Good news of sorts. The Big Something expansion chatter has died down a bit. At least insofar as media coverage.
TNIAAM is cautiously concerned that the Big Something might still take two from the Big East and destroy the conference. At this point, I am a touch more optimistic that the conference can survive because it really seems that only one team might be plucked — not thrive, but survive. The money is the problem, not the BCS bid for those left behind even if only one goes.
That’s another pebble added to the pile of rocks hovering over one of the Big East’s most storied programs. The Panthers are widely regarded to be on the outside looking in despite making more sense academically, geographically, historically, and athletically than any team not named Notre Dame, the Panthers’ recent renaissance in both basketball and football may be a BCS farewell tour. If so, that would be thanks to the Big Ten Network already being on in Pittsburgh, a grinding irony that will not cheer up anyone grimly hanging on to the university of Tony Dorsett and Dan Marino as they prepare to meet new conference rivals East Carolina and Central Florida.
Even though it makes no sense from any other perspective, the Big Ten Network is the ruthless driver of expansion logic. That’s working to the detriment of Pitt and, frankly, everyone else. As always, this is Notre Dame’s fault.
This is not some hater on Pitt. He dislikes intensely the idea of Rutgers in the conference. Brian has been one of the bigger proponents of adding Pitt to the Big Something. He sees Pitt as a better fit to the conference in the broader sense, especially within the geography. The fact is, with the money continuing to spiral, the lack of football TV money in the Big East puts Pitt closer and closer to Mountain West and C-USA territory in the long-term.
Continuing that theme, in case you weren’t aware, Pitt has had one of the bigger declining populations in US markets this decade.
Moving to filler material. An annual offseason chestnut is the call for certain rivalry games to be played once more. Whether nationally — here and here — or in the Big East, Pitt-Penn State is always a popular one.
Brian Bennett at ESPN.com’s Big East blog breaks down the best units in RB and WR. Pitt is unsurprisingly #1 in RB.
1. Pittsburgh: The Panthers have the Big East’s offensive player of the year returning in Dion Lewis, who rushed for 1,799 yards and 17 scores a year ago. Backup Ray Graham, who averaged 5.7 yards per carry, could start for most teams. Henry Hynoski should be the best fullback in the league this year. That’s enough to merit the No. 1 spot here.
Edged out for #1 by Cinci for WRs.
2. Pittsburgh: It just doesn’t get any better than Jonathan Baldwin. Mike Shanahan came on late in the season a year ago and should provide a strong No. 2 target. Guys like Devin Street, Cam Saddler and Greg Cross could make this a corps that can give Cincinnati a run for its elite status.
So that’s two parts of the offense that looks hard to beat in the Big East. So, that puts some pressure on the QB. How does Tino Sunseri feel about that?
That’s a daunting responsibility, but he appears unfazed. “I’ve always had the motto: ‘Don’t feel pressure, apply pressure,’ ” he said.
Especially to an open cut. You have to keep the pressure firmly. Oh, sorry, wrong pressure.
“I don’t know if so much depends on me,” Tino said. “It’s about our team as a whole. The offensive line is a huge part. They have to open lanes for Dion and provide protection for me so Jonathan and our other receivers can run downfield. If it happens that we lose containment, I need to make plays on my feet to extend the play and make a throw downfield. We just have to prepare for the worst and hope for the best on every play.”
Obviously, complete success isn’t going to depend on one player, not even the quarterback. But erratic quarterback play was the primary reason Pittsburgh didn’t meet expectations in 2007 and ’08.
The Panthers didn’t challenge for the Big East title until Stull elevated his play. In ’08, he threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (nine). But last season, he threw 21 touchdowns and eight interceptions while improving his passing percentage and passing yardage.
Pitt can’t afford to take a step back at quarterback. If Sunseri is successful, the Panthers could be among the best teams in the country. If he isn’t, another Meineke Car Care Bowl appearance may be in store.
So, yeah. Pressure.