2010 Pitt Preview
Pitt WR Jonathan Baldwin
Pitt not only has as much talent as anyone in the Big East, the pieces are in place to hang around with anyone in America. But does that mean that Jonathan Baldwin and company can finally come through under Dave Wannstedt? Check out the CFN 2010 Pitt Preview.
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By Richard Cirminiello
Sure, it's taken time, probably more than most Pitt fans could stomach, but the program has found solid ground. And with Dave Wannstedt as the foreman, it hopes to erect a few championship banners.
Head coach: Dave Wannstedt
6th year: 35-26
Off. 22 Def. 24, ST 4
Lettermen Lost: 22
Ten Best Pitt Players
1. RB Dion Lewis, Soph.
2. DE Greg Romeus, Sr.
3. WR Jon Baldwin, Jr.
4. LT Jason Pinkston, Sr.
5. S Dom DeCicco, Sr.
6. DE Jabaal Sheard, Sr.
7. LB Max Gruder, Jr.
8. DT Myles Caragein, Jr.
9. RT Lucas Nix, Jr.
10. P/PK Dan Hutchins, Sr.
Sept. 2 at Utah
Sept. 11 New Hampshire
Sept. 18 OPEN DATE
Sept. 23 Miami
Oct. 2 FIU
Oct. 9 at Notre Dame
Oct. 16 at Syracuse
Oct. 23 Rutgers
Oct. 30 Louisville
Nov. 6 OPEN DATE
Nov. 11 Connecticut
Nov. 20 at USF
Nov. 26 West Virginia
Dec. 4 at Cincinnati
There was a time, not too long ago, that the Panthers appeared doomed to a life of mediocrity and disappointment under Wannstedt. In his first three years, they went just 16-19, developing a personality as poor finishers. Since then, however, the clouds have lifted and the school has gone 19-7. Last year's squad came within an excruciating last-minute loss to unbeaten Cincinnati from taking the Big East, and won a bowl game for the first time since 2002. With the wind at its back and some much-needed momentum, Pitt's goal is to annually compete for a league crown.
You want player development? The Panthers' best offensive and defensive player, national award candidates Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus, struggled to even land scholarships coming out of high school. The latter got out of Florida without so much as a visit to one of the majors and the former appeared headed for the MAC. These days, Romeus is a next-level defensive end and Lewis just debuted as a true freshman with 1,799 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. The point? Pittsburgh has holes on both sides of the ball, especially at quarterback, cornerback, and the interior of the o-line, but as long as this staff remains intact, there will be capable replacements ready to fill the void.
Pittsburgh is on its most stable footing since Dan Marino was on campus more than a quarter-century ago. There are all-stars and budding playmakers littered throughout the two-deep, meaning a Big East championship and a Top 25 finish remain the goals this season. If the situation behind center can be managed, there's no reason the Panthers can't keep the train on the tracks and a BCS bowl game in the crosshairs.
What to watch for on offense: The debut of Tino Sunseri as the starting quarterback. Yeah, Dion Lewis was the star of last year's offensive revival, but it was the play of QB Bill Stull, which added balance and really made the Panthers go. Now, Sunseri doesn't need to be Stull right out of the chute, but he does need to distribute the ball to more than Lewis on handoffs. If superstar WR Jon Baldwin is marginalized in the gameplan, like he was in 2008, the entire program will feel it. The sophomore has the right demeanor for this job and a high ceiling. Pitt needs him to begin approaching it as quickly as possible.
What to watch for on defense: The new starting cornerbacks. The Panthers are in ideal shape just about everywhere on defense ... except at cornerback, where Aaron Berry and Jovani Chappel must be replaced. There are four options for two jobs, something the staff will continue to sort out in the summer. The veterans are senior Ricky Gary and junior Buddy Jackson. They're the underdogs, however, to juniors Antwuan Reed and Saheed Imoru. Reed was named most improved defensive player of the spring and Imoru has hit the ground running in his first year out of Navarro (Tex.) Junior College.
The team will be far better if… it does a better job of closing out tight games. The Panthers' last five losses dating back to 2008 have been by an average of only four points. Now, Pitt has pulled out some nail-biters during that time, but has lost more than they've won. The difference between a Meineke Car Care Bowl and an Orange Bowl will be the outcomes of these types of games, which hang in the balance and aren't decided until the waning moments of the fourth quarter.
The Schedule: It's not like the schedule is a
breeze with Utah, Miami and Notre Dame to deal with,
but if the Panthers can play up to their talent and
potential, there's not a game on the slate that they
can't win. They should be better than the Utes and
the Irish, but those games are on the road, and
Miami has to come to Heinz. There are only three
away games and Syracuse is one of them meaning West
Virginia, Rutgers, and Connecticut, likely the three
biggest barriers to the BCS, are at home. The
finishing kick is nasty, though, going to Tampa in
late November to face USF and having to deal with
West Virginia six days later in the Backyard
Brawl. The regular season finishes up a week later
Best offensive player: Sophomore RB Dion Lewis. The Panther staff knew something about Lewis that no one else on the East Coast did. They did not, however, have any idea he be this good, this fast. Although he's unassuming and hardly passes the eye test at 5-8 and 195 pounds, he is a maestro as a running back, navigating the field with razor-sharp vision and the footwork of a dancer. Unmoved by having to succeed LeSean McCoy, he channeled his inner Tony Dorsett, rushing for 1,799 yards and scoring 18 times.
Best defensive player: Senior DE Greg Romeus. Ever since arriving as a skinny and unheralded kid from Florida, Romeus has continuously committed himself to getting bigger and better. It's paid off. After deciding not to turn pro, he enters 2010 as one of the most feared defensive ends in the country. Now a sturdy 6-6, 270-pound, he's big enough to defend the run, yet has the burst and quickness off the snap to claim 38.5 career tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks. More than just a terrific athlete, he's a positive influence in the locker room as well.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Tino Sunseri. Against weaker opponents, the Panthers can lean on the ground game and the defense, and never really be challenged. On those Saturdays, Sunseri's inexperience will be imperceptible. However, when Pitt travels to Utah and Notre Dame, hosts Miami, and begins the Big East portion of the schedule, it's going to need the unproven quarterback to be than just an accessory to the offense. If he plays like a rookie, Pittsburgh will not be Big East champs.
The season will be a success if ... Pittsburgh wins the Big East. The program has been so painfully close the past two years before coming up a little short. There's more than enough returning talent on both sides of the ball to rise to the top of a conference that's there for the taking. It's a league with no dominant member, and last year's champion, Cincinnati, will be going through a transition period on the field and on the sidelines.
Key game: Nov. 26 vs. West Virginia. The Backyard Brawl is always a circle-the-calendar type game for both programs. When a Big East championship might rest on the outcome, it becomes more than just a rivalry. Anything can happen between now and September, but the Mountaineers and the Panthers shape up as the league's two most title-ready programs. Plus, the passion and hitting for this one is always off the charts. The last three battles have been decided by four, four, and three points, evidence of how small the margin for error is when these two meet.
2009 Fun Stats:
- Rushing yards per game: Pittsburgh 180.3 – Opponents 106.3
- Sacks: Pittsburgh 47 – Opponents 15
- First half scoring: Pittsburgh 221 - Opponents 110
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