Now that we have finished the Spring Drills and are a third of the way through Fall Training Camp it is about the right time to start wondering, with some intelligence in our folders, about how well the program, the coaching staff and players as a team will do this upcoming season.
Moving back to the East Coast after many overseas duty stations I started following PITT football closely again with the Walt Harris firing and Dave Wannstedt hiring as I agreed with both decisions. One thing I have noticed over the last decade is that a lot of PITT fans make their season predictions based on emotion, more specifically on whether they like or dislike certain people in certain positions in the program.
A great example of this is those who couldn’t stand the “Slingin’ Sicilian” felt strongly that he’d never lead the team to a strong winning season, and with that they were pretty much on the mark as he always seemed to muddle through each year. Along with that, fans who don’t agree with the Paul Chryst hire can’t see him coaching the team to an ACC championship; those who hate the Matt House hire as DC can’t see him ever molding our defense into a game winning unit, fans who think we can’t replace a superstar player like Aaron Donald feel that whoever tries will fall way short of the level at which Donald played, and on and on and on…
Of course those issues I mentioned are generalizations but you get my drift. They are all semi-valid stances by true fans and are a big part of the great fun college football fans have in following (living and dying with!) their teams.
An ideal time to make season predictions is the day before the opener when we have seen or read about the kids in action during the many practices and scrimmages and when the final two-deep lineup has been announced by the head coach. That is something we’ll do at that time also, but you know we are chomping at the bit to make our predictions right now and have some fun reading what others feel at this point also. I’ll ask that we try to make our predictions on football issues alone and if we must enter our ‘like/dislike‘ emotions into it at least base it on actual football knowledge and not the people’s personalities.
The great thing about college ball is that the roster and the two-deep lineup changes every year and our predictions always have that ‘wildcard’ aspect with the untested players. So here goes and I’ll take the first shot, tell you what I think at this point, and then make a hopefully semi-educated W/L prediction.
Over all I like what Chryst has done with the program and the team itself. He’s had two years to get the roster to reflect his plans for personnel and has made some changes in the coaching staff. That all points to this season as being, in my eyes, the litmus test for him as the PITT head coach. He won’t be kept on or fired based on 2014’s record, the PITT administration has a long hook for him and want him to be around to establish a solid period of normalcy in the football program.
As to the nuts and bolts of the team itself I think Chryst has pretty much who he wants to field both offense and defense going into competition. That isn’t to say he wouldn’t want better players in some spots, every head coach wants that, yes even Alabama, but he’s getting able to field his own recruits.
On offense Chryst has been grooming Chad Voytik for two years and that is something that will pay off on the field as the season progresses; he’s gotten a good, maybe very good, stable of running backs so that he can use his preferred platoon system in the running game and he has a returning star WR who will be the centerpiece of the skill positions on the offense. In addition he has the size and strength he wants across the offensive line, including talented TEs. Those points all combine to make me feel better about the offense this year as opposed to how it ended up at the end of last season.
A Voytik led offense will be different than we saw with Savage. I expect shorter routes and quicker passes with more completions and more YAC from the passing game. The TEs will be freed up more to get involved in the pass and thus we’ll have a better 3rdt down conversion rate and more first downs on the whole. The run game will be more consistent and with better OL play will be more effective in moving the sticks also.
It would be hard not to improve on offense as we pretty much sucked last season. Scoring only 26.3 ppg has to be bettered by this team. But with our skilled players, including some kids who haven’t played yet in James and Jennings, I think we can add at least 3ppg more to put us up around 29-30. If we can do that then we are setting ourselves up for some extra wins.
Our defense is going to be pretty much untested with so many FR and SOs in the two-deep but I believe that House’s second year as DC will be better than the first. His players will have had a year to get used to him and his schemes and that can make a big difference. My question mark for the defense is the defensive backfield as I think everyone’s is. Last season the defense got better as the season went on, starting young players will lead to that. We’ll see how that goes this year but if we can improve even a bit over 2013’s defensive results we’ll be OK.
Last year we gave up 27.2 ppg which is the bottom line when talking about defensive results. That has to move south this year. Our total defense was a respectable 347 ypg (43rd nationally) and our rushing defense held our opponents to 149 ypg (34th). I really think we can better that even with Donald gone. Our passing defense was OK also giving up 218 ypg (40th) and with the new younger defensive personnel we might be hard pressed to replicate that.
That said, the passing defense also relies heavily on a pass rush which is where Donald made a living. I think we’ll see better push from our DEs this year to offset that loss, but overall I don’t think we’ll have a big negative loss in defensive efficiency, in fact I’m expecting it to improve.
We’ll improve on turnovers also and get more than 9 INTs and 8 fumble recoveries – say double digits in each this year.
So, just as I said we’ll gain 3 ppg on offense, I’ll predict we give up 3 ppg less on defense. That would give us 29 ppg for and 24 ppg against, which is doable and would lead to at least seven regular season wins. I can’t see any circumstances unless we have a slew of season-ending injuries at key positions, where we would drop below .500 ball.
My overall predication at this point in camp is, fingers crossed, 8-4 regular season because I think the lucky breaks will come our way this year with more TOs, and that our schedule lends itself to that many wins. Who knows what will happen in the bowl game but I’m much more concerned about the regular season anyway. This prediction might change after I watch the full scrimmage on Aug 16th. If the young kids bust out with some great play under real time conditions then I may feel better about the upcoming season, but for now one more win I think.
What do the some experts say? Well, here’s a chart of what the CBS College Football Staff think the ACC divisions will do. They have PITT scattered all over the place.
OK, what say you guys?
NOTES: Remember how I wrote about the PITT Drone and its Wranglers? Here is an excellent video taken from the drone over the Southside practice facility fields. Notice that fields are only 60 yards long from the 20 to the 20.
How do you feel about Paul Chryst’s Disciplinary actions since he’s been named head coach? Here is a poll from our friends at Cardiac Hill, great name for a PITT blog huh?, which asks this simple question.
Remember the scene in the movie A Clockwork Orange where they police arrest the Droogie Malcolm McDowell and try to cure his anti-social behavior by strapping him down in a chair , giving him LSD eye drops and making him watch violent and pornographic movies? Here PITT’s version of that cure for all you really pessimistic, hating fans. So strap in, drop that acid and enjoy!