I don’t know about the rest of you, but this past Saturday was the last Saturday I expect to be doing house and yard projects or work until sometime in April. In just a few days, the season kicks off and Pitt is a big part of that start.
It should be one of the most hyped games of the week, but since it is on Versus rather than the Mouse Monopoly it is getting considerably less hype. Oh, well.
Papers keep running previews. Some focusing on the Big East, and Pitt still is the favorite.
There’s an interesting theme I’ve been noticed, that didn’t crystallize for me until last night. I read this simple conference prediction rundown on DawgSports.
Pittsburgh. I have a special level of disdain for the Panthers—Georgia has a frustrating history with Pitt—and I have little inclination to repose faith in Dave Wannstedt, but Brian Kelly, Jim Leavitt, and Rich Rodriguez all are gone from what was never a deep league, putting the Panthers in a position to finish atop the conference.
But still pair that with this little bit from possible road blocks to a very good season.
The “hiccup factor” has reared its head in each of Wannstedt’s five seasons as coach, and that has prevented the Panthers from achieving their goals. In 2005, it was a horrible loss to Ohio. In 2006, it was a blown fourth-quarter lead against a bad Connecticut team. In 2007, it was a home loss against Navy. In 2008, it was a loss to Bowling Green. Last year, there was a blown lead against dreadful North Carolina State and a blown 21-point lead at home against Cincinnati. If Pitt is going to be a national power and Big East champion, it needs to go out and win every game it is supposed to and finish the job.
All told, it adds up to a team with enormous potential that is overdue to jump to a higher level, which is why anything less than a Big East championship and a double-digit win season — despite the tough schedule — will be a major disappointment.
WVU has the closest talent level and maturity of players to match Pitt, but few are picking them to win the Big East. If anything, the darling upset pick to win it is UConn because everyone respects the coaching acumen of Randy Edsall (with good reason), and no other team fits comfortably as the “darkhorse.”
Butch Jones followed Brian Kelly before and kept things going. He seems to be a good head coach, but it is hard to believe the Bearcats can do it without missing a beat. Same with Skip Holtz in USF. In both cases, they come to programs with some talent — but the depth is questionable and it is too much of a leap of faith to pick those programs to win with it as a new head coach tries to put his imprint on things.
Rutgers is no longer a pick anyone wants to make.Their poor play last year when expected to contend, along with serious questions on the offense — O-line, wide receivers and tailback — has them picked in the mush middle of the pack.
Louisville and Syracuse simply are not ready. New coaches, that have people wanting them to succeed. Syracuse simply lacks enough talent, but seems to be on a UConn style track to develop the players even if not high-end recruits. Louisville is already getting recruits under Charlie Strong, but the cupboard at present is sparse and his actual head coaching acumen is unknown.
No one wants to pick WVU, because they just don’t trust Bill Stewart as the head coach not to screw it up. This is the guy who keeps forgetting he has Noel Devine. Limiting his touches and generally when you think of Stewart, you think of this face.
Now even Coach Wannstedt doesn’t get this level of disdain for his coaching (outside of Miami and Chicago).
It is hard to deny, even among Pitt fans, that there is a distrust in Coach Wannstedt making it through the season without a big gaffe. That there is going to be that game under Coach Wannstedt where the team comes out with a collective brain fart in their performance. Fall flat. Play like crap. Just not have a clue, despite the talent. Cue that camera shot to the sideline and an exasperated and shocked looking Coach Wannstedt will be there. Running his hand through his hair. Looking around for something or someone that can explain what the hell is happening.
The difference this year, is that the talent is throughout this team. Despite the very reasonable fears of the O-line and a new QB, the talent and depth is still the best overall in the Big East. Barring catastrophic injuries, Pitt has to be the favorite to win the Big East. Add in highly respected and accomplished assistant coaches, and you have to expect Pitt to win the Big East.
Coach Wannstedt from the day he got to Pitt has been determined to do things his way. That means his system and his style of play. Regardless of the talent.
I’ve disagreed and been very frustrated with it for the first few years, because I felt it wasted some of the talent on the team and did not put Pitt in the best position to win. That no longer holds. These are all his kids. His style is firmly in place. The players are for his system.
The pressure is and should be on Coach Wannstedt to deliver. No other program in the Big East has the talent and the coaching combination that matches Pitt this year.