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July 25, 2014

That Cautious Optimism

Filed under: Football,Prognostications — Chas @ 9:11 am

Tyler Boyd got left off the  pre-season 1st team All-ACC squad. For what it’s worth, Phil Steele did the same in his annual preview guide. I wonder how much of that is a “disrespecting” of Boyd or a belief that his numbers will drop with increased focus and Chad Voytik at QB. Either way, it isn’t a huge thing beyond additional motivation. As should be the fact that no Pitt players outside of Boyd were even in the second team.

You would think that a team that apparently has only one “sure” star player coming into the season wouldn’t have much in the way of expectations.

And yet, there seems to be a lot of positive views to Pitt. The two deepest previews of college teams have surprisingly upbeat takes. The ones that look at the make-up of the squad and the deeper numbers like where Pitt is heading.

Bill Connelly at SB Nation had one back in June that got a lot of notice by Pitt fans. The caution of this year, but loaded with a sense of excitement for next.

And as the Panthers head toward Year 3 under Chryst, it’s beginning to look like whatever ceiling this program has under Chryst, it will see it clearly in 2015.

That’s not to say Pitt can’t be pretty good in 2014. The Panthers have a couple of the most intriguing sophomore skill position players in the country (receiver Tyler Boyd, running back James Conner), an offensive line that gets plumped up by some blue-chippers, a defensive line that still features some exciting pieces (despite the loss of Aaron Donald), and a nice set of play-making linebackers.

The Panthers will have an outside chance of being the best team in the ACC’s Coastal division. But this team will still be a work in progress, and most of the reasons for optimism in 2014 will return in 2015.

Simply reaching Year 4 will be a happy sign of stability, progress, and potential for Paul Chryst at Pitt. But we should probably pay attention to the Panthers in Year 3, too, just in case.

The major takeaway was potential, but the big warning was depth. As in, there isn’t tremendous depth that makes anyone feel good behind key spots. QB, DB, LB,  DE. There are a lot of positions where an injury or two could completely change things.

Still. The potential.

Name Pitt’s top 10 players. You’re definitely including Tyler Boyd (sophomore). You’re probably including James Conner (sophomore), Shakir Soto (sophomore), and Lafayette Pitts (junior). There are some key seniors, sure — Todd Thomas and Anthony Gonzalez, Ray Vinopal, guard Matt Rotherham. But if some high-ceiling youngsters blossom, you could also add players like Chad Voytik (sophomore), Adam Bisnowaty (sophomore), Dorian Johnson (sophomore), Rachid Ibrahim (sophomore), Ejuan Price (junior), Matt Galambos (sophomore), or Titus Howard (sophomore) to this top 10 list.

You get what I’m after here. Most of Pitt’s best players are still super-young, which will likely makes for another rather volatile, up-and-down season. But wow, could the ceiling be high when Chryst enters Year 4 in 2015. He’s put together a high-caliber roster, and despite going young last year, he produced a 7-6 record with some late blossoming.

It’s funny. Plenty of us look back at that season with a little disappointment because of a game they blew (Navy), a game they could have stolen (GT) and a game they battled back but got burned on special teams (UNC). Sure the flip side was not blowing the Virginia game despite no offense, the wild-wooly Duke game they nearly blew and of course getting that win over ND. So, as easily as we think Pitt could have been 9-3 in the regular season, 3-9 was just as much a possibility.

Paul Myerberg’s USA Today preview also is heavy on the optimism for 2015 while trying to stay focused on 2014.

My feeling is that Pittsburgh is a year away. That’s a copout, of course, but it’s genuine: Pitt doesn’t seem ready to make any major win-column gains on last season, though it’s clear to me that there is a foundation in place that could yield a far stronger degree of competitiveness in 2015 and beyond. It’s all about the youth, the sophomores and underclassmen, and how well they develop at the forefront of this program during the next 12 months; if the Panthers stay the course, this program seems poised to battle for eight-plus wins with a heavy level of regularity. It’s all about getting there — and staying in the postseason during the interim.

That is the huge part of it. It is a very young team. We saw plenty of freshmen, redshirt freshmen and sophomores in key roles last year. That is expected to continue this year. They are good players. Players that are developing and will get better, but they are not (except for Tyler Boyd) a bunch of studs who will be able to consistently hold their own from the outset. Mistakes will happen. There will be inconsistencies.

Along with that comes health. We saw it last year with the O-line as the season went on. Injuries piled up, and the guys behind them were either not ready or never that good.

There is the schedule — which I am not a big fan of as justifying a better year — especially since it will be a long time since I will forget the Youngstown State game. Is it more favorable than last year’s? On paper, sure. But not by too much. Iowa is a wash compared to ND from last year. Akron at home is easier than at Navy. The biggest difference in not facing FSU. Instead, going to Chestnut Hill to see BC. In a warped way, that is a really big game for both teams. It gives each a chance to see where they really are for 2014. BC may have been blown out by Arizona in their bowl game, but they went 4-4 in conference (7-6 overall) — beating VT and giving both Clemson and FSU strong games.

Yet, there is a reason to think this team can be pretty good even in 2014. They will simply have to do more than think they are.





That place shook so much with noise sometimes I thought the Field House was going to slide down off the Hill in was on.

Comment by Emel 07.27.14 @ 1:29 pm

Pitt commit Damon Wilson will be playing on espnu at 4 pm in the final of an Adidas camp.

Comment by Nick 07.27.14 @ 2:09 pm

Pitt fball has to win atleast 8 games this year..and it’s possible to even win 10

as for the atmosphere at Heinz..it’s simple…win fball games!!..however I too hate the fact the students are not ALL in one place…and either get rid of sweet caroline…or have them play it in the middle of the fourth quarter..cuz everyone leaves after its done….h2p!!

Comment by Keith 07.27.14 @ 2:33 pm

Emel, I was there for the flying fish!
Not saying that there was no spirit at Fitzgerald. I loved the old place. Just saying that winning cures a lot of ills.

Will never forget Tiger Paul. He could really get the place rockin’.

Comment by dinosaur 71 07.27.14 @ 3:57 pm

I would make a couple minor changes regarding seating:

1) Give the tudents the entire end zone, lower level.
DONT make the sit up in 528-530. My daughter got put up there for the FSU game last yr ( freshman mistake of stopping at my tailgate instead of going straight to the stadium) and said she felt like she wasn’t part of the experience. Keep ‘me all together.

2) Give the kids something to make it worth staying to the end of a game. Ask the kids what that would be; they will come up with something good.

3) Leave the band where it is. It’s facing both the visitors and most of the students…..all of them under item 1. And further, I sit directly across from the in 114 and like it that way!

4) Cover up the top half of the upper deck on the home team side. Do the same for upper deck end zone. Do it in a way that extra rows can be exposed if ticket sales warrant. Most TV shots won’t show it and the effect will be to fill up the upper deck visitors side.

Comment by Joe Lawrence 07.27.14 @ 4:20 pm

Emel and the rest of you guys, I know a lot of the comments I make are old hat ane a repeat of other s past statements. It’s been a long time since I’ve been active in Pittsburgh. One of these days, I will hit you guys with something you were not aware of.

There was not much of a basketball program before Chipman. He started recruiting the star players like Charlie Smith, and won the A10 conference. He probabaly helped get us get in the Big East. Later, the TV exposure of the Big East on ESPN sure helped his recruiting. I used to stay up with my 14 year old son to take in a 11pm Pitt game.

Sorry, Tim Gruglich didn’t do a thing. I know and liked Tim. He is about my age and played at Pitt when I was there. Spent some time with him during a Miami tourament in the eary 60’s.

Willard, of course, didn’t set us in the right direction, but I will stick with my comments about Evans taking down the Pitt program. If Chipman had lived and coached Pitt would have won a national title.

I was present when Smith ripped Evans in every direction he could. This was years after Smith retired from the NBA.

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 07.27.14 @ 4:33 pm

Well we did have some pretty good teams at PITT before Dr. Roy.

Like the best PITT team ever in the 1973-74 season that was 25-4, won 22 straight games and reached the Elite 8 before losing to eventual national champion NC State. Pitt played with handicap that game, since the game was played in Raleigh, NC, the home of NC State.

And was led by PITT’s best player ever, Braddock’s Billy Knight.

And Grg’s did contribute to Pitt’s basketball program.

“As a player at Pitt he led the team to two consecutive post season tournaments in 1963 and 1964. He then served 12 years (1964–1975) as an assistant coach and head of recruiting under Timmons and Ridl. He helped to develop Pitt’s famous amoeba defense that along with the superlative play of All-American forward Billy Knight launched a 22 game win streak for Pitt in the 1973-1974 season under Head Coach ‘Buzz’ Ridl. That carried Pitt to the Elite 8 that year, it’s furthest advance in the NCAA tournament since making the Final Four in 1941. The ’74 season ended in losing to eventual NCAA Champion, North Carolina State with David Thompson and Tom Burleson in a game played on NC State’s home court in Raleigh. “

Comment by Emel 07.27.14 @ 5:51 pm

Emel, I still remember watching the NC State game during the NCAA tournament. Pitt didn’t belong on the same court with State. It was David Thompson game all the way.

Never said Tim didn’t contribute to Pitt. He was a fair player, not great. I remember him in a Miami game against Rick Barry. He was a good guy.

Sorry, I don’t even remember a coach named Buzz Ridl.

I remember going to the field house in the early 60’s. No charge back then for students. The place was 2/3’s empty and it was a game against Syracuse!
We got killed.

For me Pitt basketball started with Chipman, got side stepped for a while, and came back with Howland/Dixon.

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 07.27.14 @ 8:56 pm

Wilson looked pretty good this evening.

Comment by Old Pitt Grad 07.27.14 @ 9:00 pm

If Ridil doesn’t retire Pitt wins a national championship. He was a terrific coach and had recruiting going. If he stays and then Pitt gets into Big East we never have Evans or Willard. How different things would have been.

Comment by Pitt Flunky 07.27.14 @ 9:08 pm

FFSAKE Chas:
I’ m here at your site, it’s 10:30 PM EST & you’ve got a ticking-ad sponsoring an online degree from ASU.
We’ve all got to make a living, but.. WTF
–Neil

Comment by Neil 07.27.14 @ 9:36 pm

OPG, well perhaps if that game was played on a Neutral Court rather than NC State’s home court we would have put up a better fight. Who knows maybe would have won.

Think the refs also got us into foul trouble, thereby limiting the effectiveness of the amoeba.

Home cooking in Raleigh, who would have thunk it.

Sounds like you were there when Bob Timmons was coach. Buzz came after him, I believe Buzz came from Westminster and brought Fran Webster with him.

Comment by Emel 07.28.14 @ 1:14 pm

@Emel

You would be correct.

Comment by Pitt Flunky 07.28.14 @ 7:21 pm

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