A bunch of Pitt fans/alumni writing and ranting about the University of Pittsburgh Panthers and anything sports and entertainment related. Other than being alumni, the writers of this blog have no affiliation or official connection with the University of Pittsburgh, the Pitt Panthers, and related entities. The views expressed on this blog are solely our own. You can e-mail us: PittSportsBlather-at-sbcglobal.net.

Friday, October 31, 2003

Fitzgerald Awards Watch 

Pitt WR, Larry Fitzgerald continues to be a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy (though, it is probably Oklahoma QB, Jason White's to lose). He is on everyone's list. (By the way, if you get Sporting News Radio, listen to Peter Brown do the Heisman watch on Thursday at 2:45 pm, just because he plays each candidate's school's fight song. Talk about getting fired up for the Saturday game -- Let's go Pitt!)

The Maxwell Award, given to the most outstanding college football player, has placed Fitzgerald on its 15 player watch list. Fitzgerald is the only sophomore on the list. This award has also been won by Pitt legends Hugh Green and Tony Dorsett.

Fitzgerald has been named a finalist on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. an award, that he already appears to be the clear winner. No other receiver in the country has received as much attention as Larry Fitzgerald. Former Pitt WR Antonio Bryant (now with the Dallas Cowboys) won the award in 2000.

The Pitt Athletic Department has really started to pick up the pace in pimping Larry Fitzgerald -- excerpting (but failing to link to the article).

Final Thoughts about BC 

I used to think Pitt got a raw deal in the level of coverage it receives in the Pittsburgh media, then I tried looking around for stories on Boston College. Pathetic, and it will probably get worse with them playing teams that have no geographic connections -- UConn basketball coach, Jim Calhoun, has stated that his team will never play BC because of the way they bolted the Big East -- I hope Pitt does the same. I mean the Boston Globe and Boston Herald sites don't even bother with providing a section on BC (or even Boston area colleges in general). This is the extent of the notes on BC the day before.

So it's hard to glean much about the team. There are practically no stories the day before, other than their kicker trying not to miss another field goal that could win the game.

One interesting note contained in a brief article about BC trying to win enough games to be bowl eligible is a note about the problems BC is having trouble with long snappers. Something that times out well with Pitt's new emphasis on special teams and blocking punts

Here are the BC Game notes (I can't say I've looked at them though. They seem to be overly graphic and large PDF files that are choking my piddling dial-up).

By the way, just to throw this in, a little snippet from the ESPN chat with college football columnist Ivan Maisel

Wade (San Diego, CA): Hey Ivan, Do you think the demise of the Big East will be good for the BCS? Also, do you agree that the problem with the Big East is that they still view themselves as mainly a basketball conference?

Ivan Maisel: I just don't believe that the Big East will lose its automatic bid. I think that, in the next contract (2006), if not sooner, that access to the BCS games will be increased for the MWC, C-USA, etc. I don't think the other conferences have the gumption to throw the Big East out.
Matt (Chicago): Will Pitt beat B.C.?

Ivan Maisel: I think so, and they scold us when we say Pitt. They want to be Pittsburgh now. Go figure.

It's still Pitt, dammit.

Final note, the game is not being televised. The internet audio for Pitt games is through Yahoo!, so you have to pay. But... BC has free audio broadcast (but also through Yahoo! WTF?)

FOX Sports/Sporting News Picks for Week 10 

For this Saturday, FOX Sports/Sporting News's Fearless Predictions include picking Pitt to beat (and cover against) Boston College, Virginia Tech to upset Miami, Michigan to beat (and cover against) Michigan State, USC to beat (and cover against) Washington State, Oklahoma to beat (and cover against) Oklahoma State, Notre Dame to upset Florida State, and most importantly to my household, Ohio State to beat (and barely cover against the 6.5 spread) Penn State. They agree with three of my four picks for Week 10 (including Pitt-BC). However, we disagree on the Miami-Virginia Tech outcome. That being said, a lot more pundits agree with me than with them... for what that's worth...

Hail to watching the sun set, from my office desk at 4:30 PM.

Pre-Season Polling -- Basketball 

I admit, it's hard to pay much attention to college basketball with football season hitting the conference crunch time. But more pre-season rankings have appeared. The least I can do is check out what they say. Actual analysis will come later.

The top-half of the Big East is loaded this year. Pitt, coming off it's first Big East Championship (I still love to type that) is in the upper-echelon of teams, but with a top-heavy Big East that only has them picked to be 4th in the Big East this year. UConn, Syracuse and Notre Dame are considered better. Considering Pitt lost its head coach and 3 starters, it is understandable. Here's a decent, though a bit inaccurate preview of the Pitt team from Sports Illustrated and Athlon Sports (One of the incoming freshmen listed, Walter Walters, was released from his scholarship at his request and signed with Cleveland State after failing to qualify academically).

Of course the big poll came out yesterday. The ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. Pitt is listed at No. 22. The 4th team listed from the Big East (UConn #1, Syracuse #7 and ND tied at #19). Of minor note, 3 teams from Conference USA that are expected to join the Big East Mega Mess are also ranked (Louisville #16, Cinci tied at #19 and Marquette #23).

I only point this out because of my distaste for the mega conference plan. If the Big East just split apart as it should, the football/basketball conference would still be better than the remaining basketball only schools. It just becomes more apparent how much the b-ball only schools are not providing much (other than Madison Square Garden, via St. Johns, for the Big East Tournament). But I digress.

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Week 10 Picks, Including Pitt-Boston College 

Personally, I think that this is going to be the most exciting weekend of college football so far this season. My wife and I even bought a new big screen television for it. We're going to host a small party for the Ohio State-Penn State game, which will obviously be our big event Saturday (I already discussed this game here). Jen thought that she might need some support from some fellow Nittany Lions in case my Buckeyes really start rolling. But I'll also have my eyes on such tasty morsels as Oklahoma State-Oklahoma, Washington State-USC, Michigan-Michigan State, Miami-Virginia Tech, and especially Pitt-Boston College. Let me discuss the last three of these matchups and then pick them against the spread, putting my pathetic season record of 15-18 on the line (note that I already picked Ohio State (-7) at Penn State here).

PITTSBURGH (-1) AT BOSTON COLLEGE: Let me break my analysis down into the standard "Football for Idiots" format.

When we have the ball: In general, Boston College's pass defense has had some troubles this season. Notre Dame -- which couldn't throw the ball for squat against anybody else (including Pitt) -- ripped Boston College for 350 yards through the air last Saturday. Heck, even Syracuse passed for 215 against the Eagles. In a solid piece of analysis, Chas noted that BC has a pair of very short cornerbacks who will likely require some help
from their safeties in stopping a tall, super-fast receiver like Larry Fitzgerald. This could open up some opportunities for some underneath passes to Tight End Kris Wilson or some of the other receivers. Furthermore, it could create some holes for our running game -- depending on how BC's linebackers play the situation.

And our running game will need all of the help it can get. Boston College's run defense has been very tough... at times. Although Notre Dame (who ran all over us) could only muster 47 yards on the ground against Boston
College, Syracuse (who we held to 44 rushing yards) piled up 192. Go figure. In any case, our running game (both our all-too-timid backs and our often-out-physicalled offensive linemen) hasn't needed anybody else's help to suck so far this year. And BC should be tougher against the run than Syracuse was.

So this Saturday, I figure that Pitt should basically pass to set up the run. Start lobbing bombs to Fitz until the underneath passes and the running opportunities open up. Of course, this strategy depends on excellent pass
protection from our improving-but-still-shaky offensive line. Thus, offensive line play will be one of the most important keys to Pitt's success this Saturday -- although minimizing turnovers is always important too.

When Boston College has the ball, they will want to run first and foremost. Tom O'Brien likes a solid ball control offense, and why not? BC's tailback, Derrick Knight, is the nation's leading rusher. Even though he twisted his ankle against Notre Dame, he and his backup Horace Dodd still pounded out 147 yards on the ground. But the Eagles can throw too -- passing for 249 yards against Syracuse (vs. our 310) and 199 against Notre Dame (vs our 167).

Pitt's defense will have to be very physical up front. Boston College's offensive line is one of the best in the Big East, and O'Brien (if he's smarter that Pasqualoni) will run it down our throats all day. And here is where I think the game will turn. If Pitt's defense can slow Derrick Knight and Horace Dodd while occasionally pressuring Quinton Porter into making bad decisions, we will win.

Call me a sudden optimist, but I think that our defense can do that. Playing one of the ACC-bound traitors should provide some motivation towards that end. And even if it doesn't, Boston College will more than likely screw up on special teams at least once. I'll (gulp) take Pitt to cover, please.

MIAMI (-3.5) AT VIRGINIA TECH: I genuinely believed Frank Beamer when he said that this was his best team ever at Virginia Tech. And that's what made that 28-7 asskicking in Morgantown so hard for me to understand. I mean, I know very well that nobody self-destructs like the Hokies. But still, that talented of a rushing attack and a quarterback should have been able to muster something in the third or fourth quarters... I mean, maybe not enough to win... but at least something...

Well, Virginia Tech won't self-destruct two games in a row, especially with their season on the line in the national spotlight. Likewise, Quarterback Bryan Randall will probably never play that poorly again (I'm not sure that it's physically possible). And I am giving Virginia Tech's offensive line a slight advantage over Miami's defensive front (no more of that weird 3-3-5 crap). So I expect the Hokies to put up a much better fight on offense Saturday (especially on the ground) than the last time I saw them.

Unfortunately, Miami's going to get a few chances to play offense too. And I just can't see Tech's secondary keeping up with Miami's speed receivers and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. all game long. Being an Ohio State fan, I own the DVD of last January's Fiesta Bowl and watch it frequently. I still can't understand how the hell Ohio State (even with one of the nation's best defenses) kept those burners in front of them. Now Beamer, can, should, and probably will try to keep the Hurricanes's offense off the field with a nice ball control offense -- and he certainly has the tools to accomplish that (I like Kevin Jones even better than Maurice Clarett). But I'm betting that sooner or later Tech's gonna get lit up through the air.

Like most of America outside of south Florida, my heart will be with the Hokies to redeem themselves here. But my brain says to never bet against Miami in an important game that doesn't involve Ohio State. I'll take the Hurricanes to cover.

MICHIGAN (-4) AT MICHIGAN STATE: Michigan State is the feel-good story of college football this year and everybody's second favorite Big Ten team. Previously unheralded Head Coach John L. Smith has brought the Spartans and their recovering-from-addiction quarterback (Lancaster County, PA native) Jeff Smoker back from a 4-8 record to currently lead the Big Ten Conference. I think I can safely say that most of us are rooting for the Spartans to snatch the Paul Bunyan Trophy from the Wolverines in one of the leagues best rivalry games.

Admittedly, the home team has won 10 of the last 11 meetings in this series. But more importantly, the team in this series with the most productive ground game was won 32 of the last 33 games. So who would you rather have running the ball: (Lebanon County, PA native) Jaren Hayes or Chris freakin' Perry? Exactly. Come to think of it, which quarterback would you rather have: Smoker or John Navarre? And which defense would you rather have?

Once again, my heart will be with the Spartans here. But I think that the clock is about to strike midnight, just as it did for the other Cinderella Purdue last Saturday. I'll unfortunately have to take the Wolverines to cover.

So I got the Buckeyes, Panthers, Hurricanes, and Wolverines -- all to cover. I guess I'm not seeing any upsets after that debacle in Morgantown. But how much should you trust the vision of a man who's only 15-18?

Hail to the Hokies and Spartans Proving Me Wrong

Pitt - Boston College Preview Time 

The Pitt-BC game will not be televised. Pitt, however, has arranged to show the game at the Petersen Event Center on campus. Very cool move for the students, though there does appear to be a secondary reason -- to capture more highlights for Larry Fitzgerald's Heisman candidacy.

In a move that ensures that video highlights are available from this Saturday's game, which is not televised, Pitt arranged for a live video broadcast of the game to be shown at the Petersen Events Center. The Pitt athletic department is producing the broadcast.

This could be a big game for Fitzgerald, and possibly the entire Pitt offense. Boston College has a pair of very short cornerbacks-- 5' 8" and 5' 9" to cover the 6' 3" Fitzgerald. This means, that BC will have to drop the safeties to help out on covering Fitzgerald, otherwise Rutherford can just lob jump balls his way all day long. Of course dropping the safeties off, will (hopefully) allow for the underneath passes to TE Kris Wilson and the other receivers. Not to mention, maybe giving the offensive line more of a chance to help create some holes for the running game, where Tim Murphy will be sharing more of the carries with Jawan Walker.

On the defensive side, Pitt will be facing another powerful back, Tailback Derrick Knight, who despite an ankle injury against Notre Dame last week will still play in the game. Knight needs only 10 yards to reach the 1000 yard mark this year, which would be the second straight year he's reached that mark (and 3000 for his career). It would also be the sixth straight year that BC has had a 1000+ yard running back.

Pitt has dropped 5 consecutive games at Alumni Stadium. The last time Pitt won, 1989 under present ESPN analyst Mike Gottfried. The Panthers' last lost was a humiliating 45-7 drubbing in 2001 leading to the junking of the #$^%* spread offense.

Boston College is also having as much, if not more trouble than Pitt, with its kicking game (ESPN Subscription only). Actually, it's whole special teams is a mess. Their punting game is even worse than their kicking (a blocked punt and a fumbled snap against ND, plus the punter got hurt).

All the stuff, looks like it could be a big game for Pitt, but...

Pitt has not played well against BC no matter where the game is played. Add in the fact that everything looks to be in Pitt's favor, and I just start to get really nervous.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Let the Beatings Begin 

From Morgantown

West Virginia University will discipline at least 40 students who took part in the mayhem following the Mountaineers' upset of then-No. 3 Virginia Tech, school officials said Tuesday.

After the victory on Oct. 22, students poured onto Mountaineer Field and tried to tear down the goal posts but were turned back by police who used pepper spray and force to clear the field.

Within minutes, fires were set in the streets. More than 100 were reported, but authorities said most were doused within minutes. No major injuries or property destruction occurred.

We have a correspondent in Morgantown who has failed to report back to us since the events from last week. Come on, John. File a report already. Give us stories of mayhem and chaos. Or at least some burned out couches on the street.

Pitt-Penn State 

Lee's little rant on Penn State's lack of a real rival in the Big 11, reminded me of an article from last November, mocking the attempt by the Big 11 to jury-rig a "rivalry"game for Penn State with Michigan State -- the battle for the Land Grant Trophy -- that I mentioned in the context of Joe Paterno suddenly suggesting Pitt for membership in the Big 11. Funny, that Joe Pa has been rather silent on the matter now that Pitt would fall over itself at the offer.

Late Postgame Notes 

Sorry this is late, but the real world intruded for a bit.

Speaking as someone who was at the game, rather than watching on TV, I came away with mixed feelings.

Pitt definitely played one of its better games this year. The lines were less porous then they had been all year. Kicker, David Abdul, seemed to have saved his job for a couple more weeks by kicking two field goals (30, 43 yards). QB, Rod Rutherford, had a solid passing game and while Fitzgerald deservedly caught the most balls, the other receivers were involved. The defense had a strong day. Pitt held the ball for nearly 10 minutes longer than Syracuse.

Paul Pasqualoni, the Syracuse head coach, was denied his 100th win at 'Cuse. Syracuse RB, Reyes, was held under 100 yards rushing. The defense had 2 interceptions and a sack.

That being said, I don't think this could truly be called a "dominent" win. And while the defense played better than it has all year, it wasn't making a "stand.".

I don't want to seem continually negative, but I still saw plenty of problems.

The offense is still having trouble getting plays in a timely manner. This is all on Coach Harris. He runs the offense, and this has been happening since 1997. After some point, you can't just blame the QB for not getting the play -- it has to fall on the shoulders of the guy responsible for choosing and sending it in. I don't know why he continues to have this problem, I just know that it is costly.

The running game still sucks. Jawan Walker is afraid to be hit, or he thinks he can be Barry Sanders. His tap-dancing before an already weak offensive line, makes it impossible for him to generate much in the way of real yardage per carry. He had 14 for 47, but like the Rutgers game, the majority came on one carry. He had a 22 yard run in the 3rd quarter. Otherwise he drops to 13 for 25. On six of his runs they were for negative to 1 yard. Tim Murphy, who was 9 carries for 21 yards, will probably see more action because he at least showed a willingness to run straight ahead. This inability to run is why we were still worried up until the last five minutes of the game. Unlike last week, Pitt managed to hold the ball for nearly 5 minutes on a drive once, but for the most part they still could not do the long, sustained, clock-chewing drive.

"Blockhands" is not the answer as the second receiver. Princell Brockenbrough is supposed to be the #2 receiver for Pitt. He had some nice catches, but once again had some inexcusable dropped balls. I'm not sure if he's taking his eyes off the ball to look upfield, or he doesn't concentrate when it's that easy, but Pitt may need to look at some of the other receivers as options.

Syracuse really did their best to help Pitt, from the top down. There was lots of sour grapes from Syracuse players, but there were some nuggets of truth.

Walter Reyes only touched the ball 22 times. One of the leading rushers in the country. The best offensive weapon for the Orangemen, and he didn't even rush for 25 times. He still outrushed the entire Pitt team, and had a better yards per carry -- nearly 4.5 yards per carry. Syracuse was only down by 7 at the half. Everyone knows Pitt wears down against the run. How can you not run him more? This is the sort of thing that has led to 'Cuse fans wanting to get rid of Paul Pasqualoni.

Syracuse QB, R.J. Anderson imploded against Pitt. 7 for 18, 49 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT. It would take effort to have a worse day than that. He was missing his receivers horribly. Yet another reason to wonder why Reyes wasn't getting the ball more. OF course, Anderson wins an award for idiocy with this statement.

"I don't think I played all that bad," Anderson said. "Look at the stats yourself and decide."

Even the Syracuse faithful were disturbed by that sort of statement.

A bigger issue, however, is that RJ is the QB and team captain. Saying “I don’t think I played all that bad� after we got hammered by 20 points and our offense gave up as many as we scored, is not what I personally want to hear. I want to hear that the game sickens him. No, the blame doesn’t fall all on one person. However, in life, sometimes you have to take responsibility even when its not entirely your fault. Every Syracuse player and coach let the team down on Saturday, and it showed.

It wasn't just Syracuse missing opportunities, though, it was horrible play-calling and execution by Syracuse, that made the score look worse than it really felt.

Still, it's a win, and it is time to start looking to the game up in Boston.

Who is Penn State’s Archrival? 

If you asked 100 Penn State fans who their archrival was, the more knowledgeable ones would smile a little before answering – subconsciously revealing that this is no longer an easy-to-answer question. Many of the old-timers would no doubt still answer “Pitt.” One or two might answer “Michigan State,” reflecting an official Big Ten Conference stance that almost nobody takes seriously. A handful might answer “Michigan,” even though the Wolverines don’t play the Nittany Lions every year. However, I guarantee that a solid majority would answer “Ohio State.”

How do I know? Because I live in the heart of Nittany Lion country. I spend each day with scores of Penn State Football fans: two of which are my parents and one of which is my wife. Plus, I know from repeated experience that wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt in Altoona, State College, or even into Beaver Stadium itself will draw far more derogatory comments than wearing a Michigan or even a Pitt sweatshirt.

And it’s not hard to understand why. Besides Michigan State, Ohio State is the only team that Penn State is guaranteed to play every year. Columbus is, by far, the nearest Big Ten outpost to State College. The Buckeyes have been led by a long series of head coaches that Nittany Lion fans love to hate – from Woody “Don Zimmer” Hayes to John “Deer-in-the-Headlights” Cooper. And most of all, no Big Ten team has won more games than Ohio State since Penn State joined the Big Ten.

Unfortunately, the Ohio State-Penn State rivalry is hardly a two way street. You see, Ohio State already has an archrival, and ESPN’s SportsCentury ranked Ohio State-Michigan as the best sports rivalry of the 20th Century – beating even Yankees-Red Sox. Most Ohio State fans are either mildly indifferent to or even slightly fond of Penn State because of old Joe Paterno. How do I know? Because I’m an Ohio State alumnus (grad school).

But before I became an Ohio State alumnus, I was a Pitt alumnus (undergrad). Chas, Pat, John, Shawn, and I attended Pitt when Panthers football was at its absolute nadir. Penn State, still flush with success from its 1986 national championship, crushed Pitt with ease every year. And each time, I took crap from hundreds of friends, relatives, and complete strangers back home – many of whom were convinced that I had made a major mistake by eschewing Penn State for Pitt. I grew to hate Penn State (those of you who regularly read my crap may have picked this up), and I took this hatred with me to Columbus. Thus, I am one of the very few Ohio State fans who hates Penn State back.

But Penn State deserves an archrival who fans unanimously hate it back. A good, nasty archrival could help motivate Penn State past its current cloud of underachievement. But most importantly of all, it would give Penn State fans a game that they could truly look forward to – win or lose. In a state like Pennsylvania that is full of extraordinarily tight-knit small towns and residents who were usually born near where they currently live, the Pitt-Penn State rivalry was something special – splitting bar rooms, ethnic social clubs, and even nuclear families (e.g., Chas’s and mine). In ways, it was far more unique than even Ohio State-Michigan (a state line separates most of their fans). It was more like an extra-nasty, industrialized, blue-collar version of Alabama-Auburn.

So for your own good, Penn State, give up the Ohio State thing. The Buckeyes just don’t care. Get Pitt back on your schedule, and erase the biggest black mark of Joe Paterno’s storied career. Heck, many of your more knowledgeable fans demand it.

Now, on to picking this Saturday’s game…

#7 OHIO STATE (-7) AT PENN STATE: Many Penn State fans that I’ve heard on local radio and television call-in shows this week are focusing on Ohio State’s troubles running the ball, and thus assuming that Penn State can easily upset the Buckeyes. And it is certainly true that OSU has had trouble running the ball against good run defenses like Wisconsin and Iowa. However, Penn State’s run defense is ranked as one of the worst in Division I-A – even worse than Indiana's, who the Buckeyes pasted 216 ground yards (and 387 through the air) on last Saturday. Thus, I think that Ohio State will be able to run the ball in Beaver Stadium – especially with an occasional Craig Krenzel surprise trip out of the pocket. And we all know that Krenzel and McMullen will be able to get some yards through the air. So as long as the Buckeyes don’t start turning the ball over, we'll be fine.

And what will Penn State’s offense be able to do against the second ranked defense in Division I-A (and the best run defense)? If they could only get 38 yards on the ground and 138 yards through the air against Iowa, they ain’t gonna get jack against Ohio State. Just look how well the Buckeyes shut down Iowa’s offense (219 total net yards).

Add to all of this the fact that Penn State hasn’t covered a spread since the Nebraska game, and this pick is easy. Gimme the Buckeyes to cover seven.

Hail to All of the Pitt Fans Who Will Be Rooting For the Buckeyes

Monday, October 27, 2003

Slightly off-topic but timely and important... 

This public service announcement here couldn't be more timely for those of you with little ghosts and goblins and/or those of you going out to get some candy for yourselves. To quote Hill Street Blues: "Hey, let's be careful out there!"

Dude, where's my diploma? 

The University of Pittsburgh has been taking some heat recently over it's graduation rates for student athletes. In fact, according to the latest study, Pitt is LAST among the 117 Division 1-A football schools with 16 percent of it's football players graduating. A big article in the Post-Gazette today detailed how those statistics are compiled, and how they aren't really telling the whole story about our alma mater.

The best part of the article contained numerous quotes from one of PSB's favorite Pitt Alumni, R.J. English.

"We had some trouble with drugs, guys smoking weed," said R.J. English,
a receiver who arrived at Pitt in 1997. "Coach Harris wasn't taking that stuff, and he

English, a self-described slacker, said Harris came within a whisker of booting him off
the team because he underachieved in the classroom, was arrested for
misdemeanor disorderly conduct and showed up late for an off-season workout.

We all suspected it, but this all but confirms it. The photo of RJ that was flashed on the jumbo-tron whenever he made a catch certainly made him look like a total stoner. The knit hat down to his eyebrows, the half-closed eyelids, the devil-may-care grin - oh, yeah, this guy liked to toke up. At least that's what we believed. Sure he doesn't come right out and say it, but we can read between the lines, RJ.

Well, there is a happy ending - RJ straightened up and got his degree. The only sad thing is now that he's out of football (he was cut from the Falcons), he wants to become a cop.

Oh, I forgot. Those statistics are mainly from players recruited by Johnny Majors. Pitt's players defend Harris for keeping on them constantly about their school work.

Week 9 Review: Pitt Surprisingly Improves While Lee Unsurprisingly Takes The Gas Pipe 

Including my brilliant pick of Virginia Tech to cover a 13 point spread last Wednesday night at West Virginia (I reviewed the results of that game separately here), I went 1-4 on my picks for week 9 -- dropping my season long record against the spread to 15-18. Let's review Ohio State-Indiana, Penn State-Iowa, Notre Dame-Boston College (Pitt's next opponent), and most importantly, Pitt surprising domination over Syracuse.

PITTSBURGH 34, SYRACUSE 14: I actually watched this game at home on TV (ESPN Plus) instead of from my usual seat at Heinz Field. Finally watching a Pitt home game on TV was a fascinating experience. If nothing else, I was delighted to hear how well the booing carried over the TV when Walt ("Offensive Genius") Harris couldn't get his plays into Quarterback Rod Rutherford on time. Booing Harris's all-too-common fits of indecision is becoming something of a proud tradition at Heinz Field.

I had picked Syracuse (+7) for this game because I thought that (1) Syracuse had a defensive line advantage (they did), (2) Syracuse had a solid run defense (they did... we totaled only 42 yards on the ground), (3) Syracuse's occasional containment and secondary issues wouldn't be too much of a problem (that is where I really screwed up... we totaled 310 yards through the air), (4) Syracuse had a overpowering offensive line (this turned out to be mostly false), and (5) our coaching staff wouldn't be able to improve either our offensive line or our run defense because they hadn't improved much there all season (D'OH!).

Really, what impressed me most about Pitt's performance during this game was the improvement in our offensive line. Sure, our run support still sucked, and we WILL NOT be able to beat the likes of Virginia Tech or Miami until our running game drastically improves. But our offensive line's pass protection was much better than it had been. At times, Rutherford was given five or six seconds of peace in the pocket before he had to throw. Of course, part of the credit here goes to Rod himself -- who got rid of the ball much quicker than he had previously. And, of course, pass protection is always easier to coach than run support too.

Rutherford was on fire in general on Saturday. He completed 21 passes on 32 attempts: including 8 passes to Larry Fitzgerald for 150 yards, 4 passes to Princell Brockenbrough for 63 yards, and most importantly (for those of us who have been begging for this guy to be used for more than just pass protection for months now), 3 passes to stud tight end Kris Wilson for 49 yards (including one terrific touchdown catch).

And, I have to admittedly give some credit (at long last) to Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads. Our run defense still needs a lot of work, but it was significantly better than it had been against Notre Dame. Orangemen RB Walter Reyes was and is the real deal, but he could only get 91 yards on the ground. Plus, Rhoads's defense pressured Orangemen QB R.J. Anderson all day long, forcing him to make several bad decisions.

Finally, I have to give a little credit for Pitt's unforeseen big win to Syracuse's coaching staff, who made some particularly moronic play calls.

OHIO STATE 35, INDIANA 6: To my complete surprise, Ohio State suddenly (and finally) grew an offense in Bloomington. And yes, I know that it was only against Indiana. But still, the Buckeyes couldn't move the ball for squat against such pitiful defenses as San Diego State's, Bowling Green's, or Northwestern's.

Ohio State amassed 387 yards through the air and 216 yards on the ground (167 yards and 3 TDs of which came from suddenly re-energized tailback Lydell Ross) with a surprisingly balanced and two-dimensional offense. I never saw it coming. I give Head Coach Jim Tressel, Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach Jim Bollman, and Running Backs Coach Tim Spencer plenty of credit for improving their squad. The Buckeye's defense was, as always, lights out.

Up next for the Buckeyes, the Penn State Nittany Lions. Even though most Ohio State fans could care less about PSU, this is my biggest game of the year and has been since the last time Pitt played Penn State. But I'll post more on that later this week.

IOWA 26, PENN STATE 14: I told you that I wasn't going stop picking against Penn State until they actually beat a spread, and that rule still stands. I haven't even seen the spread yet for this Saturday's Penn State-Ohio State matchup, but I'll pick the Buckeyes to cover it right now. Hey, it's money in the bank.

Penn State's offense, defense, and (especially) special teams (did you see that play where half of Iowa City got in the punter's face before he even had the ball?) all took a few steps backwards, developmentally, in this game. Of course, part of that was due to Iowa's stunning defense and much improved special teams (over the previous Saturday's disaster in Columbus).

BOSTON COLLEGE 27, NOTRE DAME 25: I picked Pitt's next opponent to cover a four point spread against Notre Dame because Boston College's offensive line, running game, and passing attack had been more productive than the Irish's over the season. And indeed, BC did outrush Notre Dame 151 yards to 57. However, Notre Dame outpassed BC 350 yards to 191 (where the hell did that come from?).

So on the plus side for Pitt, it sure looked like BC had problems on special teams and in the secondary against good wide receivers. But on the other hand, our run defense will have to stop the nation's leading rusher (Derrick Knight) and a very strong (and deep) running game -- supported by a solid offensive line. I look for a close one in Chestnut Hill next Saturday. The early lines favor Boston College by one.

So in addition to Pitt-BC, next Saturday we'll have Miami-Virginia Tech (early lines favor the Hurricanes by 3.5), Michigan-Michigan State (early lines favor the Wolverines by 4), Oklahoma State-Oklahoma (early lines favor the Sooners by 17), and Washington State-USC (Trojans currently favored by 11.5). Of course, none of these will matter as much to me or my wife as Ohio State-Penn State (the Buckeyes are currently favored by 7). What a day for college football. I'm salivating already.

Hail to Being a Panthers-Buckeyes Fan in the Shadow of Penn State

Friday, October 24, 2003

That's a lot of Information 

Give the Syracuse Propoganda Athletic Department credit. They know how to turn out the game notes before a game (warning 45 page PDF file). Some thing that jumped out at me, and make me really want to beat the Orangemen:

Their head coach, Paul Pasqualoni is 11-1 in his Syracuse head coaching tenure versus Pitt. The 1 loss came last year. The next Syracuse win will be Pasqualoni's 100th victory as Syracuse head coach (pg. 4). I really don't want it to come at our expense.

Syracuse has the 9th best rushing attack in the country. This is not good.

Coming Fast 

It's hard to believe the College Basketball Season is almost upon us. Pitt has a couple meaningless exhibition games, but then has its first game in 3 weeks. November 14, against Alabama at Madison Square Garden in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. The game will be on ESPN2 at 7pm. Of course after that, looking at their schedule, they then hit full cupcake mode. So, it will be really hard to tell how good the team is. It also means I won't be seeing them on TV again until they're about a quarter of the way into the Big East conference schedule -- January 12, 2004 at UConn.

With this schedule, and the questions about the team without Knight and Lett, and a new head coach, I can't be surprised that as preseason rankings (guesses) trickle out, I don't see Pitt listed in the top 25.

I don't know how Pitt will do this year in basketball. Judging by the schedule, no one will be sure for a while.

Pitt has to stop scheduling like they are Georgetown, and play some real teams before conference play. It's embarrassing and it doesn't help the team get ready for real competition.

Limited Interest 

As alumni of the University of Pittsburgh, it has been a strange thing to watch old haunts (mainly bars) disappear over the last 10 years. Lee and I are the only ones at PSB that actuall did the Greek thing at Pitt. Lee's frat got kicked off; and mine -- well I don't even know if AEPi is still around or not. The Phi Delta chapter kept being reorganized by national for various reasons; and now I don't know if there are Apes at Pitt. (But I digress.)

I mention this, because one of the oldest and most recognized frat -- by virtue of the "green mansion" on Dithridge St. -- has been "suspended." Seems to have been some hazing.

Bummer for the guys at Delta Sigma Phi.

Back to the Pending Game 

It seems to have been so long ago that I was actually thinking about the game on Saturday.

First up, looks like someone finally got around to wondering why QB Rod Rutherford isn't running any more. Essentially, fear from the coaching staff that the backup, Getsy, would have to come in to the game if Rutherford was hurt. Considering the season is already circling the drain, and RB Brendan Miree may not be back for the rest of the season, they might want to reconsider that viewpoint. There is also a claim that his ankle was hurting for a couple games.

OF some interest, to me at least is the incident from the Notre Dame game. Here's what I wrote.

On a 3rd and 10, Rutherford rolls out to the left (Notre Dame side) and runs for the first down down the line. Finally! Rutherford has speed, and he's been staying in the pocket (such as it was) all day. Fans are standing in anticipation.

Then, as he nears the marker in front of him, he sees a defensive player coming at him.

Rutherford never shies away from contact before. He's big, tough and strong -- 6' 3", 225 pounds. We expect him to lower the shoulder and plow ahead for the first down. The stadium anticipates this. The fans were juiced, and I believe momentum would have swung.

Instead, he straightens up and cuts out of bounds 2 yards short.

Stunned disbelief. Dismay. Disgust. Anger. All of this moved quickly through the stands. There was no way he didn't know where the first down marker was. It was directly in front of him. He chose to avoid the contact. Rod gave up on the play. It is safe to say, that was when the fans gave up. They showed the replay on the jumbotron, and there was no doubt. A blistering chorus of boos rained down on the field. People started moving to the exits.

That was really the end of the game. There was no faith left.

This never made it into a single story about the game. It is mentioned in the article.

Recently, Rutherford has taken some heat for a play late in the Notre Dame game because, on a third-and-10, he scrambled out of the pocket and ran for a first down but stepped out of bounds short of the marker rather than take a hit. Pitt was forced to punt and there were a smattering of boos from the crowd.

"Coach made a comment about it on the sideline and it was something I regret," he said. "But I didn't tell him that I was injured at the time. That's still no excuse, I knew what the situation was. That one still bothers me."

Rutherford said he won't make the same mistake.

I hope so.

From the Syracuse viewpoint, they see 5 keys to the game.

Control the ball and clock, using play action. Don't let Pitt stuff 8 men in the box to key in on stud RB Walter Reyes -- this was what VT did to decimate 'Cuse a couple weeks ago. Of course, this means the passing game has to be working. Something that you can never be absolutely sure of with Syracuse.

Contain Fitzgerald, by making Pitt one-dimensional. In a way the easiest and hardest thing for Syracuse to do. Shut down the running game, and allow the safties to help cover Fitzgerald. Even the most blinkered Orangemen fan knows that the best they can hope to do, is to limit Fitzgerald. No one has had much trouble shutting down Pitt's running game without Miree. The question will be, can Pitt pass underneath to TE Kris Wilson, and will the other receivers make plays?

Keep Rutherford in the pocket. Now, I'm not sure I get this one at all. I don't know if they've seen the same games from Pitt, that I have. Rutherford is much more accurate in the pocket then when he rolls out, or takes off. Yes, he has potential to take off and run, but as mentioned at the beginning, he isn't doing much of that.

R.J. Anderson to Johnnie Morant. This is the Syracuse version of Rutherford to Fitzgerald. Uh, okay. Basically, they think this should be the tit-for-tat big play combo to respond to any Pitt quick strikes. Right.

I really don't know what to say here, because it is just a stupid and contradictory point to controlling the ball and clock.

Don't panic if you fall behind, just stay close. Pitt has shown in all but the Texas A&M game, that it doesn't play as well in the second half, and especially in the 4th quarter. The fade, wear out, don't adjust to new schemes. Even if Syracuse is losing going into the 4th, they still can win.

If I was Syracuse, here would be my one key to the game.

Walter Reyes running right. Reyes running left. Reyes running straight up the middle. Until Pitt shows that it can stop the run on a consistent basis, you just run him repeatedly and often. Maybe an occasional screen or short pass to keep Pitt off guard, but just run the ball. He's their best weapon against Pitt's weakest point.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Hoopies Humiliate Hokies: Lee's Take 

Nights like last night make me wonder why I even bother picking college football games or ranking teams. I mean, I studied both Virginia Tech and West Virginia before I picked the Hokies to cover a 13 point spread. I thought that Virginia Tech was the second best team in the country, even though they had admittedly only played Texas A&M and a few local high schools. I ignored Virginia Tech's long history of being ridiculously overrated, especially by its media god-parent ESPN. Boy, was I wrong.

But first things first. Congratulations to Head Coach Rich Rodriguez and the West Virginia Mountaineers for beating the living hell out of the #3 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies 28-7 last night. The loyal members of the Big East Football Conference sincerely thank you. Even though I picked against you, I spent the evening in front of the TV yelling my head off for you (unlike some other contributors to this site, who were almost certainly watching the World Series... as if we all don't already know that the Yankees are inevitably going to win). I even taught my wife how to chant "LET'S GO... MOUNTAINEERS!"

The Mountaineers featured a terrifyingly balanced and effective offense. They piled up 264 yards on the ground (178 by running back Quincy Wilson) and 162 through the air (including that electrifying 93 yard touchdown pass to WR Travis Garvin). Quarterback Rasheed Marshall looked great picking apart the Hokies's defense.

Meanwhile, the wheels just fell off of Virginia Tech's offense. The Hokies could only muster 65 yards on the ground and 146 through the air thanks to Rodriguez's well coached and fundamentally sound defense (very much unlike some defenses that I could mention). Of course, Hokie Quarterback Bryan Randall made Rodriguez look even better by throwing 3 interceptions and dropping 4 fumbles. Still, keeping VT's star tailback (and Hall of Fame Penn State tormentor) Kevin Jones under 100 yards involved brilliant strategizing and a hard fighting defensive line that we Pitt fans apparently can only dream of.

So now Virginia Tech is 1-4 against Pitt/WVU since 2001 (hopefully they will soon be 1-5), losing their last two to each school. Yeah, you guys are ready to compete in a super-conference every year against the likes of Miami, Florida State, and heck, even Virginia. You'll never get this close to a BCS bowl again, and soon be cannon fodder to your far better coached cross state rivals.

Incidentally, I'd love to see Hokies Head Coach Frank Beamer pull a complete Woody Hayes at Heinz Field and hit one of our players. I strongly agree with Chas's assertion that Virginia Tech as a team has tended to throw temper-tantrums and self-destruct (through penalties, outbursts, and most importantly, a general lack of focus) when they get slightly outplayed as they did last night (and the last two years against Pitt). I would suggest that they are merely reflecting their Head Coach's personality.

So anyways, my season record against the spread is now 14-15. Still, I'm happy that I was wrong and that WVU won. Unfortunately, I now think I see another Big East team that Pitt will not beat unless our defensive line, offensive line, and running game substantially improve.

Hail to Rich Rodriguez, Now One of my Favorite Coaches Once Again

Other Views on the Va Tech Implosion 

Yes, this is still a Pitt blog, but the results and fallout of the WVU-VT game merit some more pixels.

Frank Beamer seemed to be on the verge of having a Woody Hayes/Bob Knight moment, but his player just walked away.

And Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer was caught by ESPN cameras on the sideline delivering a slap to Hokies wide receiver Ernest Wilford on his helmet late in the third quarter. Wilford responded by walking away from his coach with a look of disgust on his face.

"He was trying to explain one of the penalties," Beamer said. "I should have been listening and not slapped him on the head. I shouldn't have done that. I apologized. It was my fault all the way."

In Syracuse, there is also a fair amount of glee, but annoyance at the announcers regarding the ACC raids on the Big East.

Today, however, I will spend my time talking about the pounding that West Virginia handed to Virginia Tech. In case you missed, just pop in a tape where VPI is undefeated and goes in to play an unranked team in any year, and completely collapses.

This game was humiliating for Tech (ESPN). Absolutely humiliating. National Championship=Good bye.
The only bad part- Sean McDonough took a shot at SU for criticizing BC's move to the ACC. Top bad McDonough, an SU grad, didn't take time to look at the real issues behind BC's move (and their participation in Big East meetings). I felt like smacking him in the head the same way Frank Beamer smacked VPI's star receiver Wolford in the helmet in the fourth quarter. Neither McDonough or Wolford seemed to have their heads in the game.

I digress, however, because this is all about VPI's collapse. And yes, VPI lost their cool several times.

I can only hope that Hokie fans aren't exactly shocked at the glee the rest of us are taking in this.

The Hokie school paper is very matter of fact and boring in its reporting. Disappointing. Of course, it is a school paper, it will probably take until Monday to get a good angst-ridden column written, edited and published.

Meanwhile, in the Commonwealth of Virginia there was plenty of commentary. over at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, there is a sense of familiarity to this story.

Nights turn colder. Leaves change colors. Virginia Tech's football team loses.

Over the past three seasons, the Hokies' slide has joined the two natural occurrences as sure signs the seasons are changing.

The quotes from the players were most illuminating. One player admitted they were straight-up beaten.

"I didn't think a team could line it up, tell us they were going to run the ball on us and then do it. And do it to perfection," Tech cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. "I don't think nobody in the country thought so. They took me out the game, took Ernest Wilford out of the game, took Kevin Jones out of the game. And I don't even know what they did.

"Maybe when we watch the film, I'll find out. Great coaching, great strategy."

Most though, were defiant, despite losing badly and for the second straight year.

"They weren't the best defense we've faced this year by far," center Jake Grove said. "We didn't play well enough tonight to win a football game, no matter who we were playing."

Said Randall, "I think they're a good ballclub. I think we're a better ballclub. They played better than we did. They played well enough to win."

You were beaten. You were beaten badly. It was humiliating and revealing.

The Virginia Tech Hokies had planned to go to bed with visions of the Sugar Bowl dancing in their heads. Now, it looks like the Orange or Gator bowl instead.

If things don't get worse before they get better.

The West Virginia Mountaineers pulled off a stunning trifecta last night. They severely damaged the national championship aspirations of the Hokies. They prevented what could have been the biggest game in the history of Virginia college football (Miami at Virginia Tech, hoping to be ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the country on Nov. 2). And they ruined what would have been a ratings bonanza for ESPN on that first Saturday in November.
For the Hokies, the season could get very difficult now. They have time to regroup, but the first team they face after the regrouping process is Miami, currently ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Hurricanes will have had two weeks to prepare for the Hokies.


After that game, the Hokies travel to Pittsburgh, and few coaches seem to have a handle on how to handle the Hokies better than the Panthers coach Walt Harris. Pitt also has a potent passing game, something that seems to cause major headaches for Virginia Tech.

Well, it's nice to know one team fears Coach Walt Harris.

The Roanoke Times called it a "beating."

They call West Virginia "Almost Heaven." Well, the place proved to be living hell for Virginia Tech's third-ranked football team Wednesday night.

In a show that totally exposed them as the overranked team that some suspected they were, the unraveling Hokies committed mistake after mistake - physically and mentally - and paid a heavy price for their misgivings in a 28-7 loss to West Virginia in front of 56,319 fans at Mountaineer Field.

Millions more via an ESPN national television audience saw Tech undressed by a WVU team that had lost four of its first six games and was a 14-point underdog.

WVU (3-4, 2-1 Big East), which outgained Tech 426 yards to 211, beat Tech (6-1, 2-1) for the second straight year. Last's year game in Blacksburg was close. This one wasn't.

Finally, it seems Senator George Allen (R-VA) now owes Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) some Virginia Peanuts as a result of a wager on the game. The FEC is looking into the matter.

Chas Finally Gets Sardonic 

Regarding Chas's tongue-in-cheek defense of Joe Paterno's comments on Tony Johnson's DUI arrest, I stongly agree (hey, Chas and I both grew up in Penn State families, so we ARE Penn State!). Like Chas, I want Paterno to stay at Penn State's helm. Hey, he deserves it! Besides, another ten years of that crackpot and Penn State will be so far behind Pitt that they'll never catch up.

(On a side note, Joe Paterno didn't build Penn State's football program into a national powerhouse. His predecessor, Rip Engle, did. Second, even if he did build Penn State, it belongs to more than just him now. A local contractor built the Blair County Courthouse and was paid for it. That doesn't mean that said contractor can just come back and tear it down today.)

I, unfortunately, didn't listen to the Jim Rome Show yesterday. I wish I had. I'm sure Rome did a much better job of trashing Paterno than I did. What did Rome say, Chas?

Hail to... (snicker)...

Hoopies Humiliate Hokies 


And if it's one thing Pitt fans know about this year, it's being overrated.

We're hoping our man in Morgantown will be able to give us a report on the local scene, the day after. That is assuming the city is still standing. Apparently, there's been a little bit of rambuctuousness in the streets.

In less than an hour after the game, officials reported numerous furniture fires and other items burning in the city's Sunnyside section, home to thousands of WVU students.

"We're dealing with multiple rubbish fires right now," said Dave Flanigan, Monongalia County's public information officer.

Before midnight, fires began to pop up in other areas of the city, as the street celebrations spread. "It's worse than last year already," Flanigan said.

There were more than 30 fires set in Morgantown after the Mountaineers defeated Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last year. WVU and city officials had hoped to keep damage to a minimum this year.
After WVU's 22-20 loss to second-ranked Miami in Florida on Oct. 2, a parked car was destroyed in one of several Sunnyside blazes.

This, despite a concerted effort by Morgantown authorities to collect couches from people's front porches.

The important thing, though, is that the goalposts were saved, thanks to quick work by the police and pepper spray. Lots of pepper spray.

Police inside the stadium tried to disperse rowdy fans with pepper spray, which also blew into the stands and caused discomfort to bystanders.

Brad Anderson of Chester said he was hit by the pepper spray when he ran down onto the field.

"We can't breathe. We're hacking up our lungs, but it was worth it," Anderson said. "It was a hell of a win."

Fans retaliated by throwing debris at the workers. Some fans tried to use the sideline benches in an attempt to get to the goal posts before another round of pepper spray sent fans running.

As for the game itself, a stunning kick in the teeth for Virginia Tech. They were absolutely humiliated 28-7. There is much celebrating this loss throughout the remnants of the Big East.

Once again, the supposedly well coached and talented Hokies imploded in the face of adversity. Don't get me wrong, Frank Beamer is a great coach and recruiter, but over the last 3 years I've seen his team seem to lose it collectively when they get outplayed -- not beaten, but outplayed -- plenty of penalties, emotional outbursts, the collective behavior of a petulant, spoiled 4 year-old who isn't getting what he feels entitled to. It happened the previous two years against Pitt.

Kind of diminishes that big VA Tech-Miami showdown, huh?

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Defending Joe Paterno 

Every time Penn State loses this year, yet another national sports writer seems to wonder if it is time for Joe Paterno to hang it up. They all say the same sort of thing. For what he has done for Penn State both on and off the field, he deserves the right to say when he's done (of course this is followed by the inevitable) but...

Let me say it then. Joe Paterno should stay as long as he wants to. If he stays too long, and drags the Penn State program down, so that it takes years or even a decade or so to recover; well, then, so be it. Joe Paterno has earned that right. He built that program, he should be able to take it down.

If Paterno drags Penn State to the point where it ends up like Alabama some 20 years after Bear Bryant retired, well, he's earned that right.

I mean this latest incident about the DUI for a Penn State player, and Joe Paterno's comments are getting taken way too far. There is no need for Jim Rome to refer to Paterno's comments as "senile rantings" (or something like that) [subscription only for the streaming audio -- windows or real].

More respect needs to be shown to Joe Paterno. It just isn't right to call him an idiot, senile, moron, jerk, hypocrite, and such. There's just no call for that. It isn't nice. We all must be nice to Joe. He needs us. All of us. Lay off the guy.

"Sanctimoniously Drilling the Living Hell Out" of Joe Paterno 

(...with apologies to Bloom County, easily the greatest comic strip of all time [and nobody chronicled the 80s better])

Yesterday, I mentioned that Penn State's star wide receiver and team captain, senior Tony Johnson, had been arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol last Friday (October 17). This wasn't good, either for Penn State Football or for those of us who have friends and relatives driving around State College every night. But get a load of Head Coach Joe Paterno's reaction to the news at yesterday's weekly press conference, as reported in today's Altoona Mirror.

"I'm unhappy with Tony's situation. He should not have been up that late. It will all get blown out of proportion because he's a football player, but he didn't do anything to anybody, and there are legal aspects as to how it's resolved. I'll probably have to suspend him for a game or so because I have to send a message to the squad that it's inappropriate to be out in the middle of the week having a couple of drinks."

So Johnson's DUI is no big deal because nobody got hurt? And worse yet, the only message that needs to be sent about this incident is that its inappropriate for Penn State football players to be having a few drinks in the middle of the week!? Does Paterno have any idea how many innocent people are killed by drunk drivers every night? Does Paterno have any respect whatsoever the rest of us Central Pennsylvanian motorists who must occsionally share the highways with his football players?

But then Paterno really dropped into bizarro world, accusing local police of singling out his football players.

"I think a lot of these things that are happening there are people that say, 'there's a kid that looks like he's a football player, let's trail him.'"

When some reporters in the room raised their eyebrows, Paterno only partially backed off.

"Are they targeting football players? I really don't know."

If there is one generalization I can make about Centre County, it is that practically everybody up there would look the other way (given the chance) if any facet of the Pennsylvania State University (but especially a football player) did anything illegal. Really, the local cops showed some character in arresting Johnson after they learned who he was. Now I can admittedly see some local crackers targeting African-Americans (which Johnson is), but that isn't what Joe accused the police of doing.

Rarely has Joe Paterno pissed me off this much. How the hell did this DUI excusing, double standard bearing (what if a drunk driver killed Sue Paterno?), paranoid, myopic, grudge-holding, nepotistic, senile, bitter old man become one of the most respected coaches in the United States?

Hail to Joe Paterno continuing to reveal his true self.

Notes and Comments 

Just some assorted items and thoughts.

Pitt TE, Kris Wilson, hopes to continue to hear his number called in the huddle. I've made no secret of my frustration with the lack of utilization of Wilson. Apparently Coach Walt Harris has been hearing it from others. Not that it was really Harris' fault for not using Wilson, after all, Harris only calls the plays.

Pitt Coach Walt Harris said he had been trying to get Wilson more involved in the passing offense this season but that circumstances didn't always permit it.

He said Wilson's success against Rutgers could set up some bigger days for him down the road. He also is hoping Wilson continues to emerge as a consistent safety valve for Rutherford.

"There are a lot of people who don't think we throw to the tight end enough," Harris said. "This week we did some things differently with him to try and get him the ball. He is a heck of a football player and he made some tremendous improvements in his game this year. Most teams don't have a tight end that can run like Kris and make catches down the field. We're hoping he'll continue to run those little short passes better and we know he will."

What? He was doing all of that last year. This year, he's been stuck staying on blocking assignments because the offensive line sucks. Yeah, I am starting to really understand why some of the beat writers really get frustrated with Harris's "not my fault" stance on everything.

Concern continues about Pitt kicker, David Abdul. He just can't seem to find a way to split the uprights. And he's not making excuses -- right after the article lists all of his excuses.

Meanwhile up in Syracuse...

Syracuse University offensive coordinator George DeLeone had his laptop stolen from the locked car of one of his graduate assistant coaches just prior to the Boston College game. The police report says its value is around $24,000. The laptop itself is only around $3000, but the software on it is worth around $21,000. The Syracuse athletic office says that the laptop doesn't have the Orangemen's playbook on it. It's primarily a lot of video analysis software.

Syracuse director of football operations Reggie Terry said the information stored on the stolen computer did not include any type of electronic playbook. He said the team is not worried about the computer winding up with a rival team, though police told the team to monitor eBay as a precaution.

Seems Syracuse is having its own problems with its kicker. Unlike Pitt, it isn't that the guy is just missing kicks, he's injured.

Finally, according to the Syracuse blog, the Hoopie fans are just a wee bit juiced for the game tonight against the Hokies.

Some may recall that last year the Hoopies beat the Hokies and burned Morgantown -- and the game was in Blacksburg. I can't even imagine what would happen to Morgantown if the Mountaineers actually win at home.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Week 9 Picks: Fear and Trembling 

OK, so I was re-reading one of my college Kierkegaard books last night... (yes, I was a useless Philosophy major... that's why I had to go to grad school at OSU)

Here are the games that I'm most interested in this week. I'll briefly discuss each and then pick it, putting my absolutely stunning 14-14 season record against the spread on the line.

SYRACUSE (+7) AT PITTSBURGH: Chas provides a very detailed and (based on all that I've seen and read) accurate summary of the Orangemen's strengths in his latest post.

Defensively, Syracuse's line was extraordinarily tough against Boston College -- holding Derrick Knight (then the nation's leading rusher) to just 51 yards and frequently pressuring BC's quarterback. The Orangemen's tackling was vastly improved over their performance against Virginia Tech the week before (thus proving that you CAN improve fundamentals in the middle of a season, Pitt Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads!). However, Syracuse's defense did have some occasional containment issues and did let a few passes get behind them.

Keeping in mind that Boston College's offensive line is vastly superior to Pitt's, I think we can assume that Syracuse will effectively shut down our running game and frequently pressure Rod Rutherford. Will they disrupt our aerial attack as much as Notre Dame did? Given how uncreative and unresponsive our offensive coaching staff has been thus far, I can't see why not.

Offensively, Syracuse has a very balanced attack. Walter Reyes is, as Chas noted, one of the best tailbacks in the Big East. Although Reyes was out rushed by his own quarterback last week, the Orangemen still pounded out 182 yards on the ground. Through the air, Quarterback R.J. Anderson threw for 230 yards (21 completions on 28 attempts) and 3 touchdowns.

Unless our defense has learned to tackle and penetrate the offensive line in the past seven days (and since Paul Rhoads and his staff haven't improved anything thus far this season, why should I assume that they will now?), the Orangemen's offense shouldn't have much trouble with us.

In conclusion, I can't believe that Pitt is actually favored to win this thing. Give me the Orangemen and the seven points.

#8 OHIO STATE (-20.5) AT INDIANA: Twenty and a half points? Are you freakin' kidding me!? Ohio State couldn't hang that many on its own practice squad.

Offensively, Ohio State is now ranked 114th of the 117 teams in Division I-A. Its pitiful rushing attack -- which has netted an average of 2.89 yards per carry and 108.7 total yards per game -- is ranked 97th in Division I-A and is the worst rushing unit to come out of Columbus since 1966.

Not that I don't think the Buckeyes will beat Indiana. They certainly will. But only because of their exceptional defense and special teams. This is a team that wins ugly, but not a team that beats anybody by 21 points.

PENN STATE (+11) AT #16 IOWA: Ah, the Blunder Bowl, the Generosity Game, the Anti-Beamer Brawl... Each one of these teams gave away its last game largely with its special teams... and each to a quality opponent (Wisconsin and Ohio State respectively). Who will blunder the most this week?

Well, I ain't gonna stop picking against Penn State until they actually beat a spread. That being said, this pick does make me nervous. The emergence of Quarterback Michael Robinson has re-energized Penn State's once pathetic offensive line and receiving corps. And jeez did Iowa's offense screw up a lot in Columbus.

#3 VIRGINIA TECH (-13) AT WEST VIRGINIA: A little Wednesday night surprise? No way in hell. The Hoopies ain't sneaking up on any more ACC-bound traitors. Besides, the Hoopies and the Hokies have already agreed to continue playing each other indefinitely due to their long-standing rivalry. So there's little motivation for revenge. And like I've been saying, the Hokies are better than the Hurricanes anyways. So give me the Hokies and I'll give you 13.

NOTRE DAME (+4) AT BOSTON COLLEGE: The Irish and the Eagles can both run the ball well, but BC has run it better throughout the season (I'll take Knight and his o-line over Jones and his o-line any day). Plus, BC can throw the ball, and its o-line should protect the QB better than Pitt's did against ND. I'll take BC and give four.

So for this week, I got the Orangemen, Hoosiers, Hawkeyes, Hokies, and Eagles against the spread... two dogs and three to cover.


Not that anybody asked, but here's my top ten for this week.

1. Oklahoma: OK, so you didn't cover against Missouri (score one for Lee). You're still scary good on both sides of the ball.
2. Virginia Tech: Speaking of good on both sides of the ball, Tech is also good on the ground, in the air, and on special teams. The Castrated Turkeys still haven't played anybody yet, but they will November 1...
3. Miami: You're meat in 11 days.
4. Georgia: Clearly the toughest and best rounded of the one-loss teams. Besides, losing in Baton Rouge is no big thang.
5. USC: It's so hard to rank these guys, since they have few common opponents with eastern teams. But damn, they looked pretty against Notre Dame, didn't they?
6. Washington State: Ditto my comments for number 5... minus the Notre Dame stuff, obviously. But hey, you're still better than...
7. Ohio State: OFFENSE, PLEASE!!! And will Tressel hire a real offensive line coach already? Jim Bollman has clearly proven that he can't handle both that and his Offensive Coordinator duties. But even with no offense whatsoever, the Buckeyes are still better than...
8. Florida State: You're very lucky that you're in such a weak conference, Bobby. Remember that when both the Hurricanes and the Hokies start regularly kicking your ass next year.
9. Purdue: If you can beat Michigan in Ann Arbor, we will all finally begin taking you seriously.
10. Michigan State: Um... ditto?


Hail to My Pitt-Syracuse Pick Being All Screwed Up

Ivan Maisel's BCS Rumors and Why I Don't Drive Around Central Pennsylvania After Dark 

As you probably already know, the loyal members of the Big East Football Conference (Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, and probably Louisville, Cincinnati, and DePaul) will keep their automatic bid to a BCS bowl until 2005. What happens after that? Well, the BCS Commissioners are currently mulling that over. ESPN's Ivan Maisel reports the following on their progress.

The BCS commissioners are looking at eight different plans to modify the Bowl Championship Series beginning in 2006. Among the changes being considered are a lowering of the qualifying standard for the non-BCS champions, a play-in game for the highest-ranked champions of the non-BCS conferences, an expansion to a fifth bowl, a post-BCS championship game, or some combination therein.

The most appealing to both sides is the lowering of the qualifying standard. Whether the BCS adds a fifth bowl or not, giving a team that finishes in the top 20 in the BCS standings an automatic bid makes competitive sense and puts the antitrust question to rest.

Assuming that the Big East Football Conference will lose it's automatic BCS bowl bid after 2005 (and I now think that this is a fairly safe assumption), either (1) lowering the qualifying standards for non-BCS conference teams (which Pitt will likely become) to play in a BCS bowl, (2) starting a BCS play-in game for the highest-ranked non-BCS conference teams, or (3) expanding to a fifth BCS bowl (thus making more conferences into BCS conferences) would be acceptable. Of course, I'd prefer the last option. Maintaining a guaranteed Big East BCS bowl bid is always better than having to fight it out for a bid with the MAC and Mountain West teams.

However, adding a fifth BCS bowl may not fly because it would spread the BCS money to more teams than the current BCS conferences would like. So I'm currently betting that the BCS Commissioners will just lower the qualifying standards for non-BCS teams to play in a BCS bowl. This isn't good for Pitt (and we still should be fighting to get in the Big Ten, which will obviously maintain its automatic BCS bowl bid), but it's acceptable.


Finally, under the "Laughing At Penn State's Misfortunes" category (and don't think that they weren't laughing when we lost to Notre Dame), the Nittany Lion's star wide receiver, senior Tony Johnson, has been charged with Driving Under the Influence of alcohol after he was pulled over at 3:00 AM last Friday morning. Thus, Johnson joins offensive lineman E.Z. Smith (who was cited for underage drinking twice in one week in August), defensive back Anwar Phillips (who was charged but later acquitted of sexual assault), and a long list of other Nittany Lion football players who have discovered that there is absolutely nothing to do in State College but drink and screw.

What makes Tony Johnson's DUI bust so entertaining, though, is the fact that his father -- Larry Sr. -- is Penn State's defensive line coach and a highly respected member of State College society who regularly and repeatedly speaks to Centre County's churches and church groups. My parents, bible-thumpers themselves, love the Johnson family. Tony's brother Larry Jr., of course, was the Lion's brilliant tailback who rushed for 2,000 yards last season.

So the moral of the story is, don't drive around State College after dark in anything smaller than a Hummer. That guy in the car coming the other way might just be a Penn State football player.

Hail to George Foreman's Lean Mean Grilling Machine (Jen and I got one as a wedding present, and damn is it slick)

Homecoming 2003 -- Syracuse  

Pitt coming off a game that they started with a roar and ended with a whimper, will play a Syracuse team that seems to be playing better each week (notwithstanding the 51-7 drubbing at the hands of Virginia Tech a couple weeks ago). Against BC, Syracuse played a solid defense and strong offense.

On defense, SU took the nation's leading rusher out of BC's equation, sacked the quarterback five times - twice more than they had in their previous five games combined - and intercepted two passes.
"It was won up front," SU defensive coordinator Chris Rippon said. "It was clear from the beginning that we were not going to be pushed around. Our front four was disruptive the whole game, and we tackled. It was as simple as that. Last week we didn't tackle. This week we tackled."

That was one of several encouraging signs displayed by the Orangemen. Here are some others:

Run defense. With the front four of tackles Christian Ferrara and Louis Gachelin - the unsung heroes of the victory - and ends James Wyche and Thomas controlling the line of scrimmage, BC's Derrick Knight was held to 51 yards rushing, nearly 100 yards below his season average.

Overall, SU held the Eagles to 70 yards rushing, roughly 140 below their season average. This from a unit that had been run over for 337 yards by Virginia Tech the week before.

"Their D-line got after us all game long," BC quarterback Quinton Porter said. "Give them credit, because we have a real good O-line."

Much of the rushing yardage SU yielded to Tech came after plays designed to run inside got bounced outside and then Orange defensive backs missed tackles. The only place BC backs bounced Saturday was onto the turf.

Defensive diversity. The style of defense employed by the Orangemen against Boston College was light years away from the scheme they employed in their first few games of the season.

There were stunts, linebacker blitzes, safety blitzes, delayed blitzes, switches from man to zone coverage packages, all disguised well to keep Porter and BC coaches guessing.

"They were coming out blitzing, sending linebackers, giving us all kinds of different looks," Knight said. "They were throwing all kinds of things at us."

The result was a season-high five sacks and two interceptions, which made an otherwise fine performance by Porter (10-for-29 for 249 yards and two touchdowns) seem pedestrian.

There were a few danger signs. SU's containment broke down several times, allowing Porter to scramble for first downs, and he hit Larry Lester with a 39-yard TD pass late in the third period.

With mobile Pittsburgh quarterback Rod Rutherford and superstar receiver Larry Fitzgerald up next, they could be ominous signs.

Brandon Miree is going to be out at least 3 more weeks. A new MRI revealed not a deep bone bruise in the calf, but a stress fracture. Pitt is going to have to figure something out to run the ball. Even if they can pass at will, the offense will need to find a way to eat some time. Syracuse appears to have a solid defensive line. Pitt's O-line has yet to show any consistency and ability to give protection.

Syracuse has one of the best Running Backs in the Big East if not a top 10 in the country in Walter Reyes. After what Pitt has given up to Jumaine Jones of Notre Dame, you have to imagine he'll be salivating at the chance to run at the Pitt defensive lines. This means Pitt absolutely must tackle. No hitting, no diving at legs. Wrap the arms around the body and drag his ass down. Tackle. Tackle. Tackle.

There is a weblog covering the Syracuse Orangemen, called Orange Juice -- I'd mock the name, but I have this thing about throwing rocks from a glass house.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Speaking of Expansion and Conference Changes 

Conference USA, resigned to the fact that it will lose it's 4 best basketball programs (and 3 of its 4 best football programs) to the Big East -- Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette, and probably South Florida -- is doing its own raiding.

Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa will leave the Western Athletic Conference to join Conference USA, presidents from two of the schools said Friday.

This is being done (1) to keep TCU from leaving for the Mountain West, and (2) so these schools can play more central time zone games.

Marshall appears to be poised for an invitation as well.

For Pitt and the short term, this is a good thing.

I think it is clear that Pitt will be in the Big East for at least 3-5 more years. (Even if the Big 11 does expand and invites Pitt, it will take some time before it all happens.) In this time period, the BCS will expand and change -- the Big East will lose its automatic bid, but there will be an at-large bid specifically reserved for some of the other conferences. This is the best that can be hoped for right now, and it may for a while placate some of the non-BCS conferences.

The way I'd like to see the other BCS bid be offered is to just a few conferences -- say Big East, Mountain West, and maybe C-USA or the MAC. Ideally, TCU would still leave for Mountain West, effectively cutting C-USA completely out of the BCS picture. Like I said, I'm looking at making the best of a bad situation.

OF course one thing Pitt has to do, is up it's non-conference cupcake schedule. The problem is, that Pitt is working at a tier of just above a mid-major. Good luck in getting the schools from the BCS conferences to play home-and-home games.

Therefore, looking at this scenario, the best way to do it is to play teams in a similar position -- some of the good Mountain West teams -- BYU, Utah, Air Force and Colorado St.

This is something Pitt has to be doing right now in working out the schedule. Play real competition.

Another Call For Big Ten Expansion -- With a Positive Twist for Us 

FOXSports.com/Sporting News columnist Trey Luerssen blasted the Big Ten's 11 team structure in a scathing piece yesterday.

It [October 18] was supposed to be a day the Big Ten race became a little clearer. Instead, the only thing clear was that the Big Ten is a mess. Once again, the dinosaur of the BCS could make it through the season with co-champions that never play each other.

We've seen this before from the league that can't count, the conference with 11 teams that says it has 10. Last season, Iowa and Ohio State made it through their respective conference schedules unscathed. Did the two teams play each other? No...

Big Ten teams can't play all of the other conference teams each year. There are too many. Yet, there are not enough. The league could solve its problems by adding a 12th team, allowing the Big Ten to play a conference championship game. That hasn't happened. Whether the conference is holding out hope that Notre Dame joins, or it is just clueless, it does a disservice to the schools, fans and most important the players and coaches who aren't allowed to settle matters on the field.

The Big 12 and SEC have championship games. It works so well that the ACC wanted a championship game so much, it opened itself up to the scorn of the entire Northeast and the court system...

After Saturday's action, two Big Ten teams remain unbeaten in conference play. Purdue, which defeated Wisconsin, and Michigan State, which beat Minnesota, sit atop the conference standings without a loss. Here's a shock: The Spartans and the Boilermakers don't play each other this year.

Right behind Purdue and Michigan State sit Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State. All have one loss. The Buckeyes already lost to Wisconsin, and of course they play rival Michigan. But guess what? That's right, Wisconsin and Michigan don't play...

This is what we know: Until these leagues [Big Ten and PAC-10] are brought into the 21st century, the Big 12, SEC and ACC will be stronger, more exciting leagues to watch and play in. That's right, most recruits have no desire to go schools where you have to kiss your sister. (brackets and emphasis mine)

Me? I love Big Ten football. It is the oldest, most tradition-laden conference in America. It has more attendance per game and sells more merchandise than any other conference. Three of the four on-campus 100,000-plus seat stadiums in the country are in the Big Ten. Nowhere are rivalries more heated. Remember, SEC fans, that ESPN ranked Ohio State-Michigan as the top sports rivalry of the 20th Century, edging out even Yankees-Red Sox.

All that being said, I can't find a single thing in Luerssen's diatribe that I disagree with.

It is time for the Big Ten to expand. And don't even give me that crap about a conference championship game being a competitive disadvantage to getting a Big Ten team to the national championship game unscathed. Every other major conference except for the left coast PAC-10 already has that disadvantage. The important thing is that the Big Ten is in danger of becoming a tie-laden dinosaur that slowly fades into irrelevance due to it's inability to crown a true conference champion.

And nobody has been victimized by Big Ten Conference Championship ties over the past decade than Ohio State. Ties cost us (I'm a Pitt and OSU grad) two trips to the Rose Bowl since 1995.

OK, now that we've established that the Big Ten should expand to twelve teams, we can get to what I really find interesting about Luerssen's piece.

Are the Big Ten and PAC-10 guilty of being snobs? Is Pittsburgh somehow below the schools in the Big Ten? Are Utah and BYU somehow not good enough for the PAC-10? (emphasis mine)

I absolutely love it when any nationally syndicated columnist just assumes that Pitt is the best choice to become the Big Ten's 12th team. Those of you who have been reading PSB for awhile (as if anybody reads us at all) remember that I've often worried that the Big Ten might pick Syracuse over Pitt for geographical reasons (the Big Ten already has a presence in the Pittsburgh marketplace [via Penn State], but not in New York State) -- despite the fact that Pitt is academically, athleticly, and research-capacity-wise a far better fit for the Big Ten.

And incidentally, Pittsburgh is hardly beneath the Big Ten athleticly (wanna play hoops?), academically (wanna compare freshmen SAT scores?), or research-capacity-wise (wanna compare medical/psychiatric hospitals/schools?). Really, only our law school is a joke...

So, Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, learn a lesson from Major League Baseball and increase competition before you, too, slowly fade into irrelevance. Expand to 12 teams and establish your conference championship game now. And when it comes to picking your 12th member, grab the one that brings the most to the table. After Notre Dame turns you down again (speaking of dinosaurs slowly fading into irrelevance), Trey Luerssen and I think your choice will be clear.

And maybe you'll even get to create some stupid trophy for the Pitt-Penn State game (The Halushki Bowl?).

Hail to the Big Ten, and Hail to the Big Ten Doing What's In Its Best Interest

No Running Game on the Horizon 

In early August, I had the following comment on RB Brandon Miree after pointing out a puff piece on him.

Miree is one of the keys to Pitt having a great year. If he goes down to injury, or doesn't play well, Pitt's BCS hopes are shot.

As we've seen from the running game since he's gone down to a calf injury back in the Toledo loss, Pitt has none. Even I didn't know/think there would be such a drop-off in talent at the running back position.

More bad news, looks like he'll miss the Syracuse game this weekend.

No one has really paid attention to this, in explaining how Pitt has been so disappointing and inconsistent. Partially,I think it's because when you speak of Pitt's offense it really seems to come down to Fitzgerald and Rutherford. The other part is that this was an injury that hasn't gone away and lingered so there is no timetable for his return. It was thought that he would play at Texas A&M, but now it's a month later and he's still out.

Even when he comes back, it will likely take a game or so to get close to normal. Unfortunately, Pitt doesn't have the time.

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