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August 29, 2011

This was the last full weekend where the wife was going to get me to do work around the the house and/or do family time that doesn’t involve a football or basketball game. Once college football season gets started, she knows every Saturday until sometime in Mid-April will find me unavailable. She knows it, and for whatever reason continues to put up with it. It is why I don’t give her a hard time about whatever she asks me to do for those 4-and-one-half months of no college basketball or football.

Briefly on the topic of Big XII. I won’t lie. Part of me would love to see Notre Dame join the Big XII just to see the egos of ND and Texas collide. You have two narcissistic, controlling, big-egoed programs and alumni trying to coexist in the same conference. Both used to totally getting their own way. Texas by dictating to the conference. Notre Dame with its independence. The backbiting, the leaks, the complaints. You know it wouldn’t last, but it would be entertaining to see both programs try to tear the other down behind the scenes.

As for Pitt’s non-denial about the Big XII, it bears repeating. Pitt is being given a rare chance to put more pressure on the Big East powers with respect to the conference’s expansion plans and the coming media contract. If the Big East basketball side wants to continue holding up football expansion or force Villanova into the spot, then Pitt now has options — now and in the future. Options that aren’t limited to simply waiting/hoping for the Big 10/12 or ACC come calling. Plus, assuming the Big XII stops at just one program — BYU or Houston — for now, the door remains open for Pitt and WVU to go to the Big XII and bring it back to 12. Pitt is playing it smart.

Some Scarlet blinders:

There’s talent and depth at receiver, hope and promise at tailback and blocking help coming from the fullback and tight end. Pitt was just average at best under [Offensive Coordinator Frank] Cignetti last season but Rutgers has better skill players than that Pitt team did.

Two points, Rutgers offense will improve. Substantially, even. But substantially would be the mediocre numbers of Pitt. As the article noted, Rutgers offense was “100th in scoring, 110th in rushing and 114th in total offense.”

Rutgers skill players are not that much better if at all than Pitt’s skill players last year. Sanu, Harrison and whoever their 3d WR are good, but hardly hands down better than Baldwin, Shanahan and Street.

Savon Huggins will be hard pressed to match the output from Lewis and Graham. Fullback: Hynoski vs. Martinek (converted from last year’s RB) is no contest. Chas Dodd can’t even pronounce his name correctly (“Chase” WTF?), so I’d be hard pressed to say he’s better than Sunseri. The issue for Rutgers is not the difference in skill players. It’s their crappy O-line. We complained about Pitt’s O-line issues last year, but Rutgers was a joke. They allowed 61 sacks last season.

Provincial previews amuse me to no end. The Ft. Worth Star Telegram previews the Big East by pointing out Texas connections. And the Lehigh Valley plays up the local kids at Pitt.

Since Pitt Magazine doesn’t have the summer issue online,  I guess it’s okay that Bob Smizik cut-and-pasted the entire must read piece on Coach Todd Graham. I won’t waste time excerpting any since it is a “read it all” piece.

The offense will probably be running at 60-65 percent of the playbook capacity.

So that begs the questions: Exactly how high-octane are the Panthers going to be this year? How much of the offense that Graham ran at Tulsa will he be able to run at Pitt?

Graham has been through these transition years twice before and — while successful — he also had to tailor his schemes to fit the talent he had.

That’s why he said this year he expects to be able to install, realistically, only about 60 to 65 percent of the offense he used last year when at Tulsa. He said his coaching staff has had to figure out ways to maximize the talent already on the roster.

“That was our fourth year [at Tulsa], so we had recruited and gotten a lot of things in place,” Graham said. “I just don’t want to force things. There is a lot of pressure on our quarterback with a complete new system, and for him, I just don’t want him hurrying to mess up. Initially, we were hitting that 15-second goal [in between snaps] but with a lot more mental mistakes, so we kind of slowed it.

“But we’re still fast, we’re still snapping it in 18 seconds from the start of the 40-second clock, so that is still fast.”

Scaling back an offense is not a new thing, but in this case it is probably important to understand how relative “scaling back” is. The offense is extremely complex and even in its reduced version is far more advanced than most offenses.

Graham said that the offense at Tulsa featured about 87 different formations and even the most casual film study reveals that to be the case.

I’m not sure how I’ll react to seeing that actually happen, but I can’t wait to find out.

Good point in this little preview that in the first season under Graham’s new offense, turnovers happen. Have to be expected. Frustrating to be sure, but it will be frustrating

Last week, there was an article about how the depth was thin at the middle LB spots.

Patterson said the three players who right now are going to hold down the two positions are seniors Max Gruder and Tristan Roberts and redshirt sophomore Shane Gordon.

Gruder has consistently started at one spot and is one of the most experienced players on the roster (he has appeared in 39 career games and made 26 career starts), but he has played middle linebacker for much of his career

“Linebacker is linebacker,” Gruder said.

“But assignment-wise we are doing much different things than we were asked to do last year. So it has taken a little time to adjust.

“I like what we are doing this year in this defense, it really will play to our strengths, we just have to get on the same page.”

Gruder said one thing coaches have done is alter the defense from spring to fall so that it plays to the strengths of the players. He said that they changed some of the calls, some assignments and some of the keys so it is a much better fit for the personnel.

Which will hopefully mean not seeing Gruder being forced into pursuing wide receivers. And sure enough in the 2-deep, it includes true freshman LaQuentin Smith backing up Gruder.

The good news for Cornerback E.J. Banks: he is eligible to play right away after transferring from ND. The bad news is the reason why: hardship waiver.

Banks, a redshirt sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining, is a walk-on paying his own way and is buried on the depth chart. But he is finally having fun again on the field after leaving Notre Dame midway through his sophomore year and sitting out of school last spring.

“It was just real stressful,” Banks said. “Whenever I found out that my mom was sick, that’s when everything else happened. A lot of things piled up on me at one time. The stress took its toll. Waking up would be hard, and I was always thinking about my mom back home. It was just hard.”

Football had always come easy for Banks. He was the No. 13 “athlete” in the nation as a senior, according to the ESPNU 150 rankings, and picked the Fighting Irish over Ohio State. But he suffered a torn ACL in his final high school game and redshirted as a freshman in 2009.

Over the next year, the Fighting Irish hired a new coaching staff, Banks struggled with the academic demands and he learned of his mother’s quiet fight with cancer. Banks initially thought his sister LaNette was kidding when she told him the news; his mother had not said a word.

The good news is that she is doing okay and might be able to beat it.

Positive puff-pieces. Jason Hendricks growing up in a bad place, but with a strong mother.

“I’ll never forget this,” he said. “We were outside by the park. I was hanging out with my friends, flirting with girls. We heard gunshots at the corner and we saw this dude drop. We started running and the dude next to me got shot (in the leg). He got caught with a stray bullet. I’m glad it wasn’t me. I was 15. I was scared.”

Hendricks missed a couple of practices last week with a toe injury, but he has returned to practice and will be the starting “bandit” safety when Pitt opens the 2011 season against visiting Buffalo on Sept. 3.

His local high school, Bedford Academy, didn’t have a football team, and the Brooklyn schools that offered the sport — only 19 of the borough’s 85 high schools and academies sponsor football — weren’t high caliber in the basketball-crazed city.

So, Lenora Hendricks enrolled her son in Hudson Catholic, where he became a star running back and linebacker.

“My mother just wanted me to get out of the neighborhood,” Hendricks said. “She wanted something new for me, and I just went with it. She felt it was the best for me, and I agreed with her.”

Hendricks is the starter at “bandit” safety with Pitts behind him.

Then there is the puff piece on the now mature kicker, Kevin Harper. I’m not mocking the maturity thing. That is part of growing up and what is supposed to happen when you go off to school. Division 1-A scholarship talent does not make one preternaturally mature.

But those expectations weighed heavily on Harper, the only scholarship kicker on the roster. He struggled with consistency, and coaches were concerned about his focus.

“There were some days I’d go back to my room,” Harper said, “and watch my high school highlight film just to remind myself I was a good kicker. Confidence is everything in this position, and I lost it for a while.

“I think the thing I’ve worked the most on is the mental side and being consistent,” Harper said. “I used to want to show off my leg all the time, but now, instead of going to the driving range just to see how far I can kick a football, I realized I have to be consistent 50 [yards] and in.”

FRANKCAN: I’m totally in favor of BE expansion and having the football schools seize power from the basketball-only schools. I agree with melvinbennett in that the best basketball schools are also football schools.

I’d even be happy to see the football schools split off into a separate league, as some suggest, if that’s what it takes. You could still have “interleague” play in basketball and the top 6 teams from each league could meet in MSG for the BE Tourney.

If the BE expands though, it has to make sense IMHO. They already have a couple of “orphans” in USF and now TCU, so they need to figure out what teams bring them closer in some way – more schools in Florida and Texas or some teams in between. If they look to a fractured Big 12, they need to take a few as Dan suggests, not just one.

Now, if the Big East basketball-only schools continue to whine and demand an unequal say in things, I’m all in favor of bolting to another conference, with or without our traditional rivals.

That’s just an opinion and a problem I’m glad I don’t have to figure out.

Comment by TampaT 08.30.11 @ 12:03 pm

TampaT i under stand what you say it makes it very clear. Did you like my post to DR Tom some times i crack my self up.

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.30.11 @ 12:15 pm

Yeah, FRANKCAN. You’re the doctor’s doctor. I’d take your advice if I didn’t have work to do this afternoon.

Comment by TampaT 08.30.11 @ 12:22 pm

I may be wrong BUT what if Myers loves Pitt and just wants to get a great education(Pat Bostick)!!!!! Hard for some to believe that FB is not the only reason a player chooses a university.

Comment by giveitarest 08.30.11 @ 12:50 pm

F the Big 12. We are on the verge of a basketball national championship. We need to stabilize our current situation. Not change it drastically which could adversely affect our program. Big East needs to stand together. The 13-0 defending Rose Bowl champs are on the way to help football. We are fine

Comment by Tony C 08.30.11 @ 1:00 pm

giveitarest maybe so time will tell. what do you think if we dont go to 12 for football should we split from bb schools because they are holding us back?

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.30.11 @ 1:04 pm

Tony c if you good enough to win bb championship it wont make any difference who you play or were. and as mutch as i like bb and i do football is king.

Comment by FRANKCAN 08.30.11 @ 1:16 pm

@TampaT, you got me!! I have been known to sip a Soutern Comfort from time to time as we have mentioned between us in the past. Who is going to the game on Saturday?? Flameworks plus fireworks after the game down on the waterfront. Back in the day “flameworks” after the game just meant flaming shots of whatever we had been drinking earlier at the game!! LOL

Comment by Dr. Tom 08.30.11 @ 2:19 pm

Glad you remember Pitt’s ONLY ‘one & done’ basketball player in Pitt history. I’m thinking most didn’t.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 3:39 pm

Hopefully Birch won’t be number 2, based on the reports from Greentree, I think MB will still be the only one. For now.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 3:42 pm

Pitt’s 1974 Elite Eight team with All-American Billy Knight remains the best in Pitt history.

Losing in the Elite 8 to National Champion NC State with the incomparable David Thompson & 7’4″ Tom Burleson. In what amounted to a Home Game for NC State. Yes we had to play NC State in North Carolina. Yes this kind of stuff has been going on for a long time.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 3:48 pm

@ Dr. Tom,

Jack yes, Southern Comfort is way too sweet for me!
Actually I’m more of a bourbon man, just on the rocks and a good pour please ! Have a good time at the opener. Get us 60 on the Bulls.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 3:54 pm


“Actually, I don’t have a problem with the teams from the Big 12. I would be pumped to see Missouri, Kansas St. Texas Tech, Texas, Oklahoma at Heinz field, much more than I would be seeing Cincinnati, USF and UCONN!!!”

Agree totally Dan, that should be a no brainer.
TT, Oklahoma, Mizzou, Ok. State have had some of most prolific offenses over the last 10 years.
Texas, despite last year’s 5-7 is Texas, get real that was an anomaly. And Kansas did too when Mangini was there and ISU with Paul Rhoads as coach would be real fun to see a Pitt/ISU matchup.
We could still play WVU every year non-con and perhaps Syracuse every other year. The Cuse has never really drawn a large crowd to Heinz or Pitt Stadium from what I remember. But for tradition sake, for those who have to have Cuse on the schedule, OK

@ TampaT

I think the phrase is
‘A rising tide lifts all boats’
And I don’t consider BigEast football a rising tide, more like a somewhat stagnant pond, like the one in Schenley Park.

Also concerning Pitt’s recruiting in Florida compared to recruiting in Texas.
1) We never had a coach originally from Florida
2) We have a Coach now originally from Texas, was head coach at various high schools there as well as Rice U and he has Todd Dodge as a coach who was a high school coaching legend in Texas.
3) Kids in Texas that don’t like Texas, but might want to play against them can be recruited.
4)There are no kids in Florida who really hate USF, they’ve never been that good or around long enough to develop any kind of hatred.
5) The better kids in Florida want to play against/or for UF, FSU & Miami…..not USF. (know you don’t want to hear that, but there it is)

Anyway I appreciate the chance to share a few thoughts & ideas with you guys.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 4:27 pm

Thanks for the correction, mb. I knew that didn’t sound right.

I’m not for the BE remaining as is. See my reply to FRANKCAN regarding that. I’m on your side there. I just don’t think a move to the Big 12 is the answer for Pitt, or its fans.

As far as your recruiting breakdown:
1) Florida, Florida St. and Miami don’t have coaches originally from Florida either. Again, it’s more about the three factors I mentioned – getting to the NFL, playing near home, and winning.
2) I hope you’re right about TG’s pull, but I think we’ll get mostly leftovers, until we start winning.
3) Way down the list on a reason to choose a school. Look at the ESPNU Top 150. The Texas kids are either staying close to home or going to a winning program. TCU has grabbed a few and they’re headed for the crappy BE.
4) USF didn’t even have a football program when Pitt was pulling top kids from Florida under Majors and Sherrill.
5) I agree. USF will only get the leftovers, until they start winning.

Again, it’s all about coaches and systems, not conferences. Florida was basically a doormat until Spurrier came along, and now he’s doing it at S. Carolina. Florida St. barely had a football program until Bowden left WVU. And Schnellenberger and Jimmy J. turned a small private school that almost dropped football altogether into “The U”.

Comment by TampaT 08.30.11 @ 5:12 pm

Check this out, according to this article concerning Big 12 expansion.

link to

Notre Dame’s AD has reiterated that ND wants to stay independent. And the article then suggests if ND is ‘off the table’ ,,,,,so is Pitt.

Well it was nice to know some conference other than the BigEast wanted us. We all want to be wanted. Back to reality & the BigEast….yippee!

Hail to Pitt ! Let’s win this crappy conf. this year!

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 5:27 pm

In a related development, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters the Irish are more committed than ever to being an independent in football, quashing any potential of the Irish joining the Big 12 in the immediate future.

Big 12 sources say if Notre Dame is off the table, then there’s probably no immediate chance of adding Pittsburgh, another school that had been discussed by Big 12 presidents on their conference call Saturday after Loftin got off the teleconference.

One Big 12 administrator said there continues to be interest in gauging Arkansas’ potential interest in joining the Big 12 – in what would essentially be a trade between the two leagues – and that BYU remains a potential target.

Comment by melvinbennett 08.30.11 @ 5:31 pm

The present big east x=commish is not getting it done. The Big East has had the perfect opportunity to kick out some basketball only teams that don’t fit, bring in key new football/basketball programs, then negotiate a super TV deal (every other conference has a long term deal locked up so it could be a nice bidding war). Even considering Villanova was a waste of time and showed a severe lack of leadership. Pitt and WVU have a lot of pull as a team. We need a new commish with a more aggressive and BIG plan! … or else, the other options look better and Pitt needs to jump ship (w/ WVU possibly).

Comment by dish 08.31.11 @ 8:28 pm

melvin there is a new post thi one is to long

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