be better as full-time starters.

After that small group, there's a lot of players with raw talent that so far in their careers have done little, or nothing. Of course, in most cases it's because they are too young to do anything, so it's not a criticism as much as it is a fact.

On the defensive line alone, the senior Edwards, and the junior Hendrix, have potential to take a major step up next year as sack artists, but they haven't done it yet. Youngsters like Watts, Camp, Carter, Wheeler, Weaver, Twyman, Jones, Pugh, and maybe Gilbert if he comes back, are loaded with potential, but again, they have yet to do anything. That means there could be as many as twelve linemen that are very talented, but that still have questions about just how good they will be. Some of this group will develop next year, the only question is, how many will develop, and just how good will they be?

At linebacker, like defensive end, the staff has not brought in a lot of players that are ready to play early. Raw talent, yes, but it's mostly developmental talent. Pugh moving to end has not helped a linebacker unit that's been struggling for years now. Wirginis, Zeise, Brightwell, and Pine will have to live up to their potential to finally get this unit above mediocre.

If the pass rush becomes more consistent and the secondary improves, the defense will take major strides. I don't like to put too much pressure on a freshman, but I really do believe that Ford will make the secondary significantly better, which will also make the defense as a whole significantly better. Last year's free safety, Terrish Webb, missed making a play an alarming number of times. Ford is many steps above Webb is speed and talent, and he should make an immediate impact. A highly talented free safety like Ford will help Whitehead regain his form, and with strong safeties, the cornerbacks should be better. Helping the unit is that the much ballyhooed 2016 defensive back class should now start to make an impact.

Bottom line, the defense is very inexperienced, very young, and very untested, but also very talented and athletic. The defense will eventually be very good with all of this talent, but there may be too many questions that need to be answered to make such a drastic step up in just one season. But if the staff gets enough of these young, talented kids to reach their potential early, a step or two up is definitely possible.

As for the special teams, Henderson's returns are an enormous plus, but the kicking game is a major question mark until Kessman actually starts making some kicks.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Post-LOI Look at the Roster



QUARTERBACK: The emergence of Nathan Peterman coincided perfectly with the arrival of Matt Canada, as Peterman was the perfect quarterback at the perfect time. But even though both are gone now, all is not lost. Enter accomplished veteran offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and USC transfer quarterback Max Browne. The 6'5" 220 pound Browne was once rated the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country, and he has the size, arm, and brains to still reach his massive potential. He also has a lot of incentive to be great this year. With a big year he could go as high as the first round, since he does have that type of raw talent. Now we'll have to see if Watson can get it out of him.

Behind Browne will likely be his heir apparent, 6'5" 240 pound Thomas MacVittie. The redshirt freshman has even more physically impressive than Browne. He's bigger, his arm is just as good, and he is a big time athlete that runs extremely well. Because he's expected to take over in 2018, we will probably see the field next season.

Behind the big two there are 6'2" 215 pound redshirt sophomore Ben DiNucci, and 6'2" 190 pound freshman Kenny Pickett. DiNucci did a few nice things in the bowl game when he was called on, but barring injury he may not see the field much, if it all, next season. Pickett is athletic, and he's a very accurate passer, but he will definitely be redshirted.

Bottom line- The lack of big time quarterback play has held back many good teams from being excellent teams over the years, and that includes Pitt. Peterman turned into a pleasant surprise, and just as it looked like the Panthers would have to get by with the inexperienced MacVittie, Pat Narduzzi hit the jackpot again with Browne. When Narduzzi arrived, the starting quarterback was the struggling Chad Voytik. If he can go from Peterman, to Browne, to MacVittie, and have all three succeed, then the Narduzzi regime will be very successful. And in the 2018 class, elite quarterback prospect Kevin Doyle, who already liked the Panthers, is also very close with Watson from when he was offered at Indiana. Landing him would make this promising position even more exciting over the next five years.


RUNNING BACK: James Conner is gone, but this may still be the deepest unit on the team. There are five halfbacks that are good enough to start next season. The favorite going into spring practice may be 5'11" 210 pound sophomore Chawntez Moss. A surprise this past season, because most thought he'd redshirt, Moss used his speed and toughness to get on the field. Against Marshall in the first half of the season, he had 97 yards on 12 carries, and some actually thought he had passed Conner on the depth chart. However, Conner then sprung back to full health and Moss saw less carries the rest of the year.

The other veterans in the mix are 5'11" 225 pound junior Darrin Hall, and 6'2" 230 pound redshirt junior Qadree Ollison. Hall was a coveted, highly ranked prospect coming out of high school, but so far he has not lived up to his potential with only 417 rushing yards combined over his first two years. Worse yet, at one point in the offseason he was considered the top choice to pick up the slack for Conner until he got back into playing shape, but instead he got passed up by Moss. The talent is there, but if he doesn't take advantage of Conner's absence this time, he probably missed his window forever.

Ollison came out of nowhere two years ago to fill in for Conner after he went down in the first game with a season ending knee injury. He responded with 1,121 yards and 12 total touchdowns while being named the ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year. As a sophomore, though, his carries fell from 212 carries to 33 carries. Ollison always runs hard, but his overall skill set is not at the same level as the other backs, so the chances of him getting a lot of carries again are probably not very good.

And two of the reasons for that are incoming freshmen Todd Sibley and Anthony Davis. The 5'9" 215 pound Sibley is a between the tackles chain mover with enough breakaway speed to sometimes turn an 8 yard run into a 20 yard run. He's also the type of back that could carry 30 times every once in awhile, if you need him to do that. The 6'0" 205 pound Davis is a different type of back in that he's fast, quick, and great in the open field. He also has good hands, and could be used in the same ways that Quadree Henderson is used.

If having five talented running backs isn't good enough, the returning starter at fullback is living legend George Aston, a 6'0" 245 redshirt junior that had 10 total touchdowns last year and viciously blocked every defender that came his way.

Bottom line- It wasn't long ago that Rushel Shell transferred away from Pitt, and the Panthers were forced to start a little known freshman named James Conner. Even two years ago, when Conner went down, the Panthers had no choice but to throw in another freshman, Qadree Ollison. There was a very fine line in both seasons where disaster was very close. But both running backs came through. Things are different now because there are now five running backs that are capable of running for 1,000 yards on this team, if they got starter carries. One of them actually did run for 1,000 yards in college, as a freshman, and he may be the fifth best one as far as pure talent.


WIDE RECEIVERS: Six of the seven top receivers are back, with only Dontez Ford graduating. And he had only 288 yards receiving. If that wasn't good enough, there could be two newcomers that will be in the mix.

As for those returning, the top receiver last year, 6'3" 210 pound redshirt senior Jester Weah, is back after one of the more surprising Pitt seasons in recent history. Criticized even up into the beginning of the season for having bad hands, he shut everybody up by coming up with a season that included 870 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns, and an incredible 24.2 yards a catch. Weah not only has great size, but he's also one of the fastest football players in the country, and that includes the NFL. And the NFL is where he may end up if he has another season like that. And with Browne behind center, his reception totals may go up, too.

It remains to be seen how new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson uses 5'8" 190 junior Quadree Henderson, but rest assured, he'll be used. The All-American return man has to do better in the passing game, where he had just 286 yards receiving last year, but on jet sweeps Henderson was a terror with 631 yards rushing on a crazy 10.5 yards a carry, and 5 touchdowns. If Watson is smart he'll continue to use the jet sweeps with Henderson because he's too talented to waste.

Four other returning veterans are Tre Tipton, Aaron Mathews, Maurice Ffrench, and Rafael Araujo-Lopes. The 6'0" 190 pound redshirt junior, Tipton, has battled injuries for two years. If he isn't healthier this season he will be in danger of getting passed over on the depth chart. The talent is there to be a solid all around receiver, however. Mathews showed as a true freshman last year that he has a bright future. At 6'4" and 190 pounds he has the length, and he also proved to be a superb blocker. Ffrench was utilized as Henderson's backup, and while he caught no passes, he did run 12 times for 10.2 yards a carry and 2 touchdowns. Late in the season he was used on defense for a few plays, so there's always a chance that he could move to cornerback. Araujo-Lopes is a quick little 5'9" 185 pound redshirt junior that ran 6 times and caught 3 passes. He also did well on special teams, which could be his future with such competition.

Speaking of competition, things will get even more competitive now that 6'3" 190 pound redshirt freshman Ruben Flowers, and 6'1" 205 pound true freshman Michael Smith, have entered the fray. Flowers was a highly ranked, coveted receiver that redshirted last season. With a year in the system he could now be heavily in the mix for playing time. Smith has a nice array of traits, including speed, and he may just have to enough talent to see the field in his first year.

Incoming freshmen Darian Street and Dontavius Butler will probably redshirt, though Butler has a college ready body that gives him a chance to get on the field as a freshman.

Bottom line- This is going to be a very interesting group next season. There is some talent here, but the group was very young and raw last year so the results weren't overwhelming. But with a year of seasoning, a new offensive coordinator, and a quarterback with a big arm, the results could improve a good deal. The only thing we know for sure is that Weah will start, and Henderson will get the ball in a variety of ways. After that, there will be a mad scramble to see who joins them at the top.


TIGHT ENDS: Starter Scott Orndoff is gone, as is his backup, Jaymar Parrish. But the talent that is arriving is extremely impressive. Leading the way are 6'6" 255 redshirt sophomore Chris Clark, and 6'5" 280 pound freshman Charles Reeves.

Clark took a circuitous route to Pittsburgh, and he has a lot to prove to his detractors. But he is the former No. 1 tight end prospect in the country so he has massive talent just waiting to be tapped. He sat out last year after transferring from UCLA, and while sitting out he hurt his knee in preseason practices. Now it's his time to shine.

Clark can not falter as the starter because Reeves is right there with him as far as talent. He's a huge 280 pounds, but amazingly he's not overweight. He's just an enormous human being. And if that's not impressive enough, he has excellent speed and athleticism for that size. He was used mostly as a huge wideout in high school, but obviously the size is there to be a good blocker, too.

Two other freshmen arriving on the scene are two locals- 6'4" 245 pound Tyler Sear, and 6'7" 260 pound Grant Carrigan. Sear is the smaller of the two, but he's hardly small. Cardigan is big, but can get downfield pretty well. He's more of a receiver than an inline blocker right now. One of them may have to come through as a blocker immediately. But the Panthers staff are also looking to add a graduate transfer so that the position can have more experience.



Bottom line- The experience is practically nil, but the talent is highly impressive. The staff needed to restock, and they did a fantastic job of doing that. Both Clark and Reeves have NFL potential, and Sear and Carrigan are good developmental prospects. A grad transfer would be a nice touch.


OFFENSIVE LINE: The unit lost two really good linemen in Adan Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson, but the cupboard is not bare. The next star on the line is 6'6" 300 pound redshirt junior Brian O'Neil. A former 2-star tight end, O'Neill is now looking like a possible future first round pick thanks to his length and great feet. He's been the starter the past two seasons at right tackle, but with Bisnowaty gone from the left tackle spot, he could switch over.

The other starting tackle will be 6'7" 325 pound redshirt senior Jaryd Jones-Smith, who finally gets his chance to shine in his last year. He has a lot to prove, and should play accordingly. The talent is there to play in the NFL. It's still unknown if he'll be on the left side or the right side.

At guard, 6'6" 315 pound redshirt junior Alex Bookser returns to one of the spots, and he should be reaching an all-conference level next season. At the other guard spot, 6'4" 335 pound redshirt senior Alex Officer had mixed results last year as the center, but that was mostly due to snapping issues from time to time. He should be more solid at guard. His expected replacement, should he make the expected switch to guard, will be 6'3" 310 pound redshirt junior Connor Dintino, who made the switch from defensive tackle last year and impressed the coaches in practices.

The depth is much more questionable, but that's more because of experience than talent. At tackle, 6'5" 320 pound redshirt sophomore Tony Pilato, and 6'6" 365 pound redshirt freshman Justin Morgan,   have to come through if there is going to be depth. Two incoming freshmen, 6'6" 325 pound Carter Warren, and 6'5" 315 pound Jerry Drake, are going to be very good, but it's hard to see time as a true freshman on the offensive line. One of them may be forced into action, though. Another incoming freshman, 6'6" 265 pound Gabe Houy, also has good potential, but he will redshirt next season because he needs to get bigger.

At guard, 6'5" 300 pound redshirt freshman Brandon Ford showed in practices last year that he could possibly help this year, and he may be needed. At 6'4" and 280 pounds, another redshirt freshman, Bryce Hargrove, will also be in the mix. Mike Herndon, a 6'4" 315 pound redshirt junior, was on defense last year, but was on offense before that. He may need to move back to offense again.

If Dintino goes down, Officer will need to go back to center and Ford may have to step in. Another center, 6'3" 270 pound Owen Drexel, was brought in, but he's not big enough yet, and will have to redshirt.

Bottom line- The starters should be good, and O'Neill is All-American caliber. Jones-Smith and Bookser are all-star candidates, too. The depth is very questionable, however. There's always a chance that Warren or Drake could see reserve minutes, and they do already have college size, but it would be better for their development if they redshirted. Realistically, barring a rash of injuries, only an extra guard and an extra tackle are needed, and local products Pilato and Ford may have to really come through to provide solid backup minutes. I would also suspect that the staff is on the lookout for a grad transfer to provide some experience as a backup.


Conclusion: The Panthers offense will have a very different look next season. That's a scary thought for an offense that was one of the best in school history. There's a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterback, and a new tight end, plus two future NFL offensive lineman and one of the best, most inspirational players that Pitt ever had, are gone.

While it sounds dire when you say it like that, there's still a lot to like. New offensive coordinator Shawn Watson is an experienced coach that has a lot to prove after his stint at Texas did not go well. He will get a chance to do what he wants from Narduzzi, but only to a certain extent. Narduzzi wants an explosive offense that was similar to the offense he had last season. As long as Watson is somewhat similar in style to the offense Matt Canada ran, the offense should do well. Will it be as good as last year's offense? That's asking a lot, but it doesn't have to be as good. It just needs to be good.

Watson was given a gift when he arrived to see Browne on the campus. He has first round NFL potential, and this is his last chance. MacVittie as his backup will also see the field, and he's just as exciting.

The running backs are among the most talented and deep running back groups in the country. There's so many good running backs that it's impossible to tell now who will get most of the carries. In fact, there are so many that one back may not even get a large portion of the carries. But no matter who is doing the running, though, the Panthers should have a very good rushing attack.

When Browne and MacVittie aren't handing it off to the vast array of running backs, they have a lot of other weapons. Weah and Henderson have game breaking speed, and more importantly they known how to use it. Tipton and Mathews will be one year better, and Flowers and Smith are now on the scene. At tight end, Clark and Reeves have the potential to be a dominant duo.

The offensive line has some questions that need to be answered as far as depth, but O'Neill, Bookser, and Jones-Smith all have all-star potential. If the young depth comes through, the line has the potential to be excellent again.