2007 Pitt Preview

Posted Jul 31, 2007

Is Pitt finally ready to turn the corner under head coach Dave Wannstedt? The talent has been significantly upgraded, but it's still a young team needing to get its feet wet. Veterans like Joe Clermond will have to carry things for a while.

Pitt Panthers

Preview 2007

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2007 Pitt Offense Preview | 2007 Pitt Defense Preview
2007 Pitt Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Pitt Preview 

In 2005, Pittsburgh started slow and ended fast.  In 2006, it opened 6-1 before skidding to five consecutive losses, missing the postseason for the second time in Dave Wannstedt’s two years at his alma mater.  This comes from a program that feels it has the facilities and the recent recruiting classes to be mentioned in the same sentence as Big East heavyweights.  Instead, the Panthers have yet to prove anything while their fans wait for a payoff.  It might be just around the corner as Pitt could be the Big East’s, and nation’s, biggest wild-card.

Head coach: Dave Wannstedt
3rd year: 13-10
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 26, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 21
Ten Best Pitt Players
1. DE Joe Clermond, Sr.
2. WR Derek Kinder, Sr.
3. RB L. Stephens-Howling, Jr.
4. OT Mike McGlynn, Sr.
5. DT Gus Mustakas, Jr.
6. WR Oderick Turner, Soph.
7. OT Jeff Otah, Sr.
8. NT Rashaad Duncan, Jr.
9. PK Conor Lee, Jr.
10. CB Kennard Cox, Sr.

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:

Sept. 1

Eastern Michigan

Sept. 8


Sept. 13

at Michigan State 

Sept. 22


Sept. 29

at Virginia

Oct. 10


Oct. 20


Oct. 27

at Louisville

Nov. 3


Nov. 17

at Rutgers

Nov. 24

South Florida

Dec. 1

at West Virginia

2006 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 8-4

2006 Record: 6-6

Preview 2006 predicted wins

9/2 Virginia  W 38-13
9/8 at Cincinnati W 33-15
9/16 Michigan State L 38-23
9/23 The Citadel W 51-6
9/30 Toledo W 45-3
10/7 at Syracuse W 21-11
10/13 at UCF W 52-7
10/21 Rutgers L 20-10
11/4 at South Florida L 22-12
11/11 at Conn. L 46-45 2OT
11/16 West Virginia L 45-27
11/25 Louisville L 48-24

Although it’s only his third year, the upcoming season is critical for Wannstedt, who’s in serious danger of squandering what’s left of the goodwill that existed when he was lured back home.  Not only does he have to show tangible signs of progress, but he’ll have to do so without his long-time starting quarterback, Tyler Palko, and his two best defensive players, linebacker H.B. Blades and corner Darrelle Revis, from a unit that allowed 139 points over its last three games.

Wannstedt sees progress, particularly along the lines, but that might just be coach-speak from a man reeling from a wildly disappointing couple of seasons.  The perfect remedy for the Panthers would be for the team to manufacture seven wins and a bowl invite, but that’ll require a number of first-time starters on both sides of the ball to grow up real fast. On the plus side, those young players have tremendous upside as Wannstedt has upgrade the talent level in a hurry (at least according to the recruiting types).  More realistically, Pitt will have a decent year setting the table for 2008 when all the new stars from the past two Februarys have some experience on their résumés.  

Even so, with everyone else focusing on West Virginia, Louisville, Rutgers, and even South Florida, Pitt has the potential to sneak past everyone and suddenly become the player everyone’s expected it to become.

What to watch for on offense: All eyes will be on the quarterback battle to replace Palko, who started all 35 games the last three years and was the undeniable soul of the unit.  Last year’s backup, Bill Stull, is the front-runner, but he’ll have to hold off incoming freshman Pat Bostick and redshirt freshman Kevan Smith.  Wannstedt’s desire to establish a power running game will be enhanced by having a new starting quarterback and a talented line that features behemoth tackle Jeff Otah, third-year starting guard C.J. Davis and Joe Thomas, a rising star at guard.  When the Panthers do pass, they’ll lean heavily on the big-play receiving duo of Derek Kinder and Oderick Turner.    

What to watch for on defense: If the defense is going to improve following last year’s second-half meltdown, it’ll have to become far more physical.  The Panthers lack girth along the defensive line and were routinely pushed around against the league’s better teams. Considering speed was the problem the year before, the mix wasn’t exactly a winner.  Losing Blades, Revis and Clint Session puts a ton of pressure on the holdovers to produce and could force Pitt to blitz more than it would like.  There’s hope in junior tackles Rashaad Duncan and Gus Mustakas, who lack ideal size, yet are playmakers with hot motors.  

The team will be far better if … the back seven on defense isn’t a glaring liability.  The offense should gel during the first half of the year and the defensive line shows potential, but if the new linebackers can’t fill the lanes and the new corners can’t cover, the Panthers will again spring huge leaks against balanced offenses. That’s particularly vital since …

The Schedule: … big start is a must with a tough finishing kick to deal with. Forgive the team for taking it easy over the first two weeks against Eastern Michigan and Grambling with road tests at Michigan State and Virginia coming before the end of September. There's no margin for error in Big East play against Connecticut, Cincinnati, Syracuse and South Florida, all home games, with road dates at Louisville, Rutgers and West Virginia over the second half of the year.

Best Offensive Player: Senior WR Derek Kinder.  After Greg Lee bolted early for the NFL, Kinder answered the help wanted ad at wide receiver leading the Panthers with 57 catches for 847 yards and six touchdown catches.  He spent the entire year dispelling the myth he was just a possession receiver, making the tough catch over the middle, averaging nearly 15 yards a grab and serving as a valuable downfield blocker.  

Best Defensive Player: Senior DE Joe Clermond.  Its defense gutted by graduation and early departures, the Panthers will be looking to last season’s best pass-rusher to step up and become the leader of the unit.  A rededicated Clermond emerged from nowhere in 2006, piling up a Big East-best 16½ tackles for loss and 5½ sacks, laying growing into the star to rotate the defense around.     

Key player to a successful season: Senior CB Kennard Cox.  With Revis off to the NFL, Cox all of a sudden becomes the number one corner for a pass defense that was the strength of the defense. Aaron Berry, a former top recruit, will likely step in for Revis and will get picked on early on, but Cox has to be the one who comes up with the big plays.

The season will be a success if ... Pitt wins at least eight games. Positive steps have to be taken in the Wannstedt era, and it starts with a winning season and a bowl game. 2008 is when the program’s supposed to hit its stride with all the recruiting classes starting to kick in, but for now, just getting an extra game for the first time since going to the BCS in under Walt Harris would be nice. Next year the Panthers can worry about winning the Big East title.

Key game: Oct. 27 at Louisville. The schedule works out well enough to dream about a 7-0 start, even though 6-1 is more likely before things start to get nasty. Considering the Panthers have lost to the Cardinals 90 to 44 over the last two seasons, this would be a huge statement game with a chance to show just how much things have changed.

2006 Fun Stats: 
- First quarter scoring: Pitt 114 – Opponents 40
- Fumbles: Opponents 24 (lost 15) – Pitt 12 (lost 9)
- Rushing yards per game: Opponents 181.2 – Pitt 123  


Related Stories
2007 Pitt Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 12, 2007
2007 Pitt Preview - Defense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 12, 2007
2007 Pitt Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 12, 2007

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