The mustache man himself Dave Wannstedt is long gone. Many will miss the way he walks, talks and just his overall presence that he brought to college football. He did have a solid career at Pitt despite failing to reach a BCS Bowl or a Big East crown.
He has had many NFL players, but his final three years the team went 9-4, 10-3 and 8-5! I remember watching their bowl game against Oregon State in 2008. It was easily the worst played or most boring bowl game I have ever witnessed! It was a 3-0 final in which Pitt lost! That really is the tale told story on the Panthers and why they come up short in the Big East every season.
They were just 72nd in total offense, averaging only 366 YPG a season ago, and that is where new head coach Todd Graham steps in. Originally, it was Mike Haywood that was going to be the HC, but he ran into some legal trouble and was lost. Graham was at Tulsa the past four seasons and went 36-17 as he turned that offense into a point making machine.
Red Zone Woes
Graham will have a few options even with the loss of RB Dion Lewis. Lewis and Ray Graham both went bonkers in most of the games they played last year.
The passing game, however, was just awful!. QB Tino Sunseri needs to avoid turning the ball over (nine INT’s) and must develop pocket presence with a talented group of skill players around him. Besides stud RB Ray Graham, he has a pair of receivers who can stretch the field and hang onto the ball in the red zone.
The Panthers’ only true red zone threat is Mike Shanahan, who stands tall at 6’5″, 220. The bad news was that he only had one TD last season and Devin Street (6’4″, 190 sophomore) had just two TD’s!
Those numbers better improve with the size and athleticism they have. The OL (Lucas Nix and Jodan Gibbs are two stud tackles) should be opening up plenty of holes for Ray Graham as three return for the front five. In a backup role behind Dion Lewis, Graham ran for 922 yards and eight TD’s. To sum up the struggles in the red zone, Pitt ranked just 76th in red zone by scoring a TD/FG in 41 of the 51 drives.
Offense: Close, But No Cigar
This offense was only 72nd in America, averaging just 367 YPG. This is now the third time in the past four seasons that the Panthers have ranked 72nd or lower!
How that is even possible for a team that has two or three future NFL first rounder’s every season? It is simple: no QB!!
Until Sunseri plays better, the Panthers team may never reach a BCS Bowl while he is there. It is bizarre or maybe more of a coincidence that both the basketball and football teams have failed to reach stardom in the postseason.
Defense: Stout Up Front
The defense has eight back, and I have their DL, LB and DB’s as the best in the Big East!! DE Brandon Lindsey had 10 sacks and 7.5 TFL’s a year ago, which makes him First Team All- Big East heading into the season. Greg Williams switches back to DE or at PAN, which is still a DL position.
Williams was a former OLB and possesses a ton of speed coming off the edge. The LB core has a beast by the name of Max Gruder, who was second on the team with 84 tackles from a season ago.
Tristan Roberts will also guard the running game, as he too contributed on a team was in the Big East and 17th overall against the run allowing just 120 YPG!
The secondary was also fabulous, ranking 19th in the nation, but the loss of SS Dom DeCicco will make it tough to match last year’s production. Jarred Holley is solid, and CB’s Antwaun Reed and K’Waun Williams are not too shabby, either.
Those corners will determine just how good this Pitt team becomes in 2011. They get Iowa (Kinnick Stadium) and Notre Dame (Heinz Field) in consecutive weeks in September.
Though it will not have an effect on them in the Big East standings, it will be a true testament on how much better they will be without Wannstedt out of the gates. November 25 at Morgantown will likely decide if their BCS dreams get dashed again.
Predicted Finish: 8-5, 6-1
Predicted Bowl: Belk Bowl
Predicted order of finish in Big East: Third