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August 25, 2011

Hope many of you can make it out to FanFest. They are usually laid back, entertaining affairs. Think of it as the light appetizer before college football kicks off in a week, followed by an evening home-opener next Saturday. It should be a good evening.

As much excitement as most of us feel for the new season, the new style, the new players. It’s tempered by that bit of unknown. The unknown cuts both ways. It can fuel the excitement as you can project whatever you want. The offense being wide-open and constantly driving to be wildly successful. Then an attacking defense that puts teams back on their heels and forces opposing offenses into hurried mistakes.

On the other hand it is worrying about the O-line (as uusal). Can Ryan Turnley handle being the center for the season? Is the empty hole, lack of a true center ready to play going to doom the offense? Will Tino Sunseri truly thrive in the new offense the way everyone keeps saying? Will he show the consistency in game situations that he appears to have demonstrated in practices?

How will the defense really do as they change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with elements of the 3-3-5? Are the linebackers going to get exposed again this year? Will the corners really improve? The change in defense was a point made in a highly entertaining Big East preview:

Then to sound really authoritative, move to the defense and question the move to a 3-4, which while taking advantage of Brandon Lindsey in the rush end spot will also take some adjustment on everyone else’s part. (See Alabama and Georgia’s early struggles in moving to the alignment, particularly on third down situations.) The combination could make for some seriously entertaining if inefficient football: an offense running wind sprints down the field, only then yielding to a defense that alternates between haymaker shots on quarterbacks and some growing pains in a new scheme. (Read: busted plays and some very uneven likely points-allowed totals.)

You will want to read the whole thing. It has pie-charts.

Then there are all the players who may see their first action in Pitt uniforms. Zeise has the rundown on freshmen, transfers and JUCOs who could be playing and their potential impact. Not all of them will see the field. Some will redshirt. Some will have no impact. But it seems certain that Pitt will have more new faces get opportunities to play than in recent years.

Another unknown is the special teams. Specifically, Kicker Kevin Harper. All accounts seem incredibly positive.

But here we are on the eve of this season and Harper looks like a guy whose light finally went on – as his position coach, Randall McCray, said to me today – and he really seems like a guy who is going to have a big year. He has been booming kicks from 55 yards and beyond and he has been consistently making kicks from 45 yards and in — those shorter kicks were what he struggled with — and in this offense, as he told me today, they are all about scoring points so he is going to get plenty of opportunities to shine.

Then there was this money line from Harper —

We’re playing to win and score points as opposed to playing not to lose….” Harper said.

Wow. That is all I will say about that line – and I offer it without any editorial comment about it.

Now, I will write about Harper for Saturday’s paper but the thing that really impressed me is that he really has matured greatly and does seem to finally “get it”.  And based on my experience covering college football, when a player with a lot of talent “gets it” and the light does go on, well, that’s when he has a breakout year.

Yes, even the kicker has piled on Wannstedt. Whether merely perception or reality, the “playing not to lose” mentality was conventional wisdom with Pitt under Wannstedt.

Now, that is not to say that the last staff did not play to win, but the number one complaint I used to field from fans was that the Panthers were too conservative, particularly on defense but also on offense.

I don’t think that is going to be a problem this year as they are going to attack.

More unknown remains at linebacker spots.

2. Inside linebacker up for grabs. Coach Todd Graham maintains that Shane Gordon, Tristan Roberts and Max Gruder are all starters. But only two will be in the lineup each week. It appears Gordon and Roberts may be interchangeable, depending on who the Panthers play. Redshirt freshman Todd Thomas will start at spur linebacker and has impressed the coaches with the way he practiced during fall camp.

Max Gruder should be better in this system, because more often now, he gets to go forward rather than worry about having to break into coverage from the middle. Todd Thomas  will handle much more of that, and with Thomas’ speed (former safety/wide receiver) should be better in coverage. Gruder frustrated many fans last year because he was so weak in pass coverage, but to some extent that was because he was being asked to do too much and put in situations that were not to his strengths.

Thomas says he is now more prepared than ever after a year of prep school and injuries kept him out of the line-up (at WR) last year. He is one of the players with the potential to thrive in this defensive scheme. And also get burned at times.

But who cares about the boring old defense. Even if it is an attacking and potentially exciting, playmaking defense. It’s all about the offense in the Big East. At least that is the meme as the two programs that should be the standard bearers for the conference made the coaching changes that emphasize the offense.

Not to be outdone, Pittsburgh used its Mike Haywood mulligan to snap up Tulsa’s Todd Graham, who oversaw three top-10 offenses in the course of the best four-year run in school history. Graham was accompanied by his passing game coordinator at Tulsa, Mike Norvell, and quickly added longtime Rich Rodriguez hand Calvin McGee — coordinator of the prolific West Virginia attacks that wreaked havoc on the conference in the middle of the last decade, and of the No. 1 total offense in the Big Ten last year at Michigan — to oversee the running game.

By March, the conservative, nondescript offenses favored by Dave Wannstedt and Bill Stewart were left spinning in the wake of relentlessly up-tempo spread philosophies that refuse to slow down for anyone. If their arrival doesn’t actually make the Big East any better in the big picture, at least it’s a selling point.

How bad was offense in the Big East? Bad. Really, bad.

The entire conference conspired last year to redefine “low octane.” The highest-scoring attack in the conference, Cincinnati, ranked 57th nationally at 27.1 points per game, behind 34 teams from the other “Big Six” leagues. No other Big East teamed finished in the top 60 — that is, in the top half of the country — in terms of yards or points. UConn represented the conference in the Fiesta Bowl after averaging fewer yards per conference game than all but eight other offenses in the entire country. Seven of those eight finished at least six games below .500. (The only one that didn’t: UConn’s conference mate, Syracuse, which went to a bowl game after averaging all of 16.6 points in Big East play.)

And no, it wasn’t that the defenses were that good. Aside from Pitt limiting Kentucky to  only 10 points, the Big East defenses allowed opposing teams in the bowls to: 48 (UConn), 28 (Louisville), 34 (Syracuse), 26 (USF) and 23 (WVU).

And more offense  in the Big East is definitely the theme.

The Big East was the only AQ conference that failed to have at least one team average 30 or more points a game. The Big Ten, Pac-10 and ACC each had four; the SEC and Big 12 each had seven.

You saw what solid defense did for the Big East last season. Not much. The league was not highly regarded on a national level, and it certainly did not help matters that its BCS representative went 8-4 during the regular season.

“It’s going to be interesting,” Graham said. “I think there are some very good defenses in this league but if you look at the Big 12 defensive statistics, overall team defense, that number has gone way up. With the modern game, with the spread offense involved, there’s two things you have to focus on: one is scoring defense. Total defense doesn’t matter anymore. The other one is explosive plays — that’s not giving them up.

“When you have an offense like ours, if we snap the ball 82 times, we’ll score 35 plus points. I do think you’ll see the statistics affected in the league, but how quickly that happens is going to depend on how we get these systems implemented.”

I assume the answer to “how quickly” is “high octane.”





Devil’s advocate:

- with all the hullabaloo of Tulsa’s offense last year, still CUSA was won by its best defense (UCF) and SMU (2nd best) played in its tite game vs UCF
- SEC has dominated NCAA over the most of the past decade and was known for its defense (Bama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, Tenessee)
- a few years ago, the Big 12 wowed college football with its high scoring offenses then colectively got its butts whipped in the bowl games when they played teams that actually played defense.
- Cincy under B Kelly won the BE with its offense but got its butt whipped in both bolw games when it ran into superior defenses … (the 1st year, Cincy gained about 125 yards total against a 4-loss VaTech)

Disclaimer … what can you expect from an old white fart, Western PA native like me? DEEEEEFENSE!

Comment by wbb 08.25.11 @ 1:14 pm

D-Fence wins but High Octane ‘O’ should put fannies in those ugly yellow seats at Heinz.

Comment by TX Panther 08.25.11 @ 1:22 pm

Harper really defined Wannyball!

Comment by Stuart Margolin 08.25.11 @ 1:28 pm

Only way to answer these and every other question is to strap on the jock, take a deep waft of the aura that is NCAA football and hit the field with the whistle.

Hail to Pitt!

Comment by Pitt it IS 08.25.11 @ 1:31 pm

I fully expect our defense to shine and play open agressive football. At least on O we are questioning “wide open, high-octane” football instead of screaming about the same old “hope we don’t (or when will we) blow it…again this year, conservative approach!

Comment by Pitt it IS 08.25.11 @ 1:33 pm

I’m tremendously excited. Whatever happens, it’s going to be different. And I’ll take that over the last 5 years.

Comment by Scott 78 08.25.11 @ 1:53 pm

Who said we won’t play defense? We should have the best in the league

Comment by Tony C 08.25.11 @ 2:03 pm

Any thought to adding Greg Williams to the ILB rotation in addition to spur?

Comment by Tony C 08.25.11 @ 2:05 pm

Just because I luv defense, don’t think I’m not looking forward to this year … only unlike many of you, I looking forward to the aggressive approach on defense. I never thought Wanny blitzed enough (although in fairness, there are times to play conservative.)

Comment by wbb 08.25.11 @ 2:17 pm

@Pitt it IS, In all the years that I wore one, I was quite aware that jocks had straps but I never really “strapped one on”, although I strapped on helmets and wrestling headgear. Now you got me thinking back to my playing days wondering, “did my Mother buy me the cheap jocks without strapable accessories”? I’m just pulling your jock strap, Pitt it IS, no offense.

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.25.11 @ 2:18 pm

Strap ons??? I must have hit my wrong “favorites” button!!

Comment by Dan 08.25.11 @ 3:23 pm

If you look at the utube Zeise had today – all the plays shown were running plays…wear the opponent down by executing quickly.

Comment by markp 08.25.11 @ 3:50 pm

Complimentary piece on Graham by Ivan Maisel on espn.com:

link to espn.go.com

Comment by Scott 78 08.25.11 @ 4:05 pm

As Chas states,there are all kinds of unknowns. The only fur suure in this first year of Graham Ball is that there will be a lot of big plays on both sides of the ball. Hopefully they will be mainly Pitt big plays. However with all the shotgun snaps, passing out the wasszoo and reverses, etc. on the “High Octane” offense and the let it fly attacking, blitzing on our “Nitro” defense that will expose our secondary to single press coverages there most likely will be some ugly screwups by the Panthers that will result in turnovers and quick points for the wrong team, especially when the opposition’s talent level steps up. But you know what, it sure should be a lot of fun to watch. High energy Pitt wins or going down in flames defeats. Big change from Wanny Ball in any case.

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.25.11 @ 4:09 pm

Although great defense ussually beats great offense, you pretty much need both to be champions. Other than than Ditka’s Bears and the Raven’s big year I don’t remember too many weak offenses winning championships. And the Bears had a guy named Walter Payton.

Anyway, I think our defense is going to be stronger than the offense. In any case it is going to be fun watching them play with reckless abandon rather than “keeping it close and winning in the fourth quarter.”

Comment by gc 08.25.11 @ 4:25 pm

Texas A&M president sent letter today, to Big12 conference commissioner, stating that TAM is looking at different conference options, and for the president to please state the procedure for withdrawing from the Big 12.

Letter is similar to the one Nebraska and Colorado delivered last year.

The first step has begun!!

Comment by Dan 08.25.11 @ 4:27 pm

Let the new age of the Big East begin. The die is now officially cast.

Comment by TX Panther 08.25.11 @ 4:41 pm

good one Dr. Tom – had me laughing

Comment by Pitt it IS 08.25.11 @ 4:56 pm

Here we go Dan what do you think 3 or 4 weeks befroe the s hits the fan.

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.25.11 @ 8:46 pm

Ya Frank, sounds about right. But, you would think they’d like to get it done before or after the season.

Hey, how’s that wife treating you tonight??? LOL

Comment by Dan 08.25.11 @ 8:53 pm

Great posts – I love you guys!! I’ve been checking in and reading every few days this summer.

I’m excited, I have optimism again (although last year after the Miami game I think I posted I was done!).
ALLEGENEE GENAC GENAC GENAC
LETS GO PITT!!!!!

Comment by Jerry Miller 08.25.11 @ 9:00 pm

OK THANKS now you have to ask yourself who is the 14th team all that i have read said thay wouldent move till they found one any ideas who that will be? dan.

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.25.11 @ 9:02 pm

Hey Jerry, post away. Wow, that game was a killer, especially with 300 alumni and recruits on hand, national tv, wait…I have to stop, move forward!! ha ha

Frank, I don’t know, but I sure as heck hope we don’t get told some day in the near future, “the university of Louisville is going to have a press conference this afternoon”!!!

So many rumors, who knows, hope that is all that is. We’d have to look for 4 teams, and we can’t even get 3 solid ones.

Geographically, Va Tech, Clemson or Florida St..
Florida and USC don’t want in state teams.

Will Va. Tech be allowed to go, joined at hip with UVA.

Doesn’t seem to have bothered TAM though, they seem to be saying, “go ahead and take away some of our grants and funding, we’re outta here”.

Hope Nordy is on the ball. I’m sure he is, who wouldn’t be, but, has to be a two way street, just because we want to go. Hate to have Va. Tech and who knows what’s going on with Miami, and have WVU and Syracuse leave for the ACC.

One thing I know, forget any on the surface committments or friendships. People have got to be looking out for their own ass, and I hope Nordy is looking out for ours.

Comment by Dan 08.25.11 @ 9:25 pm

Dan you are right we pitt have look out for our own ass. i think we the big east will have a biger pay day fom tv than the the ACC plus they have 3 teams in the NCAA dog house . dont know if any one wants to go there now. hope we can hold it together the big east i mean may be we will go to 12 football teams now?

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.25.11 @ 9:43 pm

Never sure, but, yes, with a possible death penalty looming on Miami, the others on probation, who knows.

Don’t know about any announcement from TAM, seems like the legal things have to work themselves out, but, I would say TAM is a go for the SEC next year.

Gettin’ up at 4am, so, I’m hittin’ the sack!!

Hail to Pitt!!

Comment by Dan 08.25.11 @ 10:01 pm

Dan i would really like it if we for once could move first insted of waiting for them to cut us up. you know go after 3 teams go to 12 teams maybe try for kansas or maryland or the 3 you posted the outher day just move first so we dont look so weak we are going to have a better tv pay day then the ACC they are 13 millon per school we are going to get 18 millon from tv and if we had 12 schools for football maybe more,

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.25.11 @ 10:09 pm

I loved the ESPN story and pics about TG & PITT.
Even though ESPN webpages always seem to load slow as hell and 90% of the time crashes the Adobe Flash plugin. The pic of TF with ‘Nine Time National Champions’ was a real nice touch by Ivan as well as the stmt. that Pitt has a National reputation and a large following.

We need to do some damage and then we can pick what conference we want or go the BIG I. As in
Independent. Then going to a BCS game means a VERY big payday !

Pitt has great academics, is an AAU member college, has an excellent basketball program and a football tradition that few in America can match. We shouldn’t be begging any of these overrated conferences for an invite. They should be begging us !!

Comment by melvinbennett 08.26.11 @ 12:17 am

I am posting this hear incase Chas dosent post today but if he does i will put this on new post as well. please go to a site called MR SEC.COM at bottom of his post he lists 55 schools who could go to the SEC than he starts scratching out thoes that cant or wont come. when he is done the only schools that can go are Missouri WVU and PITT BUT IF YOU HAD READ THE POST CAREFULEY HE HAD CROSSED OUT A SCHOOL FOR BAD ACADEMICS SO THAT CROSS OUT WVU leaving just two schools and PITT IS ONE.

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.26.11 @ 11:05 am

MEANT HERE

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.26.11 @ 11:08 am

I’ll bet Al Golden regrets not taking the Pitt job now. In addition to all the publicity they gotten with the Nevin Shapiro allegations, Miami just got hit with a bunch of player suspensions. It doesn’t look like things are going to clear up in Miami any time soon. I don’t think the Big East misses having the Hurricanes in conference.

Comment by Justinian 08.26.11 @ 11:16 am

Texas AM to the Big East?

Comment by vspanther 08.26.11 @ 12:38 pm

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