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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.

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Another Look at the Continental Tire Bowl 

Sure the local Pittsburgh press was all over Pitt playing like they have all year, and how the game was a "microcosm of a season filled with wouldas, couldas and shouldas."

I failed to mention how utterly sick I was by the end of the game with the talking about Larry Fitzgerald. Mainly because I was trying to pay attention to the game as it was happening. Not the prescripted, preplanned storylines the people at ESPN had to push.

Still, this piece from the Charlotte Observer really gives it to Pitt Coach Walt Harris (registration req'd, so use: pittsb email address; password: pittsb).

The results are in, and the award for "Worst Coaching Job in Ericsson Stadium in 2003" has been won in a landslide. Come on down, Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris! You messed up Saturday's Continental Tire Bowl game so badly that no one can believe your record as a head coach is 55-64, because no one can believe you actually won 55 games.

Harris did the near-impossible Saturday in Charlotte in a 23-16 bowl-game loss to Virginia. The Pittsburgh coach made the best player on the field -- Pittsburgh receiver Larry Fitzgerald -- look mediocre.
...
Harris took Fitzgerald out at the Virginia 1 in the first quarter. After four straight running plays got snuffed and Virginia went on a 97-yard touchdown drive, Harris decided that not using Fitzgerald had worked so well he'd stick with that plan for the rest of the game.

Of course, Walt's an offensive genius. He doesn't need to rely on Fitzgerald.

Harris tried to use an old cliché in his postgame news conference, but said: "Hindsight is 50/50."

He meant to say "hindsight is 20/20," but since the Pittsburgh coach's vision of beating Virginia included throwing the ball only three times toward Fitzgerald in the final three quarters, let's give Harris a break on this one.

The coach had his own vision pegged exactly right.

I no longer feel like I'm being quite so hypercritical of Walt.

The Same Old Song 

This is painful to have to do. Pages of game notes that followed a painfully familiar script. As always, I've avoided the papers since the game, only relying on the box score and game log to make sure my numbers are accurate.

[Big Caveat: It looks like who ever did the box scores really screwed up. Missing numbers on sacks, fumbles and punts from a quick look. Repeated elsewhere. This one from the Pitt Athletic department appears correct, though.]

Contintental Tire Bowl Pre-game notes, observations and comments

Read and heard some things before the game, about how Pitt might come out flat because they were disappointed by their bowl game. Not a concern of mine. Pitt played their way down to this bowl. Pitt needs to win to show that they weren't completely overrated this year.

The crew for calling the game:

Pam Ward -- play by play
Chris Spielman -- color grunting and ranting
Mike Gleason -- useless on the sideline

The Refs for this game are from the SEC, suggesting taunting and showboating will result in penalties. The SEC refs have a short fuse for that sort of thing.

Prior to kick-off, they showed the Pitt locker room with Walt Harris finishing his pre-game speech. Live and in monotone. He ticked off three items:

Physical play;
Execution -- actually he kept referring to that; and
Have fun.

God was that speech uninspiring. I mean, it doesn't have to be the insane rantings of a Mike Ditka, or the over-the-top passion of Pete Carroll. It's just, I felt like I should go get some more coffee after that snippet.

1st Half

UVA starts on offense. UVA is looking to pass on its first drive. Incomplete (overthrow), incomplete (dropped), complete for 18 yards. Pitt's pass coverage is playing very far off the receiver. No excuse for that on 3rd and 10.

A 4 yard run, then Schaub takes a sack when he held the ball too long, the run got stuffed on 3rd and 10. UVA punts.

Ward and Spielman are already talking about the Pitt run defense, and how bad it's been this year.

Pitt takes over from it's own 30. They proceed to march down the field. Miree runs the ball well. Polite is getting a couple runs and a fantastic one-handed stab catch for 4 yards to bring the ball inside the UVA 10.

The way they managed to stop UVA and are marching down the field, is a bit reminiscent of the Miami game.

Pitt has the ball 1st and goal from the 2 yard line. Out of 11 plays, they have only thrown 3 times. Run the ball one or two more times -- maybe to see if you can punch it in. But then it should be time for the bread and butter. You have to throw a fade or jump ball to the corner to Larry Fitzgerald at this point. He is bigger and can jump higher. Take advantage of it. He's been doing it for 2 years.

The sequence:

Polite up the middle for nothing.
Rutherford keeps after faking the hand-off. Stumbles against his O-line for a yard (from one angle, I almost believed he broke the plane, but he didn't).
Polite runs for no gain.

4th and 1 and they are going for it. I'm screaming for the fade. Even if he can't come down with it, they have a shot at getting the interference call and a fresh set of downs.

Miree tackled in the backfield as the O-line was shoved backwards.

My stomach just sank into my ass.

Annoyed and queasy, but not ready to panic yet. Pitt went 69 yards on 15 plays and chewed 8:33. At least the defense is staying rested.

The Pitt defense decides on this series to show that it can be incredibly soft against the pass. Two passes, two first downs. 32 yards covered on the two plays. A reverse for another 13 and then a 52 yard pass play for a TD. Where the deuce was the secondary? There was no one near the tight end. The frickin' tight end!

7-0 UVA.

Pitt again marches right down the field and scores with a balanced attack. Miree really seems to be running well. He's finding and hitting the hole.

7-7 tie.

UVA starts from its own 30. That quickly changes as the very first play is a run that goes 51 yards. There wasn't even anyone near him to miss a tackle until the guy was 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Two plays later, it's 1st and goal from the 5. This seems familiar.

Run for 3 yards; run for 1 yard (barely); and then Schaub bootlegs and should have been tackled back at the 10, but the ever generous Pitt defense lets him get back to the line of scrimmage. 4th and 1 and they go for it. Naturally, UVA runs it right up the middle and scores.

14-7 UVA

Again Pitt responds. Miree is definitely looking to impress the NFL scouts. So is Rutherford. He even runs on a sweep for 17 yards. Rutherford is sacked from his blindside. There was no chance to get rid of the ball. Hopefully that was just a blown assignment, not just bad line play.

Fitzgerald isn't getting the ball thrown to him on this series. Spielman and Ward note that he is getting double and triple teams on every play.

Still Pitt keeps moving, and UVA gets called for a dumb personal foul to help the cause. Pitt scores on a screen to Miree that goes for 18 yards. But David Abdul misses the extra point!

14-13 UVA.

This leads to the most bizarre comment from Spielman for the game, "Yeah, Walt [Harris] doesn't like that. He's a fundamentalist."

Huh? Fundamentals? Harris? Coaching? Teaching? Whatever Spielman was having, give me two.

Spielman also gives the sob story on the rough year for kicker David Abdul -- longtime girlfriend gives birth, gets married, apartment burns, and then watching his friend and Pitt football player Billy Gaines fall to his death from a church catwalk they were on. Spielman forgets to mention that the two were drunk at the time.

UVA goes 3 and out. A big break for Pitt, since UVA had a good run back on the kickoff but did nothing. The punt is signaled to be a fair catch by Tutu Ferguson, and he muffs it! UVA has it. Crap! But the SEC ref down there actually blew his whistle too soon. The refs called it an "inadvertent" whistle requiring the down to be replayed. Pitt catches a huge break. Spielman is beside himself with the unfairness of the call to UVA. If I was a UVA fan, I would be bent also.

On the rekick, it is a booming kick and a flag as the Pitt player ran into the kicker. Running into the kicker is only a 5 yard penalty, so it is declined. The ever wise Spielman complains that the refs got it right, but should have still called for the roughing the kicker 15 yard penalty to make it up to UVA. Yes, compound bad officiating. It's a shame that Ohio State didn't take Spielman seriously when he declared his desire to be the head coach at OSU a few years ago.

Pitt moves quickly at first. Miree runs for 11 yards. Rutherford passes and runs for a couple more first downs. Pitt moves from their own 19 to the UVA 32. Suddenly UVA stiffens. Miree is stopped for no gain. UVA blitzes virtually untouched up the middle on second and third downs. Somehow Rutherford manages to get rid of the ball and not take a sack. Pitt takes a time out with 1:30 left, and appears to be going for it.

My stomach is now down to my ankles. I am standing and screaming at the TV at my inlaws. Thankfully, everyone is downstairs, but they can hear me. It comes out as sputtering incoherence since I am making desperate attempts to censor myself.

I realize they have no faith in Abdul to kick a field goal, but they should have even less faith in their D to stop UVA from quickly moving into field goal range. Punt it. Pooch kick it. Throw a deep interception on purpose even. Something, but don't go for it now.

4th and 10. Corner blitz to Rutherford's blindside again. Never had a chance to even plant his feet to set and throw. A 7 yard loss. UVA takes over at their own 39 with 1:25 left.

UVA inexplicably throws two short passes for a total of 6 yards. I almost start to believe Pitt might escape being down by 1 point at the half. Then the defensive line misses tackles to allow a 12 yard run with 19 seconds left.

This leads to the Spielman understatement of the day, "You see the run defense struggling for Pittsburgh." You think?

UVA picks up 16 more yards to get to the Pitt 27. UVA has a good kicker and he nails the 44 yarder at the half.

17-13 UVA.

Halftime thoughts and comments

Pitt completely dominated the time of possession, but still couldn't keep UVA off the board. That 4th and goal looks even dumber than ever.

Mark May goes to Pitt's first drive, and notes that a simple fade to Fitzgerald on the 4th and goal should be the no-brainer call if Pitt is going to go for it at that point. Pitt's coaches outsmarted themselves again.

This was my exact comments in my notes at the half:

Pitt needed to be tied or leading at the half. I have no faith in the Pitt coaches in the second half to make adjustments. The defense is playing like crap -- again -- and with the time of possession completely favoring Pitt; it doesn't even get the standard excuses of being worn out from being on the field too long.

I wasn't feeling optimistic about the second half.

Second Half

The second half gets off to a really, really bad start when Rutherford is intercepted. It was a high throw to the tight end, Kris Wilson. Wilson managed to tip it and it went about 15 yards further to the waiting secondary.

Still, the defense actually holds. They were helped when Schaub simply fell down on 1st down, losing a few yards. Followed by a dropped pass in the endzone.

UVA settles for a field goal.

20-13 UVA.

Pitt starts from their own 20. On second and 3, Miree tears off 17 yards. Then they finally throw to Fitzgerald again. The first time in some 30 offensive calls -- that isn't good -- and he hauls in a high throw for 28 yards. Miree runs again for 12 yards. He is gashing UVA. 1st and 10 from UVA's 16. Then Pitt sputters and stalls.

Out comes the field goal squad. The kick will be attempted by Gibboney (who?). Abdul has been yanked. Good time to let the senior who has never kicked a field goal in a game get his shot. He makes it, but this is still not a good scene.

20-16 UVA.

The kickoff is taken by Marquis Weeks of UVA from his own goal line. He takes it 68 yards to the Pitt 32. The only reason he didn't score was because he tripped himself up. In a moment that just about summed up Pitt's season, just before he tripped himself, a 2 Pitt players collided while trying to tackle Weeks.

The defense, though, makes it's second big stop of the second half. UVA turned the ball over on downs. They had a 4th and 1 from the 12, and rather than run it through Pitt; they had brain lock and opted to throw a screen that lost 7 yards.

Of course, this is when Pitt has it's first 3 and out of the day. Andy Lee booms a 50 yard punt that was returned for 8 yards, but there was a block in the back penalty on UVA -- seemed like a questionable call. They have the ball on their own 22.

UVA starts to move the ball then near midfield they get hit with another personal foul when the running back, Lundy, was caught retaliating against a Pitt player.

Pitt starts out from their own 19. Rutherford hits Wilson 15 yards down field, and he runs for another 18 yards. UVA then jumps offside, to make it 1st and 5 at midfield. I'm almost starting to get hopeful.

Should have known better. Rutherford is sacked for a 12 yard loss. He was rolling out, and they were right on him. He still needed to get rid of the ball. UVA keeps blitzing and Pitt has to punt.

UVA has the ball, starts moving down field as the 4th quarter gets underway. The first 3 plays of the drive go for 14, 7 and 21 yards. The Pitt defense is looking like it is fading. It is starting to give up yardage in chunks again. UVA gets to 1st and goal from the 10. They run for 6 yards on 1st down. On second down, they try a fade that is intercepted in the endzone by Ferguson.

unbelievable. UVA keeps doing dumb things to keep Pitt in the game. I realize Schaub, the UVA QB, is pretty good, but come on. The weak point of Pitt is their run defense. UVA has some good backs. How can you keep throwing it in critical moments rather than running it? UVA fans had to be pulling out their hair.

Pitt has the ball at their own 20 with most of the 4th quarter left. In a 5:50 drive, Pitt moves the ball on the ground with Miree; catches a big break when UVA gets hit with another questionable personal foul (taunting?) after nailing Rutherford with another corner blitz; and some good catches by Wilson, Lee and Brockenbrough. Ultimately, Pitt again stalls and Gibboney doesn't even come close on a 36 yard attempt.

Pitt needed a touchdown at this point regardless of whether the FG would have been good. 7:51 is left on the clock and Pitt's O-line has been getting worse in providing protection to Rutherford. As there is less time remaining, that means Pitt has to throw, and UVA will blitz more. Not a good combination.

UVA moves down field and adds another FG to make it 23-16 UVA.

There is 2:28 left, and I've just about given up hope...

Ferguson takes the kickoff from the 4 yard line out to the Pitt 48. Pitt may actually have a small chance to get 52 yards in 2+ minutes.

Hah! Rutherford sacked for the 5th time and a fumble! UVA has it at the 37. That is it.

This game really hurt. I didn't want to believe, but I kept thinking Pitt might. They had so many chances. Really, it seemed like all the breaks went for Pitt -- penalties and bad calls. All went Pitt's way. Still Pitt blew it.

It wasn't that Pitt played flat, or didn't show up for the game. It's that Pitt played the game like they played during the entire season. Harris wasn't completely outcoached -- Groh made his share of dumb calls -- but Groh made adjustments with his defense to bring more pressure on Rutherford and not give him time to throw. Harris didn't or couldn't adjust the protection.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Pitt Stadium: A Discussion from the Comments 

In the comments under Chas's last post, a discussion started between he, Pat, and I about whether or not razing old Pitt Stadium and moving to Heinz Field was necessarily a good move -- as Chas assumed it was in his post. For some reason, Haloscan won't let me add another comment and respond to Pat's last point (Chas?). So I'm bringing the discussion up into a new post because I have no choice.

To bring everybody else up to speed, here's Pat's last comment.

A string of posts would be nice, but in a nutshell, Pitt got a new stadium for free.

Far more luxury boxes, club seats, and parking spaces to sell than they could ever have at Pitt Stadium (unless they did what Chicago did with Soldier Field, which would be expensive and wouldn't include parking).

No doubt the parking (and tailgating that goes with it) brought more people to games than would have come if they were at Pitt Stadium - even with high expectations for the team on the field. It's the perceived inconvenience that hurt attendance at Pitt Stadium in the past.


Pitt did indeed get a nice new stadium for free in Heinz Field. I, myself, especially appreciated Heinz Field's seat backs and armrests while I was shivering on a muddy aluminum bench last month at Mountaineer Field. That being said, old Pitt Stadium had been paid for long ago and was presumably free too. Furthermore, the taxpayers of Allegheny County weren't stuck with the bill for its construction. Anybody want me to compare the relative sales taxes between Pittsburgh and Altoona?

To make an obvious point that we all already agree on, the main advantage of old Pitt Stadium was the fact that it was located on campus. Ceteris peribus, an on-campus college football atmosphere beats an off-campus college football atmosphere every freakin' time. The alumni can actually tailgate around their old haunts. More students show up, and more show up drunk. Don't tell me that we all weren't just a little jealous of that scene down in Morgantown. Pitt will never be able to compete for atmosphere with WVU, let alone with a few Big Ten schools that I could name, as long as were all driving to the North Side.

So all I'm asking is did we have to move? Couldn't we have fixed up the bathrooms and added a few luxury boxes to old Pitt Stadium? We could have built a simple tower of luxury boxes opposite the press box just like Penn State did at Beaver Stadium. I'm not sure that we would have had to radically alter the old girl.

So I'm not quite buying Pat's luxury box and free stadium arguments just yet. However, I will buy his parking argument. Pitt is surely making a hell of a lot more money off of parking concessions now than it used to. But as far as the perceived inconvenience of parking on campus goes, Ohio State and Notre Dame fans never seemed to have a hard time finding somewhere to park in Oakland, did they? I would suggest that Pitt's losing seasons and commuter-student culture killed attendance in the 1990s more than the parking (not that the parking wasn't something of a factor, admittedly).

Besides we all agree that the urban tailgating in Oakland was something truly unique in college football.

In conclusion, I'm simply not sold on the NECESSITY of razing Pitt Stadium yet. Obviously, I haven't seen enough of whatever cost-benefit analysis was performed to know if razing the old girl was an outright good idea or not. And I realize that we haven't really factored in all that the Pedersen Center brings to campus yet. We did need a convocation center. I'm just not sure that it had to be located on the ashes of was once one of the greatest stadiums in football.

Now maybe we can get another four comments under this post before somebody has to start another post.

Hail to Haloscan's improving its service.

Monday, December 22, 2003

Learning About the New Sheriff 

Nebraska found out quickly that their new athletic director, Steve Pederson is an aggressive AD. His first big move, firing Frank Solich, stirred things up. He could have taken the easy way out, and let Solich have one more year before unloading him, but he fired him now and willingly takes the heat.

Losing Pederson was something Pitt fans didn't want, because he dragged Pitt's athletic department kicking and screaming into the present. Notwithstanding the change of the color scheme, he did a lot of good for Pitt, that wasn't appreciated when he first did it. Mainly the razing of Pitt Stadium to build the Petersen (no relation) Event Center; and moving Pitt football off-campus to Heinz Field.

A really good article from the Lincoln Journal Star recounts some of the Pitt days.

Call anyone in the Pittsburgh athletic department and there's a good chance you'll hear the same greeting.

"Hello, Pittsburgh Panthers."

Like the Petersen Events Center and the football practice facility across the Monongahela River, the friendly welcome is a Pederson production. No detail slipped his attention.

"He's not a control freak, he's a visionary," said swimming coach Chuck Knoles, in his 14th season at Pittsburgh. "He moves very quickly. He's very decisive, and either you believe in him or you don't. We were fortunate here at Pittsburgh that everybody believed in him.

"Look, he tore down Pitt Stadium and let go one of the most successful football coaches in college football history in Johnny Majors. Hands were up in the air, eyes were wide open, chins dropped a few inches, but he did the right thing. Pittsburgh is a much better place than it was before he came here."

While it's hard to find a ready critic of Pederson's results, the method he used to revive the Panthers' athletic department rubbed many the wrong way.
...
Even so, alumni sent Pederson hate mail when he announced plans to tear down the on-campus football stadium. He also alienated big-time athletic boosters and donors by not consulting them on plans for the new arena.

"He doesn't tell anything to the boosters because boosters like to go to the newspapers and act like big shots," Beano Cook said. "No, he's like a priest in confession. He keeps everything to himself. That's the way he is."

When a difficult decision needs to be made, Pederson usually forms a committee of one (see NU's current search for a new head coach).

That did not sit well with small pockets of Pittsburgh boosters, who in the beginning resisted his sweeping changes.

The article also has a "no comment" quote from former failed Pitt basketball coach, Ralph Willard. Willard was fired right after Pederson came aboard.

Another Contest 

ESPN Page 2 has a Cheerleaders BCS playoff. Round 1 has 4 match-ups: Oklahoma vs. Tennessee; Ohio St. vs. Michigan; LSU vs. Florida St.; and USC vs. Texas.

Thankfully, the wife doesn't bother reading this blog, so I can break this down and give my vote.

Oklahoma/Tennessee is tough. They have Oklahoma as the #1 seed, but I have to give the edge to #8 Tennessee. They both do the always popular mid-rif thing, so it is close but go with the Vols.

Ohio St./Michigan is a toss up, because neither should make it out of the 1st round compared to some of the other contenders. No strong feelings, as neither impresses. Oh hell, I'll give this one to OSU but they have to lose in the second round.

LSU/Florida St. should be a tougher call, but it isn't. LSU all the way.

USC/Texas. Unfair that either should have to lose in the first round. SoCal girls in tight white sweaters -- giving that almost Catholic school uniform vibe -- is a tough siren song. But Texas. You have to reward the revealing outfits. That is more than merely a mid-rif. Go Texas.

An Early Ranking of the 2004 Football Recruiting Classes 

ESPN.com's Bill Hodge released his first early ranking of the 2004 college football recruiting classes on the Official College Sports Network this morning. Although Hodge released his early rankings much sooner last season, this is still the first 2004 ranking that I've seen anywhere.

For what little early rankings are admittedly worth, here it is...

No. 1 LSU
No. 2 Texas
No. 3 Southern California
No. 4 Miami-Florida
No. 5 Michigan
No. 6 Oklahoma
No. 7 Ohio State
No. 8 Penn State
No. 9 Georgia
No. 10 Maryland
No. 11 Tennessee
No. 12 UCLA
No. 13 Texas Tech
No. 14 PITTSBURGH
No. 15 Texas A&M
No. 16 Washington
No. 17 Florida State
No. 18 Missouri
No. 19 Alabama
No. 20 Iowa
No. 21 Michigan State
No. 22 Purdue
No. 23 Washington State
No. 24 Nebraska
No. 25 Virginia


I guess my first reaction to Hodge's list is disappointment that Pitt's 2004 class (thus far) is STILL ranked well behind Penn State's class -- despite the facts that (1) Penn State has seemingly lost every major recruiting fight that it has been in over the last month; (2) Penn State had to settle for the otherwise completely unrecruited Kevin Suhey to fill its quarterback needs after Chad Henne, Jordan Steffy, and Anthony Morelli (all PA quarterbacks) turned the Lions down; and (3) both Michigan and Ohio State are now raiding the Commonwealth with ease.

Of course, I am a little amused that Penn State's recruiting class isn't ranked #1, as several of the papers around here have been suggesting for awhile now.

But while it sucks to be behind Penn State -- for the time being, anyways (their class is nearly full, ours isn't) -- it's nice to be well ahead of such rivals as West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Syracuse.

I'll keep an eye on Hodge's rankings as college football's second season progresses towards mid-February.

Hail to Harris recruiting some decent freakin' linemen already. And you know, Chas, I'm kind of glad that you did drag me into playing ESPN's Bowl Mania Challenge.

The Closest Thing to A Meaningful Game 

Pitt and Florida State play tonight. It's the biggest game of the season for Pitt. Not because both teams are 10-0. Not because both have excellent recruiting classes. No, it's the biggest game, because FSU is the best team Pitt will face in the preseason, and likely until the game against Notre Dame on January 12. In the bizarre calculations of RPI, FSU has gone down (from 13 to 51), Pitt has gone up (82 to 46) and Murray State is really high (shooting from 109 to 44) compared to before this tournament.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

The Outside Shot 

I've only seen one Pitt basketball game this season, otherwise, I've had to rely on box scores and recaps. Still, what I saw and read jibes with this story on how teams are and will keep playing Pitt in the 2-3 zone, letting Pitt take the open 3 rather than get the ball in the paint. Looking at the team and individual stats, gives the simple explanation. Pitt is shooting 32.2% from the 3 point line (48-149). Julius Page and Carl Krauser have taken more than 2/3 of the shots (101) and are above the team norm (37.6%).

Jaron Brown, though, is killing the Panthers when he shoots. Actually, when Jaron shoots from the free throw or the 3-point range he might as well close his eyes. Brown is 3-21 from beyond the 3-point line and an embarrassing 7-17 at the free throw line. Brown is a joy to watch on defense, but unless he is driving or cutting to the basket you don't want the ball going to him on the offensive side.

Pitt as a team has been incredibly streaky in their 3-point shots. Through their first 9 games they had 6 games where they shot under 30%. It isn't simply a need for Julius Page to start driving to the basket more. The team needs to get consistent, and regain some of their patience for the open look.

It hasn't cost them yet, and they shot 5-9 versus Murray St., who they crushed. But between streaky 3-point shooting, and bad free throw shooting -- through the first 9 games they are 107-177, 60.5% -- we can expect some of what happened last year to happen again. Pitt will lose some games that come down to making foul shots, and not be able to come back in other games because the threes aren't falling.

Fitzgerald Watch -- He's Ready for the Pros 

Even head coach Walt Harris admits that Fitzgerald is ready to play in the NFL. The best he could say in favor of staying at Pitt was that he gets to stay a "kid" for another year, rather than have a job.

Right. Being a premier college football player is not being a kid or a college student. It is your unpaid minor league. Plenty of media attention. Lots of people trying to leach onto you. The pros may have it turned up to a higher level, but at least you are getting paid.

Other Notes

Walt had his weekly press conference that was a special edition mastery of confusion, coachspeak, and doubletalk

Walt Harris said he and the Pitt coaching staff are disappointed with the way the season went. But he stressed that doesn't mean the season was disappointing.

Only Harris seems to know the distinction.

It's pure philosophy. The team and coaches are disappointed that they didn't do and play as well as they expected. They do not, however, feel the season was a disappointment. Expectations are other peoples. Walt wasn't going to be bound by the others' preconceived beliefs and rankings of the team.

"But what happens is, you've got to play well, and we got caught short in some games where we didn't play physical enough. That was the difference. There were three of them that we didn't play physical enough."

No matter how the hair is split, the Panthers didn't live up to expectations -- their own or anyone else's.
...
But Harris was right in his assessment of Pitt's losses to Notre Dame, West Virginia and Miami: The Panthers were manhandled on both sides of the ball in all three games.

Harris also cited poor defensive play as another reason Pitt didn't live up to expectations. He said coaches underestimated the leadership of some of the graduated defensive players.

"I think we probably thought we were going to be better on defense," Harris said. "It probably surprised us that we weren't better on defense. I think the leadership that graduated off the defense -- we knew it was going to be a hit -- but I think it became even bigger as time went on.

"That's the hard part, that is the intrinsic factor you can't put a height or weight on or a number of tackles on. That is a feeling they have in the huddle. We had some guys last year who were different kinds of kids."

I realize talent usually wins out, and the players have to have some accountability; but this just looks like he is placing all the blame on the players and absolving himself and his coaches. "We had a system. We had a plan that would work. They failed. They didn't step up and perform." To blame it on a lack of leadership amongst the players for not getting better on defense is a crock. That goes to the coaching and practice. That goes to trying to make corrections and adjustments. All of that is coaching. On both sides of the ball.

As for the turnout expected for the Continental Tire Bowl. UVA has sold over 30,000 tickets; Pitt is well under 4000.

Friday, December 19, 2003

House Warming Gift 

I know, I never got around to getting John a house warming gift, maybe we should get him this



I'd be curious to see how long it lasted until someone came by with a baseball bat.

Pittsburgh Holiday Hoops -- Trying to Get Excited 

Well both Pittsburgh papers are trying to help generate some excitement about the final two games Pitt will play in its own tournament by pointing out the fact that both opponents, like Pitt are unbeaten. Of course neither team is ranked, but that isn't important.

I'll concede that the final two games actually have potential, Murray State is one of the best mid-majors, and Florida State had one of the best recruiting classes last year. Still, like Pitt, they really haven't played anyone of significance to this point.

Checking College RPI, I see that Florida St. has an RPI of 13 and Murray St. has an RPI of 109. Pitt has an RPI of 82. All of these are prior to the games played this week. This means, that Pitt's RPI has dropped by beating two really low RPI teams. Florida State's high RPI is a bit of a surprise, but it may be illusory since it gets a boost from being in the ACC and benefits from the big wins in that conference.

I bitched about this tournament when I first heard about it. I still don't like it. Pitt has to win both of these games, or they will tumble right out of the top 25 and their RPI will plunge -- potentially to the triple digits. These are also the closest Pitt will come to a true test until Big East Conference play begins.

Even the Pitt players know they have played a pathetic schedule that tells them nothing.

[Julius] Page went on to say that he'd have preferred a tougher non-conference schedule to this point, and that the next couple of games will give him a true gauge of where the team is heading into conference play in less than three weeks.

"We need some tests before January," Page said. "We really get to see where we stand right now. We've been playing a lot of games in a short time, so it's hard sometimes to point out to guys what they're doing wrong because we're not practicing. These things are actually happening in games and you can't stop things. For Chris (Taft, freshman center), he's not going to guard guys three inches shorter than him in January. He's seeing that now, but that's not how it's always going to be. But that's why our practices are so good, we get at each other. And it helps everybody learn what to expect."

And of course, none of these games are on TV. Not even in the Pittsburgh market.

Fitzgerald Watch -- Waiting in the Wings 

No real news, but a puff piece on two freshmen wide receivers -- Greg Lee and Terrell Allen -- who stand great chances to end up as Pitt's #1 and #2 WRs for 2004. Allen was the more heavily recruited and bigger fish from South Carolina, but was injured when an opportunity to be the #2 receiver in place of Princell Brockenbrough occurred.

Lee has played well when given the chance, and looks to be the leader for the #2 receiver position even if Fitzgerald returns for his Junior season.

Brockenbrough will be hard pressed to keep his job. He has good hands and speed, but is sloppy on his routes and despite his good hands tends to drop a lot of easy passes because he is looking upfield or for the hit before he has the ball.

Allen has thrived in the second half of the season as a kick returner. He has shown great cutting and bursts of speed.

Other Notes

Column from Mike Prisuta on how the Continental Tire Bowl is more important to Coach Harris than it is to Pitt. It makes a good point:

...the Continental Tire Bowl can provide for Pitt, specifically for coach Walt Harris, something that would go a long way toward healing the wounds opened up by Toledo, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Miami.

Redemption.

Harris could use a little of that right about now, and his recent record in bowl games suggests he's capable of grabbing enough of it to temporarily quiet the wolves growling at his door.
...
Wins such as those are very effective.

I think he overstates things when he suggests that it would "go a long way toward lessening the disappointment Pitt has endured since coming so close to the BCS and yet winding up so far away." It won't do that, and there will still be plenty of "what ifs" to contemplate. It will, however show that Pitt can win against a good team (other than Virginia Tech) that is equal or perhaps considered better than Pitt.

I think it will also be an important message to show just how much the team is still with Harris. They come out flat and play poorly, and everyone will know Harris couldn't get this team to rebound from their bad games against Miami and West Virginia.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Fitzgerald Watch -- Nothing to Say 

He'll talk about anything except the possibility of challenging the NFL to let him be eligible for the 2004 draft.

Larry Fitzgerald responded to an interview request with a request of his own: No questions about the NFL Draft, because I don't know what I'm going to do.

The Pitt sophomore receiver was willing to address any topic, as long as it wasn't about whether he would petition the NFL for early entry, as ESPN.com reported this week.

Otherwise the stories are about getting ready to play Virginia in the Continental Tire Bowl -- Saturday, December 27, ESPN2, 11 am. God that sucks. I'm in my 30s, with a wife and kid. There is no way I can rationalize popping open a beer that early while watching a game on TV (tailgating is different). Especially while at the in-laws.

Other Notes

Pitt is getting a transfer from U of Wisconsin, Defensive Tackle Andre Williams, but he won't be eligible to play until the 2005 season. Looks like Coach Walt Harris will only be hiring a new wide receivers coach, not an offensive coordinator.

"We didn't have a coordinator for a couple of years in the past. We do have some qualified people on our staff, but we already have an offensive coordinator."

Harris was obviously referring to himself.

And, of course, there is the obligatory column as to whether Pitt will be able to overcome the letdown of blowing a BCS bid to play well in the Continental Tire Bowl.

My view: sure, why not.

Seriously though, Pitt shouldn't have much of an excuse for a let down as compared to WVU last year. Pitt blew their chance. They didn't have a higher bowl ripped from them because a better "name" was picked ahead of them. Pitt had its shot, and crapped out. A modicum of pride should spur them to want them to prove that they aren't complete choke artists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

The Future Will be Revealed 

Walt Harris and Pitt's long term future will be more clearly revealed in who he hires as offensive coordinator and how much authority is given. Brookhart, who leaves to be headcoach at Akron, was the offensive coordinator and wide receiver coach. In truth, he was mainly the wide receiver coach, and the guy who taught the offense in practice. During the game, Harris was in total control of the offensive play calling. If Harris insists on keeping that level of control, then he may be setting up his own fall. He will be locking out any possible new voices with respect to changes and adaptation to the offense. My sense is, he will not want to give up his control on offense.

Harris has no plans to immediately find a replacement for Brookhart, but did say that the Panthers will look outside the program.

"We'll go outside," Harris said. "Right now, our plan is to bring in a receiver coach, the best receiver coach that I think will fit in our system."

Pitt still could hire a receivers coach and promote running backs coach Dino Babers to offensive coordinator. Babers held the same position at Arizona and Texas A&M.

This really worries me, because it looks like he is not going to make a real change to the offense. I know, college coaches like Stoops, Saban and Carroll do the same with regards to their defenses; but Harris is not those guys and this is the offense not defense.

Shocking Agreement 

I nearly missed this column from Sunday, talking about criticism Walt Harris has received. Beano Cook is quoted extensively in the story. Amazingly enough, I am in almost total agreement with what he said:

But this season has been viewed as a disappointment and the buck stops with the head coach.

"I don't think he's hated the way some coaches are," ESPN college football analyst Beano Cook said. "But I think the fans are frustrated when he gets up at a press conference and brags about going to a fourth straight bowl. That would have been OK in the year 2000. But not this year."
...
Harris has been criticized for poor game management and shaky play-calling. He has been hammered by former Pitt players and coaches for being unable to recruit dominating offensive and defensive linemen.

Cook sees merit to the criticism.

"The play-calling is atrocious," Cook said. "(Pitt athletic director) Jeff Long needs to tell him either he gets an offensive coordinator, or Long will get a new head coach."

On recruiting, Cook said: "He's getting good players at the skill positions. But he's got to get some linemen."

In the final analysis, Cook agrees with those who see Harris as a good coach, but not a great one. Harris deserves credit for resurrecting the program, but now, armed with state-of-the-art facilities, more is expected than a late December in Charlotte.

"I don't think there should be a change, because he's done a good job overall," Cook said. "But he's going to have to take them to the next step and he's going to have to do it in the next few years."

If Beano can see the problems, then you know it is glaring.

ESPN's season review of the Big East and Pitt declare Pitt to be tied with VT as the biggest disappointment in the Big East this year. Any argument?

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

I just want to send a 'Shout Out' to my homies in 'da QUIP! 

It wasn't in the Pitt section of the on-line version, but the HS section of the Post-Gazette ran an article about Aliquippa HS star Darrelle Revis committing to Pitt - in football AND basketball. [The article also mentioned that Anthony Morelli will be eligible next year, as he passed his SAT's in November. Revis has yet to do so, and may attend Valley Forge Military Academy next year before enrolling at Pitt.]

Revis, 6'0" 175lb., normally WR/DB (occaisional QB and KR) had a monster game in Hershey as the Quips won the AA State Championship. Less than 72 hours later, he led the Quips to victory in the basketball court by scoring 35 points against Beaver Falls. Last season, Revis led the WPIAL in scoring as a Junior (averaging 25.4 points a game), and was named to the PG Fabulous Five.

In football, Revis is the WPIAL AA Player of the Year, and a member of the PG Fabulous 22. The Tribune-Review named him their all section Player of the Year, and to their Terrific 25.

As an aside, the PIAA is re-classifying the four divisions of HS football due to the addition of the Philadelphia Public Schools. This will drop 5 WPIAL teams from Quad-A to AAA - most notably Indiana, PA which is the smallest of the current Quad-A WPIAL teams.
Just thought I would share.

Fitzgerald Watch 

With Brookhart to Akron, the loss of a lot of key seniors, the simple fact that his value may never be higher, it really is a no brainer that Larry Fitzgerald is going to look at getting an exemption to enter the NFL draft in 2004. The only reason we want him to stay is purely selfish -- it helps Pitt, and we get to see him play live and in person for one more year. There is no doubt he is physically and mentally ready for the NFL.

I mean, he has been lauded all season on ESPN. An All-American for the AP and ESPN. He won the Walter Camp and Biletnikoff, and was the runner-up for the Heisman. Really, it will be almost impossible for him to top this season in college football.

Harris to Coach Meaningless Game for Good Cause 

I guess it is considered to be something of an honor since Nick Saban, LSU head coach, and Bob Stoops, Oklahoma head coach, were supposed to be the coaches in the East-West Shrine Game. Saban and Stoops had to pull out since they will be coaching in the Sugar Bowl on January 4. The East-West game is on January 10. Walt Harris will coach the East, and John Robinson (UNLV -- how the mighty have fallen) will coach the West.

The East squad will have two Pitt seniors -- defensive end Claude Harriott and fullback Lousaka Polite.

That Was Some Sigh of Relief 

Both Pittsburgh dailies start their recap of Pitt's squeaker win with head coach Jamie Dixon exhaling:

Post-Gazette:

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon walked off the court, puffed out his cheeks and breathed a big sigh of relief. It was likely the same feeling a lot of Pitt fans had after the No. 18 Panthers' 79-74 nail-biting victory against NAIA Georgetown last night in the Pittsburgh Holiday Hoops Tournament.

And the Tribune-Review:

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon closed his eyes and let out a long exhale as he walked off the Petersen Events Center floor Monday night, moments after his 18th-ranked Panthers escaped with a 79-74 victory over NAIA Georgetown (Ky.) in the opening game of the Pittsburgh Holiday Hoops Tournament.

22 turnovers, 21-38 from the free throw line (.553), 6-21 from 3-points (.286) are some numbers from the game. Of greater concern for the Pitt athletic department is this number -- 6234. The official attendence at the Peterson Center -- which holds some 13,000+. The numbers are dropping.

Reminder 

Today is the last day to sign up and play ESPN's Bowl Mania. The number of participants is up to 4.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Zipping Off 

As mentioned last week, Pitt's offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach, J.D. Brookhart, has been named head coach of the Akron Zips. He will stay with Pitt through the Continental Tire Bowl.

Let's see: Offensive coordinator and WR coach -- gone; QB, Rod Rutherford -- graduating; TE, Kris Wilson -- graduating; RB, Brandon Miree -- graduating. Yeah, plenty of incentive for Larry Fitzgerald to skip trying to get an exception from the NFL.

Basaketball Notes 

Right now Pitt is playing Georgetown College (not Georgetown University, this Georgetown is in Kentucky) to kick-off Pitt's "Holiday Hoops Tournament". Georgetown College is a power in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. Excuse me, if I lack excitement about playing a team that is a non-division I school -- even if that school is considered "among America's Best Christian Colleges for 2001-02."

This is just embarrassing. I'm not saying Pitt should be playing Michigan State's non-conference schedule, but they need to play somebody. And don't talk about scheduling in advance. This isn't college football where they do it years in advance. Pitt made this schedule within two years for most of the teams, and they are clear patsies. It just looks bad, and others notice.

Pitt puts together a cowardly non-conference schedule every year. That certainly hasn't ruined the program, but it does put a damper on the excitement for unfortunate Panthers fans, who deserve better.

Preceeding that damning statement, is a list of the teams presently in the top 25 with a basic ranking of their non-conference schedule. Pitt's is dead last, and is the only team that has not one single top-25 team in their non-conference schedule. He's also right about the dampening effect on the fans. "Official" Attendence at these pathetic games are dropping, even before finals and winter break.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Real Men Pick Games Against Spreads 

First off, I'm actually OK with Oklahoma quarterback Jason White's beating out Pitt wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the Heisman Trophy last night. Sure, Fitzgerald is the better player. But you can't expect a sophomore to get a fair shake for that award, even if seniority really shouldn't matter. Still, it would have been great for recruiting if Larry had won.

Second, let me pick six bowl games against the spread, like real men do. So far this season, my record against the spread is 23-24-1. In chronological order, the bowls that I'm most interested in this year are...

THE GMAC BOWL (December 18), LOUISVILLE (+13.5) AT MIAMI OF OHIO: This game is being billed as a battle of quarterbacks: Miami's future NFL star Ben Roethlisberger vs. Louisville's mobile Stefan LeFors. I think that anybody would take Roethlisberger over LeFors anyday. But it is Miami's significant advantages in receiving and tough defense that should make this game get real ugly, real fast. I'll take another dose of the MAC attack and give the points, please.

THE CONTINENTAL TIRE BOWL (December 27), VIRGINIA (-3) AT PITTSBURGH: I only got to watch the Virginia Cavaliers once this season, and only then while being constantly interrupted by my wife and mother-in-law. So take my analysis for what it's worth. On November 29th, the Cavaliers pasted Virginia Tech 35-21 by scoring 21 unanswered points in the second half. What really stood out to me about that game was Virginia's line play and short/underneath passing game. Tech couldn't get off the line to pressure Cavaliers Quarterback Matt Schaub at all. Schaub, subsequently, went 32-for-46 for 358 yards on the day -- usually in front of the safeties and in the flats, and frequently (13 times for 145 yards) to tight end Heath Miller. Josh Crockett has a much more knowledgeable and in-depth analysis of this game here. In any case, if Tech's defense couldn't stop Virginia, I sincerely doubt that ours can -- especially given our inability to pressure opposing quarterbacks or to stop short, underneath passes (remember Toledo?).

So what happens when our offense is on the field as opposed to Virginia's? Well, Josh Crockett gave us this insight in a comment under here.

One advantage you guys will have against Virginia is the presence of a vertical passing game. They didn't even bother covering the deep ball against us, because (a) the VT coaching staff doesn't trust Randall to throw it, (b) he's inconsistent on the rare occasions they do, and (c) our receivers can't catch it anyway, with the occasional exception of Wilford. Pitt, with Rutherford and Fitzgerald, doesn't have that kind of problem. Stacking the box, they held Jones to 25 for 75, and I partially blame predictable playcalling for that (we lost a ton of yardage on stupid-ass delayed handoffs). With a balanced offense, you guys should get your points.


Given what little I saw of the Virginia-Virginia Tech game, Josh's comment makes sense. So on offense, I do think that we'll do better against Virginia than Virginia Tech did (given our more balanced offense and deep threats). But I just don't think that we'll be able to keep within three points of the Cavaliers with our porous defense. Remember Al Groh, all you have to do is run Wali Lundy... a lot...

I'll take Virginia to cover, and hope to be wrong.

THE TOYOTA GATOR BOWL (January 1), WEST VIRGINIA (+3.5) AT MARYLAND: I still don't understand how Maryland just destroyed West Virginia 34-7 way back on September 20 (no, I didn't see that game... I was busy getting married). In any case, that was a different Mountaineer team than the one that completely destroyed Pitt last month. By New Year's Day, Rich Rodriguez will have had more than enough time to make his typically high quality adjustments (you know... adjustments... those things that Walt Harris DOESN'T do), and he will have the Mountaineers nicely pissed off over the asskicking they took when the leaves were still on the trees. Even though I got burned by this same pick back in September, I'll take the Rodriguez-coached, red-assed, revenge-seeking Hoopies again. Gimme the 3.5.

THE ROSE BOWL (January 1), MICHIGAN (+6.5) AT USC: Pete Carroll is too good of a coach to let the Trojans overlook the toughest opponent that they'll see this year. The way I see it, Michigan and USC have equally dominating defenses, but USC has a slightly better offense and a much better quarterback. So I'll take the Trojans to barely cover the 6.5 (if the spread were 7.5, I'd probably pick the other way).

Besides, Ohio State and Michigan always suck in the Rose Bowl.

THE TOSTITOS FIESTA BOWL (January 2), KANSAS STATE (-7) AT OHIO STATE: As I've said before, nobody gets overrated as frequently as Kansas State does -- not even Virginia Tech. That being said, the Wildcats match up particularly well against the also overrated (without Clarett, anyways) Buckeyes. Sure Ohio State has one of the best run defenses in the country... but not against speed backs like Chris Perry and Darren Sproles. Add in a good dose of Ell Roberson's mobility and quick-release arm, and I think that the Wildcats can paste at least seven over OSU's lethargic offense.

THE NOKIA SUGAR BOWL (January 4), LOUISIANA STATE (+6) AT OKLAHOMA: Bob Stoops humiliates opposing teams when he has the motivation (see Oklahoma State and Texas A&M earlier this year). Bob Stoops now has more motivation to humiliate LSU than he has ever had before: nobody, not even me, thinks that a team which didn't win its conference deserves to be in the "official" national title game. Better grab an NFL job while you can, Saban. I'll take the Sooners to cover and share the national title with USC.

So for the 2003-04 bowl season, I got the Red Hawks, Cavaliers, Mountaineers, Trojans, Wildcats, and Sooners: five to cover and one dog. Hopefully, this will put me over .500 for the year.

Real men also make quiche, not chili.

Hail to me stopping the flood of junk mail that I get every day from Sonic's hamburger joint now... well, from there and from penis enlargement scams...

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Bowl Mania -- How to sign up 

Apparently Lee, is having trouble figuring out how to sign-up and play the Bowl game. I'm shocked, because it is so simple, but I'll take the time to explain it for Lee's sake

1. Go to the ESPN Bowl Mania page.

2. If you have ever played one of ESPN's games, you sign in using that name and password -- your ESPN.com membership. Otherwise you create one.

3. Make sure you opt out of receiving all newsletters, ads, and crap from Sonic. It's all there.

4. Once you are logged in, you create your entry. Choose a team name, and select a group to join. You can find our group in the directory, "Pitt Sports Blather." Just type "pitt," and you will get a list of Pitt groups, including PSB.

5. Make your picks, and express your level of confidence. You can go back and make changes.

So far just myself and Kevin have signed-up. Have I mentioned, Lee, that Kevin is a Michigan native. He was able to figure it out.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Pre-Heisman Awards Show 

Conspiracy theorists in Oklahoma and Mississippi were likely going nuts over the ESPN college football awards show last night. Pitt legends Hugh Green and Tony Dorsett were on hand to present awards, helping to convince some that ESPN has been biased towards Larry Fitzgerald winning the Heisman over Jason White and Eli Manning (why else would they have Pitt greats to present?).

No great shock that Fitzgerald won the Biletnikoff Award (outstanding wide receiver). Fitzgerald also won the Walter Camp Award as the top player in the nation earlier in the day -- joining Green and Dorsett as Pitt players who won the award. Eli Manning won the Maxwell Award as the nation's best all-around player . Michigan RB, Chris Perry, won the Doak Walker (top running back). Jason White took home the Davey O'Brien Award (top QB) to go with winning the AP Player of the Year the day before. All are Heisman finalists. Perry will probably finish 4th in the Heisman balloting, but it is interesting that the top overall player honors were split evenly.

It was a very good night for Fitzgerald. The bigger winner, though, might also be Pitt's offensive coordinator J.D. Brookhart -- who Fitzgerald singled out for his success in accepting the Biletnikoff. Brookhart is a leading candidate to get the head coaching gig with the Akron Zips (Akron? That's a job with failure built in to it. How can that be a win? Rejoinder -- Pacific didn't end Harris' career. You still make more money as head coach at Akron than as offensive coordinator at Pitt. Besides, with "offensive genius" Walt Harris calling plays, it's not like there are tons of opportunities.).

As for the Heisman, well we can hope, but don't hold your breath.

On the issue of whether Fitzgerald will seek and receive an exception to go early to the NFL. Well, I would love for him to stay one more year, but I couldn't say he would be wrong to leave now if he could.

Ron Bracken's Heisman Vote 

As I noted yesterday, at least one official Heisman Trophy voter from the Nittany Lion Nation did not vote for Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald. However, an almost equally respected voice in the world of Penn State sports did: Ron Bracken -- the Sports Editor of the Centre Daily Times (State College's newspaper). Read this from today's edition.

[Oklahoma Quarterback Jason White] owns a truckload of credentials, probably the most impressive of which is his touchdown-to-interception ratio of 40-8. His 64 percent completion percentage and 3,744 yards passing are also Heisman caliber. There is also his recovery from two serious knee injuries to reclaim his job. If he wins it, no one can really complain that he's not worthy. He is.

But he was listed second on my ballot. Fitzgerald was first.

In a comparison, his numbers are right there with White's -- 87 receptions, 1,595 yards, 22 touchdown receptions. If anything, they may be even more impressive since he has so little control over how many times he touches the football while White gets it on every snap. Moreover, defenses came up with all sorts of radical schemes to shut Fitzgerald down, rightly figuring that to stop him was to stop the Pitt offense. And still he caught a touchdown pass in every game, made highlight film catches look routine and impossible catches seem rather common.

What's more, his own human interest story is maybe even more compelling than White's, given the fact that he lost his mother to cancer in the spring and one of his best friends, wide receiver Billy Gaines, to an unfortunate accident in the summer.

But the Heisman Trophy should not be awarded out of sympathy.

It's awarded to the player who is deemed the single most outstanding college football player in the country each season. Both White and Fitzgerald fit that description. So why did Fitzgerald occupy the top spot on my ballot?

Read this paragraph from a recent story on him in Sports Illustrated in which he explains why he hands the football to an official after catching a touchdown pass: "Officials have enough to do without chasing the ball after somebody tosses it,'' he was quoted as saying. "I'm a receiver, I'm supposed to score touchdowns."

And the fact the he does it regularly and does not punctuate each score with some sort of end zone gyration or proclamation of his greatness, is a wonderful departure from the norm. [brackets mine]


I am somewhat embarrassed to admit that the most eloquent argument that I've seen for Larry Fitzgerald's deserving the Heisman Trophy came from State College, Pennsylvania.

Hail to my wife NOT seeing Bracken's article.

(P.S. Bracken is usually a lot more fair to Pitt than Rudel is. That, obviously, is why I almost never quote Bracken on this blog.)

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Neil Rudel's Heisman Vote 

I can't believe that I haven't even mentioned Neil Rudel (Sports Editor of the Altoona Mirror, Editor of the Penn State Bible, a frequent guest on the Penn State Football Radio Network, and one of the most read, respected, and published commentators on Penn State sports) since September 15, 2003. Neil's frequent cheap shots at Pitt -- commonly born of jealousy these days -- are usually more than blog-worthy.

In any case, Mr. Rudel is an official Heisman Trophy voter. In today's Altoona Mirror, Neil makes sure to clearly point out to the half-dozen-or-so Pitt fans that actually read his crap that he did not vote for Panthers Receiver Larry Fitzgerald this year.

I must confess: I voted Pitt's Larry Fitzgerald second behind Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. Much as I wanted to vote for Fitzgerald, it's impossible to ignore White's incredible numbers of 40 touchdowns against just eight interceptions... Had Fitzgerald played a little better against Miami, it would have helped, and if he were an upperclassman, provincial sentiment would have tugged a little more.

I did vote for Larry Johnson last year on the basis that he gained 2,000 yards, was a senior, played a position more physically demanding than wide receiver, and broke a 100 year-old Big Ten record. At the risk of providing fodder for Pitt fans, that's my story.


I appreciate that fodder, Neil. Say, the Heisman Trophy is to go to college football's best player, period. Whether a candidate is a senior or not has nothing to do with it. Whether a candidate plays on what was once the nation's number one team or not has nothing to do with it. And most of all, whether a candidate just so happens to go to your alma mater (e.g., Larry Johnson) or the program that is in danger of supplanting your alma mater as Pennsylvania's strongest college football program has nothing to do with it.

Winning a Heisman Trophy is a major boost to a program's recruiting. Just look at what John Cooper pulled off recruiting-wise in the late 90s after Eddie George brought one back to Columbus. If I bled blue and white as much as Neil does, I wouldn't have voted for Fitzgerald either. Penn State is far enough behind Pitt in recruiting as it is. Still, you have to admire the regional solidarity there.

Finally, who says that playing running back is more physically demanding than playing wide receiver? Have you ever had to go up for a catch at full speed, Neil? And how many touchdowns was Fitzgerald supposed to score against Miami when he (1) was used as a decoy for most of the game, and (2) was double and triple covered even then?

If this piece came from anybody other than Neil Rudel, I might have taken the stated admiration for Jason White as sincere (after all, White is a legitimate Heisman candidate). But given Rudel's long-standing agenda of belittling every little advance that Pitt and Walt Harris make on his beloved Nittany Lions, I can't help but snicker a little.

Hail to the Heisman going to the best player in college football Saturday night, period.

P.S. Charlotte sucks. I wouldn't go to a bowl game there if Michael Jackson was playing the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's office.

Continental Tire Bowl 

Raise your hand if you are surprised to find that Pitt's allotment of tickets (12,500) are lagging in sales. Liar.

Pitt has sold only 3,000 of its allotted 12,500 tickets for its Continental Tire Bowl game Dec. 27 against Virginia in Charlotte, N.C.

The low number probably indicates that Pitt fans are disappointed because the Panthers failed to live up to preseason expectations.

Probably? I would say definitely. If you want to hedge, maybe "apparently" or "strongly." Pitt didn't even live up to mid-season expectations. Going 2-2 over the final four games tends to suck the life out of any fan, especially when you lose the final game, at home, on national TV.

By comparison, UVA sold 20,000 tickets and has asked for an additional 10,000. No great shock considering that Virginia is adjacent to North Carolina, and the alumni of UVA tends to be more diffuse through the state -- not concentrated near Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh is 447 miles from Charlotte. Charlottesville is 304 miles from Charlotte.

Someone at the Post-Gazette was not fact-checking the driving distance.

Charlottesville, Va., is closer to Charlotte than Pittsburgh, but only by about 75 minutes.

I'd love to know how they calculate drive time.

Here's the site for the Continental Tire Bowl. There are separate parties for the ACC and the Big East the day before -- following the pep rally?

Both head coaches and several players will address the fans and get them pumped. Cheerleader and band
performances will also get the hype going. Special guest speakers include WWE Superstar Ric Flair and NFL Hall of Famer Joe DeLamielleure.

The ACC party will be at a bar called Dixie's Tavern, while the Big East version will be at the two local branches of Bar and Have a Nice Day Cafe. Glad to see, the local Charlotte flavor won't be lost.

The UVA athletic site has a good collection of information regarding the bowl for its fans. Pitt's bowl info site, is less so.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Big East Honors 

The Big East announced its All-Big East teams and various players of the year. No shock that Larry Fitzgerald was named Big East Offensive Player of the Year, and was a unanimous selection for the first team, All-Big East Squad. Punter, Andy Lee, was named Co-Special Teams Player of the Year with Punt Returner, DeAngelo Hall of Virginia Tech.

On the All-Big East first and second teams Pitt placed QB Rod Rutherford and P Andy Lee were unanimous choices for first team and Offensive Tackle, Rob Petitti, made the first team (mind boggling to think that a member of Pitt's lines made either the first or second team). Tight End Kris Wilson was a second team selection. Any other conference, he would have been first team, but he had the misfortune to be in the same conference as Kellen Winslow, Jr.

There were 8 unanimous selections for the first team. Pitt had 3, Miami had 3 and WVU and VT each had 1.

Looking over the choices for first and second team, I'd say the only surprise was that West Virginia's Quincy Wilson beat out Syracuse's Walter Reyes to join Kevin Jones of VT in the backfield of the first team. I wonder if the fact that Reyes actually seemed to be held in check by the Pitt defense as opposed to Wilson and Jones was the difference?

Larry Fitzgerald was also named a first team All-American by The Sporting News. Believe it or not The Sporting News named a member of Pitt's defensive line and offensive line to some of its all- teams.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Brian Bennett, the Panthers' second-leading tackler (118), was named second-team freshman All-American and the freshman defensive player of the year in the Big East. Redshirt freshman offensive guard John Simonitis was named to the publication's Big East All-Freshman team.

These are nice things, but it also reminds me why this season was such a disappointment.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Basketball Polls 

Just noticed that Pitt dropped a notch to #23 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll -- Marquette leapfrogged Pitt because they actually played and won a meaningful game -- despite a 6-0 start. Meanwhile, the AP Writers Poll has Pitt moving up to #20.

The polls are meaningless, and as I have said, no one really has an idea about whether this Pitt team will be as good, better or worse until the conference play begins. The only thing that does have me worried about the Coaches Poll, is that there isn't much Big East representation this year. Something that doesn't help in getting votes, because there won't be much attention paid to Pitt.

The Board of Coaches is made up of 30 head coaches at Division I institutions. All are members of the National Association of Basketball Coaches. The 2001-02 voters: Dana Altman, Creighton; Eddie Biedenbach, UNC-Asheville; Jim Boeheim, Syracuse; Rickey Broussard, Nicholls St.; Barry Collier, Nebraska; Dick Davey, Santa Clara; Fran Dunphy, Pennsylvania; Jessie Evans, Louisiana-Lafayette; Rob Evans, Arizona State; Steve Fisher, San Diego State; Patrick Flannery, Bucknell; Tom Green, Fairleigh Dickinson; Dan Hipsher, Akron; Bob Huggins, Cincinnati; Gene Keady, Purdue; Jim Kerwin, Western Illinois; Mack McCarthy, Virginia Commonwealth; Bobby McKillop, Davidson; Joe Mihalich, Niagara; Ron Mitchell, Coppin State, Dave Odom, South Carolina; Oliver Purnell, Dayton; Rick Samuels, Eastern Illinois; Joel Sobotka, Portland State; Kirk Speraw, Central Florida; Bob Thomason, Pacific; Perry Watson, Detroit Mercy; Davey Whitney, Alcorn State; Gary Williams, Maryland; Willis Wilson, Rice; Dennis Wolff, Boston University.

Emphasis and Italics added. Cincinnati joins the Big East in 2005.

If Pitt stumbles in the non-conference, they could easily fall out of the polls and have a more difficult time climbing back into it. Just my paranoid thought for the day.

Bowl Mania With PSB 

ESPN has a "Bowl Mania" game. Pick the winners of all 28 bowls. It is a confidence game. Meaning:

Instructions: Pick the winner of each game and predict the final team scores of the Sugar Bowl. The higher the confidence you assign to a bowl game, the more points you will earn if you have selected the winning team. Confidence value must be between 1 and 28 and unique for each game. You can change picks until kickoff of the first selectable bowl listed.

Pitt Sports Blather has a public group. Hopefully the other members of PSB will be playing. Find out how Lee will do with 28 games within a 3 week period. Learn just how confident we are about Pitt. We get to learn if we have any readers.

The contest is open until the first bowl game on December 16, 7 pm EST.

Early Lines 

The first lines that I've seen on the Continental Tire Bowl favor the Virginia Cavaliers over our Pitt Panthers by 2.5 points. Given how well the Cavaliers dominated Virginia Tech in the trenches, I'm not sure that I won't give those points. But let me think about it a little more...

In other news, Oklahoma is favored by six over LSU (I'll definitely take the Sooners there), Kansas State is favored by seven over Ohio State (as I've always said, nobody gets overrated like the Wildcats), USC is favored by 6.5 over Michigan (I don't know where to go on that one), and Maryland is favored by 3.5 over the Hoopies (I'll probably take the Hoopies over the Terrapins again, even though that pick burned me earlier this year).

I'll make my official picks later. These are just my first musings.

Switching over to Pitt Basketball, if you're the type of sick bastard who takes pleasure in the suffering and self-flagellation of others (and don't we all?), check out the Centre Daily Times's coverage of Pitt's hanging a 64-37 ass-kicking on Penn State this past Saturday.

Hail to Happy Valley Misery

Monday, December 08, 2003

Pitt 2-0 vs. the Eastern Eight 

It took a while, but I am finally here to post on Pitt and their wins over former Eastern Eight conference rivals Duquesne and Penn State.

I hit the Duquesne game at the Palumbo Center on Wednesday. A nice facility - that was the first time I was ever in the place.

VERY sloppy on both sides. Duquesne hung tough considering how many white guys they have.

Duquesne's cheerleaders are extremely fat, and there are a lot of them. Lots of bleach blond Italian girls (no doubt some from Montour - John will get this one).
Their dance team, The Dukettes, was awful. They look like some kind of jass fusion ensemble, and like the cheerleaders, they are quite fat - but in tights. The high point for them was when they were leading the students in spelling "D-U-K-E-S" while holding up cards with the letters on them. Naturally, they spelled DUKES wrong. Very amusing.

As for the game, Pitt didn't look too good. Torre Morris is awful, and Mark McCarroll continues to NOT impress. Pitt was down at halftime, and was saved by their usual early 2nd half run. It took that long for Page to get his shot going. Taft is going to be good, but he's not their yet. Troutman and Brown need to step it up (Brown did in the 2nd half, at least). Pitt will be good this year, but they have a lot of room for improvement. The refs had no interest in calling travellling, as evidenced by Duquesne's Uruguayan point guard clearly walking, switching pivot foot and generally running with the basket ball often. I guess you don't have to dribble in Uruguay.

I also hit the Peterson Center Saturday afternoon for the Penn State game. My buddy Steve, a season ticket holder, called be Saturday morning to see if I wanted to hit the game. From reading Lee's posts, I thought the game was in State College!

Steve and I bought two seats closer to the court (Steve's seats are high in the rafters - not bad in the grand scheme of things, considering how great The Pete is, but they could be better). We were right behind the band, and right on top of the action. Our cheerleaders looked pert, and our dance team was acceptable (especially when compared to the Dukettes).

I noticed Rod Rutherford right away, sitting behind the basket while sporting a do-rag. As I scanned the crowd, I noticed a kid in a red HS letter jacket, with a hairstyle similar to Tom Cruise in "The Color of Money" - very much the Italian American. It then dawned on me that it was Anthony Morelli wearing a Penn Hills jacket (they are Florida State colors). Sitting near him was Andrew Johnson, and a bunch of other recruits, right behind the basket. That was probably a good move - get the kids into the college experience (especially when our b-ball team is kicking the crap out of Penn State).

As for the game, Pitt looked great. Morris actually played well, displaying some strong ass-work in backing into the paint on the dribble. Aaron Gray, the next Baby Huey, actually scored. He remined me of Nervous Nate Bailey, a big white guy in the late 80's early 90's - totally uninterested in actually touching the ball on offense, and when he does, being terrified in not having a single clue as to what to do with the ball. He is huge, though, and should eat up some minutes and fouls.

PSU's best player is a huge white guy named Jan Jagla. Pitt fans just called him Nowitzki all night, much to my amusement. He absolutely sucked ass the first half, but picked it up a little in the second half. Still, it was too little too late. PSU played worse than the EA Sports Allstars. The game was such a blowout there weren't many "Penn State Sucks" chants - it almost would have been piling on. I did like the guy in the gorilla suit holding the "Joe Pa Sucks" sign under the basket during free throws. That was special.

Pitt looked good, but most of our conference opponents are not going to be as accomidating as Penn State. The Peterson Center is a great facility, though. You should really get to Pittsburgh to take in a game.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Football Notes 

A good article on the struggles of the lines of Pitt. Complete with observations from former Pitt coach Foge Fazio and player Tony Siragusa.

Foge Fazio found himself cringing this season while watching the line play of the Pitt football team. Ditto for Tony Siragusa and countless other alumni.

They looked on in disbelief, as Miami, West Virginia and Notre Dame owned the Panthers in the trenches. It was ugly at times.

"You're kind of like disappointed," said Fazio, a former player and head coach at Pitt. "I'd sit there with guys I played ball with in the '50s, and it would be hard to watch. Pitt always had rough, tough guys on the offensive and defensive lines and the theory always was, 'You might beat us, but you better go over the top to beat us, because we're going to control you up front.' We didn't see enough of that this year."

They cringed? Every Pitt fan cringed.

Meanwhile, after last week's debacle against Miami, it was widely assumed that Larry Fitzgerald would lose the Heisman to Jason White, the Oklahoma QB. To quote Lee Corso, "Not so fast, my friend." White layed an egg in the Big 12 championship, and Sports Illustrated named Fitzgerald its player of the year. The final result next Saturday will be interesting. Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated explained why he voted for Fitzgerald.

Might actually waste part of my Saturday evening watching the presentation now.

Getting on the Bandwagon 

Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with a pathetic piece on jumping on the Pitt basketball bandwagon.

There might be hope yet for the long, hard winter.

It comes in the form of the Pitt men's basketball team. Heaven knows we need it after watching the underachieving Pitt football team lose too many games at home and seeing the exasperating Steelers lose too many games, period, and hearing of the inconsequential Penguins and their depressing financial plight day after day.

Maybe it's unfair to put a city's sports hopes on one college team, but these Panthers seem up for the challenge. If their ridiculously easy 64-37 win against Penn State is any indication, they have everything they need to take another run at the Big East Conference championship and have a long stay in the NCAA tournament.

Nice.

Get realistic. Pitt is likely the 3rd best team in the Big East, behind Syracuse and UConn (and it is a very close #3 with Notre Dame right there). Expectations for Pitt are hopeful but modest. New coach, key players gone, and no clue about this team until conference play starts.

Yes the win over Penn St. was impressive, even if Penn St. really sucks. Still, let's not put expectations too high right now. I still have some qualms.

I'm very worried about the backup point guard -- Antonio Graves. Carl Krauser, the starting PG, played 33 minutes. Graves, a freshman, played 14 minutes. He had no assists, 1 turnover and was scoreless on 0-4 shooting. In the 6 games this year, logged a total of 53 minutes, 4 assists, 3 turnovers, and 13 points (5-16 shooting, 3-8 on 3 pointers). Graves needs a lot of work. An injury to Krauser and the season could be toast.

The Perfect Storm 

Really, is there any other way to describe what has happened with the BCS? When Syracuse beat Notre Dame so handily yesterday, I knew the possibility was there for USC to get screwed out of being number 2 in the BCS, despite their win. That would be something of an outrage to some, but it wouldn't be that much worse than what happened to Miami in 2000 when it was edged out of the BCS by Florida State (a team Miami had beaten head-to-head) to play Oklahoma. Both happened because of the drop in their strength of schedule by the end of the season.

But this. This has been amazing. No one thought Oklahoma would lose to Kansas State, especially so badly. Oklahoma was playing for history, and K-State never beats a team that is clearly better than them. That changed everything. Oklahoma was so far ahead in the BCS rankings that even though it lost the Big 12 championship and dropped to #3 in both the coaches and AP polls, it still remained the #1 BCS team.

Then Louisiana St. beat the snot out of Georgia, which moved them up in the computers and with the pollsters.

The results: USC, the #1 team in the coaches and writers polls won't play for the BCS championship. The first time this has happened. This also means, that if USC wins in the Rose Bowl against Michigan, there will be a split championship -- despite the best laid plans of the BCS.

This will not be the end of the BCS, despite my wishes -- and the wishes of many others, and the number of sportswriters wishing for it will be legion -- but it has once again exposed it for a complete fraud and joke. There is no spinning this away. There is no way to "tweak" the system. The system failed.

It's funny. I know a lot of sports pundits have been waiting for it. But, in a way, no one actually wanted to see it, because then it meant actually having a real team screwed over. Not just some construct or hypothetical. I think Jim Rome will be rather ranting filled tomorrow.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Take the Open Shot 

Man, you know it was a disappointing football season, when the AP wire story on the Pitt-Penn St. basketball game starts out taking a shot the football team.

Pitt football coach Walt Harris only wishes he had a defense like this.
...
Harris, who watched with a group of prospective football recruits, no doubt admired Pitt's excellent defense. His own team had one of the nation's best offenses, but was troubled all season by a leaky defense.

You think the AP guy might have covered a few of Pitt's football games this year?

Glad Lee was able to see the game on TV, because up until yesterday, he didn't even know that the game was being played in Pittsburgh.

Hoops Wrap-Up: Pitt 64, Penn State 37 

Well, so much for sluggish starts...

This afternoon, Pitt came out of the gates with a fast start for the first time this season. We scored the first six points of the game against admittedly pathetic Penn State, and our offense didn't let up until the second half. In the first half, we shot 57% from the field versus Penn State's 15%. Of course, the Nittany Lions's slow-to-react defense should get some of the credit for this success, as they rarely got in anybody's face. On offense, the Lions went nine minutes without scoring a point -- their half of the scoreboard seemed to be stuck on 7 forever. Plus, they turned the ball over ten times (versus our five) before the break.

In the second half (we were up 39-11 at halftime), Penn State's offense improved remarkably. Plus, they spread out more on defense, and that seemed to slow us down a little. Still, on the day, we held a substantial advantage in field goal percentage (47% to 28%), turnovers (16 to 12), and rebounds (42 to 30).

To be honest, this was the first time that I actually got to sit down and watch Pitt Men's Basketball this season. And I know that we were only playing Penn State. Still, I was impressed -- especially with Jaron Brown (14 points, 4 rebounds). Sure, we're probably not going to win the Big East again. But we should surprise at least a few teams.

Incidentally, I agree with Chas's position that we should continue to play Penn State in basketball despite the fact that they won't play us in football. Refusing the play them wouldn't really hurt them (their men's hoops program is already too low). Plus, we would abandon the moral high ground... Yeah I know... moral high grounds are overrated (just ask any Red Sox fan). But still, it's something I can rub in my wife's face.

Incidentally, Chas and I disagree about a lot more stuff in real life than we typically do on this blog.

It's 6:50 PM and Army currently trails Navy by 14. Hail to a Black Knights comeback.

Not Even Close to Equal Value 

In sports there is an old maxim that the fans will overestimate the talent their team gave up versus what they acquired (this does not apply when it comes to salary dumping trades like what the Pittsburgh Pirates did this past summer).

I mention this because it applies to the beginning of this article on the Pitt-Penn St. Basketball game today:

The Pitt basketball team will do something this afternoon that it shouldn't do again any time soon unless the current athletic climate in the Commonwealth changes dramatically.

The Panthers will play host to Penn State, which they should not do until the football rivalry is restored. The same goes for Pitt visiting Happy Valley for a little roundball.

No sense doing Penn State any favors when a favor won't be returned.

The rest of the article is actually devoted to the subject of Pitt's play so far, but this opening bothered me.

Now, everyone here at PSB wants the football rivalry restored. The lack of a football game with Penn St. is one more of Joe Paterno's sins. Pitt has been ready, willing, and able to play the annual game (though not on Paterno's self-serving terms of 2 games in State College for 1 game in Pittsburgh). Really, both sides want the rivalry restored. The only one against it, is a vindictive, bitter old man out in Happy Valley.

So at first blush any advantage Pitt has should be pushed. Pitt is much better than Penn State in basketball, and even though Pitt has had some extended bad runs, they have the historically stronger basketball program and history. This quickly breaks down on a closer look.

1. The annual basketball game is not even close to equal value in terms of money, national attention, alumni pride, and exposure.

2. Pitt is, at present, a top-25 team. It has been a top-25 team for the previous 2 seasons. Prior to that, it had been almost a decade since Pitt had even cracked the top-25 in during a season. Pitt holds no great reputation as a basketball power. Unlike Penn St. football, the mention of Pitt basketball does not cause national sportswriters and tv people to wax poetic about the tradition and history (and yes, these days when they talk of PSU, it tends to be in the past tense and with a little wistful sadness to see Paterno fall so far). Pitt has no historical elite reputation like Duke, UNC, Kansas or Kentucky. It doesn't even reach perennial contender or top-25 standards like Cinci, Arizona, Syracuse, Temple, Mich. St., or UConn. Pitt is trying to get there, but it isn't yet.

3. How much would Penn St. basketball be harmed by an end to playing Pitt? Prior to 2000, Pitt and Penn St. played each other 3 times between 1981-1999. Did anyone notice? Not exactly much of a hammer. It's not like football, where there is a battle for local recruits. There aren't that many recruits worth fighting over in Western and Central Pennsylvania.

4. It makes more sense to build up a good relationship with the other athletic programs and the athletic department, so that it is easier to resume the football rivalry after Paterno is put out to pasture retires.

So, Pitt should keep playing Penn State in basketball. If for no other reason, it is a good reminder of what a pale shadow it is compared to what the annual football game was.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Sluggish Starts Will Bite Soon 

I was trying to wait for Pat to post, since he was actually at the game. Hopefully he still will, and give us some news on the Pitt players and how they looked. I only saw some score updates on ESPN last night, and nearly fell off the couch when I saw that Duquesne was actually leading Pitt 24-22

There are two ways to look at that game. Scenario One: the glass is half full. Duquesne was gunning for Pitt. They came out hot and caught Pitt off guard in the first half. Then Pitt just asserted itself in the second half, and that was it.

Scenario Two: the glass is half empty. Pitt came out unprepared and not ready to play in the first half. They needed to wake-up during halftime. The reason they won, ultimately, was because the talent level was just too much in the second half.

I'm seeing the glass half empty. Not just because I'm an inherently negative, pessimistic kind of guy. No, it's because this has been the way Pitt has played from their first game onward.

Just about every game so far this year, Pitt has played a horrible first half, where the game was far closer than it should have been (given the lousy teams they have been playing). Then, they turn it on in the second half.

This can't continue, and it makes me very nervous about their upcoming game on Saturday. At home against Penn State. Penn State has a new head coach, and the team is 3-1 against mostly cupcakes. Their loss, was a 1 point loss to Georgetown.

Jamie Dixon has to get his team playing better in the first half or the questions will only grow about how good a choice he was to take over as head coach.

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