2011 Pitt Preview
Pitt RB Ray Graham
Pitt RB Ray Graham
Posted May 11, 2011

Pitt was good under Dave Wannstedt, but it couldn't get to the next level many had hoped for. After a tumultuous offseason, the Panthers finally have a new coach in Todd Graham. Can he take the program to a Big East title and regular BCS games? Check out the CFN 2011 Pitt Preview. Also check out the preview for Pitt's Week One opponent, Buffalo.

Pitt Panthers

Preview 2011

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- Week One - Buffalo vs. Pitt Lookahead 

By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Todd Graham 1st Year: 0-0
6th Year Overall: 43-23
Returning Lettermen
Off. 16 Def. 28, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Pitt Players
1. DE Brandon Lindsey, Sr.
2. FS Jarred Holley, Jr.
3. DT Chas Alecxih, Sr.
4. RB Ray Graham, Jr.
5. LB Max Gruder, Sr.
6. LB Greg Williams, Sr.
7. C Chris Jacobson, Sr.
8. WR Devin Street, Soph.
9. WR Mike Shanahan, Jr.
10. RT Lucas Nix, Sr.
2011 Schedule

Sept. 3 Buffalo
Sept. 10 Maine
Sept. 17 at Iowa
Sept. 24 Notre Dame
Sept. 29 USF
Oct. 8 at Rutgers
Oct. 15 Utah
Oct. 26 Connecticut
Nov. 5 Cincinnati
Nov. 12 at Louisville
Nov. 25 at West Virginia
Dec. 3 Syracuse

Wanny is gone-y. Graham is now the man.

Having grown tired of Dave Wannstedt and his unique brand of mediocrity, Pitt parted ways with one of its favorite sons early last December. Going 42-31, and just 24-18 in Big East play, over six seasons simply didn't cut it at a program hungry for conference titles, major bowl appearances, and more national notoriety. Wannstedt did well to improve the overall talent level at the school, but too often it didn't translate to the field. Realizing that the situation wasn't evolving, the administration pulled the plug and sought a new path.

The road to a new tomorrow led to Tulsa and up-and-coming head coach Todd Graham. However, there was a messy detour along the way, the firing of Mike Haywood, who preceded Graham to the podium, for a domestic violence charge. Graham was not the first choice at Pittsburgh. The Panthers are hoping he winds up being the best one.

At face value, Graham looks to be an awkward marriage with Pitt, the school that brought you Mike Ditka, Hugh Green, and Bill Fralic, to name just a few. He's definitely a 21st century coach, inventive and attacking on both sides of the ball. However, he also operates with a no-nonsense work ethic that fans and recruits in this area of the country will respect and appreciate. For him, this is a destination job after earning his stripes in Conference USA, and he's determined to be the guy that gets the Panthers to a new level of recognition.

Pitt has talent on both sides of the ball. Next-level talent that Wannstedt and his staff signed and cultivated. The key for the new regime in the offseason will be to implement dramatically different schemes on both sides of the line as expeditiously as possible. QB Tino Sunseri has to learn a new playbook. The line has to get in tip-top shape in anticipation of a no-huddle offense that's in perpetual motion. The defense is switching to a 3-4 system designed to be as opportunistic as possible.

Change has hit the Pittsburgh football team like a Troy Polamalu blindside blitz. For the school and the fans, the buzz is both exciting and a little scary. Year 1 figures to be a transition period, replete with flashes of brilliance and the occasional second-guessing of the new hire. In other words, don't expect miracles. With a change of this magnitude, Graham deserves a honeymoon period to put his stamp on the program.

What to watch for on offense: A Cam-do attitude. In the old offense, 5-7, 170-pound junior Cameron Saddler was, well, a nice special teams player. In the new attack, he looks as if he was handcrafted to be a do-it-all weapon. To understand Saddler's potential over the next two years, take a look at what Tulsa's Damaris Johnson accomplished with this staff coaching him. The similarly sized and speedy Hurricane playmaker led the nation in all-purpose yards in 2010, catching 57 passes, rushing for 560 yards, and returning a punt and a kick for six. Saddler won't be that prolific, but he'll be utilized plenty more than before Todd Graham arrived.

What to watch for on defense: Pressure. Getting into the backfield is the basis of what coordinator Keith Patterson wants to do with the Panthers. It'll be about getting some of the program's better athletes on the field and imploring them to make things happen—the kinds of things that result in turnovers and tackles for minus yards. While this philosophy could result in a few more blown coverages and big plays for the other team, the hope is that it'll be worth the risk if Patterson's teams continue to pile up the takeaways.

The team will be far better if… it starts trading field goals for touchdowns on red zone trips. Last year's squad went deep into enemy territory on 51 occasions and reached the end zone just 26 times, one of the worst success ratios in America. Pitt needs to finish drives with six points instead of three, much the way Todd Graham's Golden Hurricane team did a year ago. Fueling the sense of urgency is the fact that the new kicker, Kevin Harper, has lacked consistency.

The Schedule: The Panther schedule isn't all that bad out of the box with tune ups against Buffalo and Maine, and then things get very, very interesting with nasty game after nasty game. Going to Iowa will be a big test, and hosting Notre Dame will show just how good the team is in Graham's first season, and then comes the Big East slate with three of the first four conference games at home. The payback comes in November with road games at Louisville and West Virginia, wrapped around an open date, in make-or-break moments for the Big East season. Thrown into the mix is a quirky-tough home game against Utah, coming right before the showdown with UConn.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Ray Graham. Despite losing Dion Lewis to the NFL Draft, the Panther running game isn't going to skip a beat. Graham figures to be an ideal fit for an offense that wants to accentuate his determined, one-cut running style and excellent hands as a receiver. Don't forget that before fading into a secondary role, he'd run for 100 yards three times in the first four games, capped by a 277-yard, three-touchdown outburst versus Florida International. As the focal point of the new attack, he's capable of stockpiling a few Graham-y Awards at the end of the regular season.

Best defensive player: Senior DE Brandon Lindsey. Opportunity knocked when Greg Romeus injured his back last September, and Lindsey answered the call. The single biggest surprise of 2010, he went from valuable reserve to relentless pass rusher, collecting 51 tackles and a team-high 18 stops for loss and 10 sacks. At 6-2 and 250 pounds, he has the size and speed of an outside linebacker, which makes him a natural fit for the "Panther" position, a hybrid role up front.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Tino Sunseri. Sunseri won't need to be a Dan Marino incarnate, but he will need to digest the offense as quickly as possible and distribute the ball effectively. Everyone values the quarterback position, but even more so in Todd Graham passer-friendly system. The coach has certainly done more with less in the past, getting monster performances out of the likes of Chase Clement, Paul Smith, and David Johnson. Sunseri has more talent than all three, so it's not unreasonable to ask him to deliver right away.

The season will be a success if ... the Panthers win seven games. Yeah, it's a rather modest request, but all of the changes being put forth on both sides of the ball have to be considered. Plus, the schedule gets thorny after the first two games, including non-conference bouts with Iowa, Notre Dame, and Utah. If Graham can properly install his system, pick up an additional game, and finish above .500, it'll qualify as a solid enough foundation for the program to build upon in 2012 and beyond.

Key game: Nov. 25 at West Virginia. It's the Backyard Brawl, which is always going to be a red-letter event for both schools. This will be the first meeting between Todd Graham and Mountaineer coach-in-waiting Dana Holgorsen, the architects of new offensive attacks in Pittsburgh and Morgantown, respectively. This will mark the dawn of a new era in an historic rivalry, the first chapter with young, inventive leaders on both sidelines.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per carry: Pittsburgh 4.6 – Opponents 3.5
- Sacks: Pittsburgh 34 – Opponents 23
- Time of possession: Pittsburgh 32:17 - Opponents 27:36

- 2011 Pitt Preview | 2011 Pitt Offense
- 2011 Pitt Defense | 2011 Pitt Depth Chart
- Pitt Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006