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Written by PSB Bryan | 31 August 2010

After an entire off-season dissecting the Panthers and the Utes, we're getting down to it.  48 hours from now, we'll be watching football.  I've been so excited for this game for so long that I'm just ready for it to be here already.  There are a few notes to pass along, however:
  • Pitt released it's injury report today.  The report is mandated by the Big East in order to promote gambling transparency, even for non-conference games where the opponent is under no similar obligation.  No surprises in the report.  Graham and Romeus are the only players in doubt and both are listed as probable.  Out for the Panthers are a host of freshmen who are headed towards being red-shirted anyways.  Mission #1 of the summer was a success: no significant injuries.
  • Wannstedt doesn't feel that the altitude of Rice-Eccles Stadium is going to be an issue:

"We had a heck of a summer workout program with lifting and conditioning and we're just in such good shape.

"We're in the best shape we can be, so I really don't think that the elevation is going to be an issue."

    For reference, Salt Lake City is 4,657 feet above sea level and Denver is 5,183.  No one disputes that the air in Denver effects athletes coming from lower elevations.  So the question becomes how much that 500 feet matter.  Now, my remedial-math-class-level brain figures that's a difference of about 10%.  Is that last 10% really the difference?  Doubtful.  That worries me.  I expect to see a lot of guys sucking wind in the second quarter.  Let's hope they're able to get past it.
  • Nike will unveil the Pro-Combat Series uniforms tomorrow in New York City.  Pitt and West Virginia will be two teams featured this season.  Before we all lose our minds in the excitement that there could possibly be Script involved, let's be real here.  Steve Pederson is not going to let wear Pitt wear the Script, now or ever.  Even as a throwback, it will open all kinds of old wounds that the athletic department has already put to rest.  Not going to happen.  I'm going to go out on a limb based on last year's models and predict that they suck.  Bold, I know.  Anyway, Chas over at PittBlather will be covering the event live so join me in instantly refreshing his site all day tomorrow while pretending to work.
Kickoff in less than 48 hours.  Hail to Pitt.
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Written by PSB Bryan | 30 August 2010

 

Sean of the Utah blog BlockU and I have been anxiously counting down to the begning of the season on Twitter.  He was kind enough to answer some of my questions on the Utes.  I'll link my responses to his questions when he posts them.

1. For the better part of the decade, Utah has been one of the consistently outstanding programs in college football - without the luxury of an automatic BCS bid.  How has Kyle Whittingham been able to sustain the success of Urban Myer?

It wasn't easy, that's for sure. Urban Meyer is a great coach, but he didn't recruit very well here at Utah. Well that's not completely fair, since he wasn't here long enough to really alter the dynamics of recruiting. It also didn't help that most of Meyer's best players from the 2004 team either graduated or left for the NFL early. Alex Smith and Steve Savoy could have come back for another season, but ultimately opted to ride the undefeated season to primo spots in the NFL Draft. For Smith, it was the right move - he was selected number one overall.

So Whittingham took over a program that didn't necessarily recruit for 2005 - since there was no need with the potential of all the talent returning, specifically on the offensive side and in the end, watched as that talent left for the pros. So there was a considerable drop-off from 2004 to 2005 and it showed, as Utah went from 12-0 to 7-5. 2006 was the last season before Whittingham really started stacking the cupboards again with great talent. It was also the last really mediocre season he's had at Utah. Since, his teams have gone: 9-4, 13-0 and 10-3. The best three year stretch in program history.


It took a bit longer than most fans had hoped or expected and there were certainly growing pains along the way, but I don't think we knew fully how much talent the program lacked when Whittingham took over. You take away all the players from what made Meyer's teams so special and you're back to a team with talent that is more befitting of the pre-Meyer days. Over time, though, Whittingham has been able to upgrade the talent across the board and because of that, he's kept what Meyer built rolling along quite nicely.


2. There's been some concern in the media out here about defending the spread, and specifically, how versatile Utah's offense is.  What sort of formations should Pitt fans be on the lookout for?

The Utes aren't a typical spread option team. They certainly do not run it in its most purist form like maybe when Meyer was here in 2003 and 2004. Now it's a bit more diverse. They throw out a lot of looks that aren't necessarily identified with the spread. But the overall tendencies are unmistakably spread - if that makes sense.

Utah loves to run the what will be called the Asiata package. It's essentially the Wildcat, but used namely with Matt Asiata - who was taken out due to injury three and a half games into the 2009 season. You line him up as the quarterback and he'll either run it, or pass it. Utah's second touchdown in the 2009 Sugar Bowl came via this play and they had a huge score against BYU that same season where he passed to the back of the end zone.


The coaches also have discussed opening up the tight ends a bit more due to the success we had utilizing them in the Poinsettia Bowl against Cal. Another new wrinkle I expect, based on the Poinsettia Bowl (and it isn't new in the sense of the program, but rather the coaching staff) is the Utah Pass. Now that's its term out here in Utah because it was popularized by the Utes many moons ago. That came under the reign of former Utah head coach Cactus Jack Curtice and quarterback Lee Grosscup. The play is better known as the shovel pass - but its origins are here in Salt Lake. That play was ripped out of the Utah playbook under subsequent coaches and finally brought back when Meyer took over. Whittingham's teams went away from it, but it was successful against Cal and I anticipate they'll probably do it more this season.


How much more or whether it'll even happen in the Pitt game is unknown. But it's a fun little play that can net a ton of yards if not defended right.

3. Quarterback Jordan Wynn took over for the final 1/3 of last season and put up solid numbers as a freshmen (1329 yds, 8 TDs, 4 INTs). What are the exceptions for Wynn as he enters his first season as the starter?

Jordan Wynn has high expectations based on his performance toward the end of the season. But we're reasonable fans who understand he's only making his sixth start. There are going to be ups and downs. Thankfully, I think what makes Wynn special is his ability to handle the instability of being a young quarterback. He rarely appeared to play badly enough to hurt the Utes. His worst game was against BYU and he actually looked pretty good until getting hit on the first drive of the game. After that, he really wasn't the same. So we expect growing pains, but he seems to be the type of quarterback who can overcome that by not putting himself in bad situations that could ultimately lead to a big turnover by the offense.

4.  Ok, enough offense. What should we expect from Utah's defense?

The defense is young. They haven't had to replace this many players since the 2005 season. That's a concern. The good news for Utah is their head coach has long established himself as one of the best defensive minds in the game. He was Utah's defensive coordinator from 1995 to 2004 when he took over the program. Since becoming head coach, his defenses have rarely produced bad results. 2005 was the weakest season and as I explained earlier, there were varying situations for that.

The defensive line is probably the most experienced aspect of the defense. They bring back a great deal of talent there and Utah has historically been very good at stopping the run. It is true, though, they were inconsistent last year, allowing TCU, Oregon and Air Force to run all over them. That's obviously a concern, but overall, most Ute fans feel this could be the strongest part of the defense and more consistency is expected.


The secondary is where we'll see a great deal of change. But Whittingham has recruited well here, especially with speed and athleticism. Of course, much of it is raw and with untested talent, you can expect a few mistakes.
Hopefully the fact Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback lowers the chances for those mistakes.

5. With Utah moving on to the greener pastures of the Pac-10(12), is there any chance the Utah-BYU series continues? I'd hate to see college football lose another great rivalry a la Pitt-Penn State.

I'd say it's very likely to continue. I'm not sure it will happen next year due to potential scheduling conflicts, but it will continue. There is just too much money locally for it not to happen. It's always BYU's biggest home game and it's always going to be Utah's biggest home game - well for a while, anyway. It'll be interesting to see how the rivalry changes now that Utah is moving on to the BCS.

The move, though, couldn't have happened at a better time for the rivalry. It was getting way too nasty over the past few years and this potential break could calm things down. Last year, Max Hall, BYU's quarterback, went on an epic rant about how he hated the Utes and the whole University. Coach Whittingham's wife was apparently smacked by a BYU fan at last year's game and Hall accused Ute fans of dumping beer on his family in 2008 in Salt Lake City. So you can see it's very heated. Hopefully things cool off now that so much won't be on the line anymore.
But we'll see.

Thanks, Sean.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 29 August 2010

Spent most of the day getting things together for the long-haul of football/basketball.  Not sure why I put off all the stuff I knew I had to do (collect logos for gameday pieces, bookmark Big East team local papers, etc), but I did.  The world doesn't stop for me, so there are a few weekend pieces to get to before this blog turns into Utah 24/7.

Ron Cook loves him some Frank Cignetti:

The man works miracles with quarterbacks.

Remember where Pitt was last season at this time? Cignetti was the new offensive coordinator, having left the University of California to come home. His father, Frank Sr., was an assistant at Pitt and head coach at West Virginia and Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Senior Bill Stull was the Panthers' quarterback, coming off a lousy performance in a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the 2008 Sun Bowl. He was widely considered the team's weak link. Just about everybody was asking one question: Where are Pitt's points going to come from?

You know that answer.

Stull played well as Pitt averaged 32 points per game, its highest total since a quarterback named Dan Marino was running the offense in 1981. Stull played so well in leading the Panthers to a 10-3 record that he's with the Kansas City Chiefs, fighting for their backup job with another former Pitt quarterback, Tyler Palko.

Do you believe in miracles?

I don't necessarily disagree, but let's give Stull some credit.  Bill could have easily retreated into his shell after the Sun Bowl (and the subsequent BooGate 2009) and ceeded the starting job to Bostick.  Instead, Stull buckled down and took care of business in the summer and had a damn good year.  I'm not saying Cignetti doesn't deserve credit - he deserves tons - but let's not forget about Stull, a kid who put together one of the better seasons from a college quarterback.

Sunseri might be the truer reflection on Cignetti's performance since returning to Southwestern Pennsylvania.  Tino was a redshirt freshmen when Cignetti came along; Stull was a senior.  If Cignetti's truly a miracle worker with quarterbacks, Tino will shine.  After what I'm sure were some very brief reps with Cavanaugh during camp back in 2008 when he first entered Pitt, Sunseri will be almost exclusively the product of Cignetti's system.  Cignetti has faith in him.  I have faith, but let's wait and see.

Speaking of Southwestern Pennsylvania, between Terrelle Prior (Jeannette native/tOSU), Dion Lewis (Pitt), Jon Baldwin (Pitt), Evan Royster (PSU) and Noel Devine (WVU), the Pittsburrgh market has lots of elite college connections.  Great for the region and great for Pitt.

Of course, all the hype is nice, but Pitt is still going to have to perform on the field:

So, the schedule may be the biggest thing standing between Pitt and a double-digit wins regular season. The Panthers could be better than they were last year and still end up with three losses.

But Pitt's high expectations are based not on the schedule, but on such things as the presence of a Heisman Trophy candidate running back and a strong running game, one of the best receivers in the nation, a dominant defensive line and a defense that should be one of the best in the Big East if not the country.

Winning the Big East this season is expected.  Anything else is a disappointment.  Simple as that.  A 10 regular season is a plus - not quite expected, but pretty close.  I'm a pretty big Wannstedt supporter, but it's time for results.

Do it. Hail to Pitt.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 28 August 2010


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(Dozen Bake Shop)


More of Pitt's future schedules are being leaked and they sure are sugary and delicious.  Football is first to the cupcake buffet with the news out of The Blue Hen State that the University of Delaware will be participating in the Cash-for-Beatings program.  Joe Flacco U will make the trip to Heinz in 2014 and 2019.  Get your Panther Club points in order now.

There's also news from the men's basketball program that Pitt will be hosting Maryland Eastern Shore and North Florida (h/t to The Oakland Zoo).  UMES is a historically black college conspicuously kind of on a western shore in Maryland.  Anyway, the game is on December 18th.  North Florida is coming up for a match-up on November 13th.  I'm assuming this is a vain attempt for Jamie Dixon to be the first non-Florida coach to beat every directional school in the state.  Beware, University of West Florida - we're watching you.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 26 August 2010

Although this summer has had much (understandable) hype for the offensive stars, there's a fair chance that Pitt's BCS dreams will rest on the shoulders of the defense.  If it's a Dave Wannstedt defense, then it's success lives and dies with the defensive line:

Today, Pitt's defensive line - bolstered Wednesday by the return to practice of All-Big East end Greg Romeus from back spasms - looks to be one of the deepest positions on the team.

"I feel good about our kids," said Gattuso, now the assistant head coach/defensive line. "I like our matchups. We are confident in our game.

"We have depth and the young guys are ready to play. We feel like we can play eight or nine guys, 10 if we have to."

Much of the rest of the article focuses on RS junior Brandon Lindsey and his battle to see the field.  I have to admit, I've largely given up on Lindsey developing into a big-time player.  It's not like he's a bad player, he's second string, but the expectations were so high for him coming out of high school.  Couple that with his flashes of brilliance and you have a recipe for disappointed fans.  He still has two years left and by all accounts had a very good camp, so I'll be rooting for him to solidify his status as heir apparent to Romeus at RE.

Speaking of which, as the above article notes, Greg Romeus is back.  And apparently, he hasn't missed a beat:

If you are worried about defensive end Greg Romeus (back spasms) and his availibility for the Utah game, don't be. Today at practice he apparently got a little bit feisty - so much so that he had to be restrained after getting into a fight with scout team quarterbacks. "He must be back, he's fighting our scout team quarterback," Bennett said. "He's mad, so hell, I'm glad!"

That rush of air you're feeling a sigh of relief coming from Wannstedt's South Side office.  The Panthers can't afford a slow start like season.  Romeus is needed early and often if they're going to escape their brutal non-conference with 3-5 wins.

Also of note, K'Wuan Williams will definitely not redshirt this season and Aaron Donald will almost certainly see playing time as well.  I hate to burn Williams' redshirt, but corner is a position of desperate need.  At defensive tackle, I'll gladly take a true freshman who can break the two deep at any position.

The with the cornerback competition settled, the focus turns to determining who's "just ok" enough to play strongside linebacker: Greg Williams or Tristan Roberts.  Right now Roberts seems to have the lead, but Williams is coming back with a strong couple of practices.  I've gotten the feeling that the coaching staff has had enough of Williams' unsteady performances and were really hoping that Roberts could take the job away.  But apparently, no one has distinguished themselves enough to hold the job.  I'm expecting an all-conference season out of sophomore Dan Mason, so hopefully he can mask some of the deficiencies to his right.

But none of that matters if they can't defend their opponents' offense schemes.  As for their first defensive test of the season, Pitt feels confident it can handle Utah's high-octane spread offense:

The Panthers will play seven full-time spread teams this season in 12 games and at least three others who will use some version of the spread or wildcat in a limited way.

That is not much different than last season when they faced seven spread teams and Navy, a triple-option team.

But that does not mean Pitt will stop Utah's offense when the teams meet for the first time since that Fiesta Bowl. The Panthers, however, will be much better prepared for it than their staff was in 2004.

"Four, five, six years ago, we were all trying to figure out how to simulate the spread offense and the speed of the offense and what they do and, now, it just seems like it is easier to prepare for in a lot of ways," Gattuso said.

"Now, it is easier in preparation, but it is not easy in execution because the spread offense is going to make one guy make a tackle, that is the whole goal of that offense. If someone from defense is going to make a play it is going to be one guy, not two or three.

"They are just good at finding gaps and holes and putting your defenders in tough situations. But we're used to it now, we know how to prepare for it. It is still a tough offense to prepare for, but we're comfortable with it now and like I said, we know how to simulate it now."

7 days.

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Written by PSB Bryan | 25 August 2010

Dion Lewis named to the Doak Walker watch list.  Not to be cocky or anything, but if you haven't heard, he's pretty good.  Light it up:

Name

Award Watch List
Baldwin, Jon Biletnikoff (wide receiver)
Maxwell (overall player)
DeCicco, Dom Thorpe (defensive back)
Hutchins, Dan Lou Groza (kicker)
Lewis, Dion Doak Walker (running back)
Maxwell (overall player)
Walter Camp (overall player)
Pinkston, Jason Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Outland (offensive line/defensive tackle)
Romeus, Greg Bednarik (defensive player)
Hendricks (defensive end)
Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Lott (defensive player + character)

Nagurski (defensive end)

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 25 August 2010

It's about time.

After a long, hot summer full of hype and expectations, the dawn of the 2010 season is upon us.  You better believe that Utah is getting primed for this game:

The team was divided by the usual white jerseys for offense, black for defense, and a new look, red jerseys for the scout team. Freshman running back Lucky Radley stood out on the day, playing the role of highly vaunted Pitt running back Dion Lewis, complete with a bright yellow jersey with the number 28, Lewis' jersey number. Other Ute players donned the same numbers as their Pittsburgh counterparts, aiding the scout team in running Pitt schemes for the defensive starters.

Also of note in the above piece is that starting outside linebacker JJ Williams will miss the Pitt game.

But what does this game mean?  Pauls Zeise says not a whole lot:

So in short, don't read too much into the results of the first game of the season.Yes, you'd like Pitt to win it to get off to a good start and to grab some momentum, but if they do it doesn't mean much more than they are 1-0. And if they lose, it doesn't mean much more than they are 0-1.

Chas over at PittBlather responds to Zeise, making some good points of his own.  And yes, while a loss would only derail Pitt's national championship ambitions (as small as they may be), this is a statement game for both teams.  For Utah, a win is another reminder that despite being in the MWC for another season, they belong with the big boys.  With the program heading to the greener pastures of the Pac-10(12), this may be one of the last time times they can play the disrespect card - at least in terms of their conference affiliation.  They are the big boys now.

For Pitt, a win is a proclemation that Pitt isn't just "Big East good," but are serious contenders to do some BCS damage.  To get Dion Lewis' Heisman campaign underway.  To establish Tino Suneri as "The Man" for the next three seasons.  And yes, to earn a little payback on behalf of their fans for the Fiesta Bowl loss.  This is a big game.  Losing will do nothing to end Pitt's chance of winning the Big East (a realistic goal), but a big game nonetheless.

As with all big games, there will be the pleasantries:

"I don't know him personally but I've observed his career take shape. He's an excellent football coach, obviously, he's been at every level and he's really turned that Pitt program around," Whittingham said. "He's got them right where they need to be right now. They're in great shape. They're picked to win the Big East this year and (Wannstedt) really has returned that program to prominence."

Much can (and will) be said about the fantastic job Whittingham has done out west.  Keeping the Utah program prominent when Urban Myer left is nothing short of incredible.  Suppoedly better programs have fallen of cliffs after losing much worse coaches (Louisville).  There should be no doubt that he will have his team ready to play ball on Sept. 2.

Let's do this.

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 24 August 2010

Tons of hype for Pitt on 93.7 The Fan yesterday.  There's apparently a way to embed the media player on this site, but I haven't figured it out yet.  For the time being, click on the link and the interview will open with Quicktime.  If you want to save the mp3, right click and "Save Target As."

 

Steve Pederson on The Fan Morning Show

 

Tino Sunseri on with Vinnie & Cook

 

Dave Wannstedt with Chris Mueller

 

Cam Saddler with Sibel & Starkey

 

Jason Pinkston was also on last night, but the link isn't up yet.  I'll check back later today.  I guess they're not posting that one.

UPDATE 1: Jeff Hafley on The Fan Morning Show

 

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Written by PSB Bryan | 23 August 2010

Jamie Dixon has pulled in his fourth recruit for the class of 2011.  Meet 6'11" Malcolm Gilbert of Philadelphia, a 3 star on Rivals and a 92 on ESPN.  notable offers for Gilbert include Clemson, Virginia Tech, Ohio State and Wake Forest.

I won't lie: I don't know a thing about this guy except every writes about his defense:

But at 6 feet, 11 inches tall, Gilbert was a major factor in helping East Coast Elite down Andre Drummond and the Connecticut Basketball Club, 63-58, for the title.

Gilbert had five blocks on Drummond, the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2012, in the first half and six total blocks in the game. He also finished with 9 rebounds — 6 offensive, 3 defensive — before fouling out with 54 seconds remaining.

“He’s intriguing because of his upside,” East Coach Elite coach Terrell Myers said before the final. “What people don’t understand is, they see 6-11, they look at him as an offensive player. He’s not an offensive player, he’s a defensive player.

“He can score the ball but I don’t think you’re going to throw it in and get Dwight Howard or Hakeem Olajuwon. That’s not who he is. Maybe you’re looking at more of a Greg Oden-type once he bulks up. He’s definitely similar to him.”

That would be very, very good.  Still, as the the 17th center in the class of 2011, he seems to be a project - which most big men are at 16.  Perhaps he'll be a Gary McGhee type player; a four year player who takes some time to develop.  I know people are always fatuated with the one-and-done players who can come in and dominate immediately, but in the world of big men, Demarcus Cousins is the exception and not the rule.

No idea how the dynamic will work out with Steven Adams enrolling the following year.  Presumably, Gilbert will be a year ahead in his development, but still maybe behind Dante Taylor and JJ Richardson on the depth chart.  By many indications, Steven Adams is very, very good.  How this will play out will likely be the topic of a future post after a humid summer night in Greentree.

With Gilbert coming in and only three seniors graduating, there's the uncomfortable question of who will be the odd man out.  This year's incoming players are almost assuredly safe because they won't have had time to prove themselves.  That leaves the class of 2009 (Patterson, Zanna, Richardson, Taylor) and the class of 2008 (Woodall, Gibbs, Robinson, Miller).  It's WAY too early to even begin to speculate who could be out come next summer, so I'm going to hold off until after we see the product on the court.  This is an uncomfortable process, but one that I suppose is a necessary evil of being a big-time program.

Anyway, on a much happier note: Welcome to Pitt, Malcolm.

(As always, I'll update this post as I scower the series of tubes for more information on this young man.)

Adam Zagoria: Malcolm Gilbert to Pitt

UPDATE 1: Two more articles on the commitment.  March Madness All Season Long and NBE Basketball Report

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Written by PSB Bryan | 22 August 2010

I got an email this weekend requesting a list of all the Pitt players named to a preseason watch list.  Ask and you shall receive:

 

Name

Award Watch List
Baldwin, Jon Biletnikoff (wide receiver)
Maxwell (overall player)
DeCicco, Dom Thorpe (defensive back)
Hutchins, Dan Lou Groza (kicker)
Lewis, Dion Maxwell (overall player)
Walter Camp (overall player)
Pinkston, Jason Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Outland (offensive line/defensive tackle)
Romeus, Greg Bednarik (defensive player)
Hendricks (defensive end)
Lombardi (down lineman/tight end/linebacker)
Lott (defensive player + character)

Nagurski (defensive end)

Let me know if I missed anyone.
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