2008 CFN Pitt Preview
Pitt LB Scott McKillop
Pitt LB Scott McKillop
Posted May 9, 2008

Yes, really, this should be the year Pitt finally turns the corner under Dave Wannstedt and becomes a major challenger for the Big East title. With 17 returning starters, including star LB Scott McKillop, the Panthers are loaded with talent, but will it matter?

Pitt Panthers

Preview 2008

By Richard Cirminiello

- 2008 CFN Pitt Preview | 2008 Pitt Offense
- 2008 Pitt Defense
| 2008 Pitt Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Pitt Preview
| 2006 CFN Pitt Preview 

Head coach: Dave Wannstedt
4th year: 16-19
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 23, Def. 26, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 13
Ten Best Pitt Players
1. RB LeSean McCoy, Soph.
2. LB Scott McKillop, Sr.
3. WR Derek Kinder, Sr.
4. DE Greg Romeus, Soph.
5. PK Conor Lee, Sr.
6. NT Rashaad Duncan, Sr.
7. DT Mick Williams, Jr.
8. WR Oderick Turner, Jr.
9. LB Shane Murray, Jr.
10. OG C.J. Davis, Sr.

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2008 Record: 0-0

Aug. 30 Bowling Green
Sept. 6 Buffalo
Sept. 13 OPEN DATE
Sept. 20 Iowa
Sept. 27 at Syracuse
Oct. 2 at South Florida
Oct. 18 at Navy
Oct. 25 Rutgers
Nov. 1 at Notre Dame
Nov. 8 Louisville
Nov. 22 at Cincinnati
Nov. 28 West Virginia
Dec. 6 at Connecticut

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
2007 Record: 5-7

Sept. 1 Eastern Mich W 27-3
Sept. 8 Grambling W 34-10
Sept. 13 at Michigan St L 17-13
Sept. 22 Connecticut L 34-14
Sept. 29 at Virginia L 44-14
Oct. 10 Navy L 48-45 2OT
Oct. 20 Cincinnati W 24-17
Oct. 27 at Louisville L 24-17
Nov. 3
Syracuse W 20-17
Nov. 17 at Rutgers L 20-16
Nov. 24
South Florida L 48-37
Dec. 1 at West Virginia W 13-9

There’s a quiet storm brewing at Pitt. 

The convergence of yet another great recruiting class, the emergence of RB LeSean McCoy, and last December’s upset of second-ranked West Virginia has the Panthers entering 2008 with a head of steam and the realistic hopes of making a huge leap into Big East title contention. Yeah, you’ve heard this song before, but the program finally appears ready to make good on fourth-year head coach Dave Wannstedt’s promise to get things back on the right track. This had better be the big season everyone has been expecting; the staff is running low on equity.

Since coming back home, Wannstedt has made good on his vow to raise the talent level at Pitt through intense recruiting. While he has brought in some fantastic classes, the improvement hasn’t equaled success on the field for going just 16-19 over the last three years. If ever there was a crossroads season for a coaching staff, this is it.

McCoy, the centerpiece of the 2007 recruiting class, has instantly become the star of the Panther offense.  A Freshman All-American, he ran for 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns despite getting absolutely no help from the nation’s 104th-ranked passing attack. While McCoy is a given, the person feeding him the ball is not. 

Pitt must decide on a starting quarterback out of veteran Bill Stull, sophomore Pat Bostick, and JUCO transfer Greg Cross, and this might be the make-or-break call of the Big East season. Bostick is the future, but struggled after Stull went down in the opener with a thumb injury. 

On defense, a veteran group that was No. 5 nationally gets back DT Gus Mustakas and S Elijah Fields, who missed most or all of 2007, while the star is LB Scott McKillop, a relentless defender who led the nation with 151 tackles in his first season as the starter.       

Expectations aren’t just rising in Pittsburgh, they’re through the roof. Wannstedt had better deliver a bowl game, or else the
re might be a new head coach making promises a year from now.     

What to watch for on offense: The development of the offensive line. No one is more integral to the Panthers’ 2008 fate than the five blockers responsible for protecting Stull and creating space for McCoy.  Pitt’s blueprint for retooling the group includes bringing C Robb Houser over from Butte College, relocating Joe Thomas from right guard to right tackle, and rehabbing the surgically-repaired shoulder of LT Jason Pinkston. If any hiccups surface in the plan, the Panthers will labor to improve on last season’s 22 points and 319 yards a game.

What to watch for on defense
: The rise of the line. Last spring, Gus Mustakas couldn’t be kept out of the backfield. This spring, Mick Williams was virtually unstoppable. Now that both are healthy, a year older, and will be joined by steady vet Rashaad Duncan, Pitt’s going to have one of the Big East’s most disruptive tackle rotations. Add in the pressure of emerging sophomore end Greg Romeus, and Wannstedt finally has a line that can win the battle at the line of scrimmage.

The team will be far better if
… it can avoid the injury bug. There were no excuses for going 5-7, but there’s also no denying that the Panthers were killed by injuries as top receiver Derek Kinder, starting QB Bill Stull, and DT Gus Mustakas were all gone before the season ever got off the ground. While Pitt has upgraded its depth in recent years, it would prefer not to tap into it before Big East play begins. Especially behind center and along both lines, the program is hoping to stay relatively healthy from start to finish.  

The Schedule: This might be the strongest Panther team yet under Wannstedt, but the schedule could make it a challenging year. There's a chance for a big start with a home win over Iowa in mid-September, but the Big East slate starts out with two road games against Syracuse and South Florida. Going to Navy and Notre Dame will make it four road dates in a five-game span, and then there's the finishing kick. After getting a mid-November week off, the Panthers have to play at Cincinnati, West Virginia, and at Connecticut. That could be just tough enough to ruin Big East title hopes.

Best offensive player
: Sophomore RB LeSean McCoy. Every bit as good as his high school videos, McCoy debuted in the Steel City with 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground while chipping in 33 receptions. Capable of beating defenders to the outside or bowling them over between the tackles, he’s already the focal point of the offense after just one season on campus. With even a threat of help from the passing game, McCoy has the tools and the tough running style to push for All-America honors.

Best defensive player
: Senior LB Scott McKillop. McKillop’s first season as the starter made Panther fans forget that H.B. Blades had graduated. After a terrific off-season, McKillop just kept playing hard, racking up more tackles than any player in the country and earning First Team All-Big East honors. Fundamentally flawless and blessed with outstanding instincts, he’s the blueprint of what teams look for in a middle linebacker. With better talent around him and a year of starting experience in the vault, he could be even better in 2008.            

Key player to a successful season
: Junior QB Bill Stull. The Panthers need a few more capable offensive linemen, but otherwise are on solid footing everywhere … except at quarterback. Stull appeared on the verge of breaking through before an injury changed those plans.  Pitt needs a take-charge quarterback that can spark the passing game, while getting the most out of a nice group of receivers that includes Derek Kinder, Oderick Turner, and TE Nate Byham. The Panthers lacked leadership a year ago, a void they hope can be filled by their most experienced quarterback.    

The season will be a success if
... Pitt wins eight games, snapping a four-year bowl drought.  Considering the preseason buzz surrounding the program, anything less than a postseason invite will be disastrous for the program and the coaching staff. If the Panthers can click early, sustain the momentum, and avoid injuries, there’s enough talent on both sides of the ball to contend for a Big East championship. For now, Pitt will settle for a 13th game, which is exactly what it needs to make believers out of the players, the fans, and a city that’s been treating the school with a giant yawn.  

Key game: Nov. 28 vs. West Virginia. You think the Mountaineers remember getting stunned by Pitt last December in one of the most memorable Backyard Brawls in the history of the rivalry? West Virginia will be seeking revenge, but Pittsburgh might be seeking much more than that in front of a national TV audience.  Say, a Big East title and an automatic berth in a BCS bowl game. This could be another classic between two programs that genuinely dislike one another.   

2007 Fun Stats: 
- Interceptions thrown: Pitt 17 – Opponents 8
- Fourth down conversions: Pitt 11 of 21 (52%) – Opponents 5 of 15 (33%)
- First quarter scoring: Opponents 88 – Pitt 55