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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.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Comin' Off the Bye 

Pitt Coach Walt Harris and a full contingent of assistants were out recruiting this week. Looks like they were spending most of the time out of the area. This year, they don't seem to have much of a choice but to look outside of the Pittsburgh area. The issues with coaches in the area have been well documented, and the fact that Harris' up-in-the-air job status has most of the local coaches advising their kids to keep their options open (at best). Still the article mentions a couple local kids that seem to still like Pitt. And the last couple of paragraphs are filled with more optimism than I would have expected.

Upper St. Clair safety Sean Lee said there is a lot to like about Pitt, no matter who is coaching the Panthers. Lee also has offers from Penn State, Georgia Tech and Iowa, among others.

"They're scrutinized non-stop, but those kids probably don't see that," Lee said of the Panthers. "You always look for a stable coaching situation - it doesn't help them - but Pitt has a strong tradition, great facilities, it's committed to winning and has a lot of young talent. Walt Harris got it to where it's going to be a solid program from now on."

The coach of Pitt's most recent recruit, wide receiver Oderick Turner of Teaneck, N.J., was well aware that Harris is on the hot seat but fully confident that Pitt will continue its success.

"The biggest selling point is if Walt Harris isn't the coach, the University of Pittsburgh won't get just anybody to coach," Teaneck coach Dennis Heck said. "Anybody they bring in will be a quality guy."

We certainly hope so.

The Paul Zeise Q&A is not quite as interesting as some past ones, but the first 2 questions and their answers are worth reading:

Q: Isn't it better to stay with coach Walt Harris then to switch coaches and end up with another "Majors" debacle?

ZEISE: Depends on what you are looking for. I have always said that Pitt could do a whole lot worse than Walt Harris and that the program is not nearly in as bad shape as some of you make it out to be. By the same token, at some point you need to start beating ranked teams and winning the conference and Pitt hasn't done a great job at either under Harris. If you believe there is another level for Pitt to go to, well, then maybe a change is called for. But you are correct, there is a risk. You could end up with another Paul Hackett. But with no risk, there is no reward. You can maintain the status quo, have a solid program that goes to December bowls and be happy or take a shot at something bigger. And who is to say Harris can't get this program to another level? Perhaps he can. These are all fair questions that need to be answered. Fortunately, I don't have to be the one to answer them, the administration does. This is a tough call in some ways.

Q: With the softness of the schedule, isn't it fair to say Walt Harris will be judged on the Nebraska, Boston College, Notre Dame, West Virginia and Syracuse results?

ZEISE: I think he'll ultimately be judged on the West Virginia game. You can't lose two in a row (2002 and this year) in front of sold out home crowds to your biggest rival. Also, given how weak the schedule is, if Pitt doesn't win that game, what have they proven? That they can beat bad teams? We already knew that. The WVU game is worth millions of dollars for a lot of reasons and that is what the season will ultimately be judged.

That is interesting to me since I think most of us had already written off the WVU game. Given their inconsistency, though, Pitt better at least make it a battle. Dare I say, a brawl. Still the WVU game is at the end of the month, and there is a game on Saturday up in Syracuse.

A game that suddenly has a lot of importance for both sides. Syracuse, with its win over UConn yesterday, is now 4-4. With 3 games remaining -- including one against Temple -- it has a decent shot at reaching a bowl and perhaps saving Paul Pasqualoni's job. Syracuse ends the season with a big grudge game against BC in Boston.

The team that loses this game, likely will be losing their head coach as well. While not nationally important (except that it would still keep Pitt in play to win the BE), this game is a big one. Some coaching chips could definitely shift.

Other Things -- ACC
So, did John Bunting at UNC save his job with a huge win over Miami (heh). I think he may have. That was huge, and if so, the coaching carousel actually slows down a bit.

The Bowden (Terry? Tommy? George?) at Clemson scored a big win over NC St. I caught a little of the game, and have to nominate Clemson's unis for the Oregon Award, Lee.


Jarring. That's all I can say about them. When did they add those ugly bluish tops. I thought Clemson had the simple orange and white scheme.

Fan Fest 

If perchance any of our readers are Pitt students or live in Pittsburgh and happened to attend the fan fest, please post or e-mail us what you thought of the whole thing and how the team looked in scrimmage.

My views on Pitt holding a fan fest in place of midnight madness are here. Both papers have reports, and the big story seems to be the play and appearance of Aaron Gray. Gray, a 7' big man from Emmaus, PA (Philly area) dropped 33 pounds and really worked on his conditioning. Not to mention that he played over the summer against legit talent.
He went up against former Temple centers Kevin Lyde and Ron Rollerson and NBA players Mark Jackson, Malik Rose, Eddie Jones and Allen Iverson.

"You come in expecting them to tear your head off," Gray said. "They'll kill you. Then they'll show you how they killed you. It's a good learning process, learning from older guys."

He also gave credit to Taft and Pitt's older players who encouraged him to get into better shape.

Obviously, Gray will be taking the back-up roll Torree Morris filled the last year. Gray may get more minutes, especially if he is more consistent than Morris. You never knew what you would get with Morris when he came off the bench -- other than about 2 quick fouls.

The thing I really like about this team, is that there seems to be some real depth. The team had no depth during Howland's time and very little last year. Something that I feel hurt the team by the time the NCAA tournament came around. The starters had logged so many minutes, that the efficiency on offense kept dropping every game they played in March (Big East and NCAA Tournaments).

This will also be a big question about Coach Jamie Dixon's coaching. How does he handle an actual bench. How does he keep the starters -- especially Krauser and Taft who love to play and want to stay in -- happy? He has to keep them fresher this season, and work in some of this new talent we have been hearing about for almost a year.

It's a happy problem to have, but one that will bear watching.

Friday, October 29, 2004

B-Ball Polling 

In addition to all the other pre-season polls, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll came out. The coaches poll puts Pitt at #17. This is actually higher than most other pre-season rankings. The Pitt Athletic Dept. press release is here, along with their two themes you can expect to see for most of the season -- barring any negative surprises.
Pittsburgh has now been ranked among the nation’s Top 25 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches poll in 48 consecutive polls.
...
Over its last three seasons, Pittsburgh has compiled an 88-16 record and .846 winning percentage, a winning percentage that ranks first nationally during that period (1. Pittsburgh, 88-16, .846; 2. Duke, 88-17, .838; 3. Gonzaga, 81-16, .835).
One other thing, from the very end of an ESPN.com Andy Katz chat session.
Stacy (Pgh, PA): Speaking of Big East Champs...Pitt came in second last year and is getting no kind of respect. You didn't even mention them when saying CT and Cuse were potential Big East Champs! Pitt lost 3 players, 1 of which hardly contributed last year, and they are gaining a year of experience in coach Jamie Dixon and Taft (who will be one of the top players in the country this year) Krauser, and McCarroll. Not to mention the returning dominant defensive and clutch guy, Chevy Troutman. I know some leadership roles need to be filled from the loss of Page and Brown, but I know Krauser is up to that task! What's up with the lack of respect???

SportsNation Andy Katz: Stacy, putting Pitt as the third or fourth best team in the Big East isn't a slight. The Panthers lost Jaron Brown and Julius Page, two of the biggest winners in the program. This team will still be very good (see a nice cozy home schedule) and should be a factor in the Big East race. I love Carl Krauser's toughness and Chris Taft is one of the top frontcourt talents in the country. But Jamie Dixon told me last week he's got seven players competing to start at small forward. This team is a work in progress. I'm not down on them at all.
It's a little too soon to be complaining about lack of respect for Pitt B-ball. Pitt is going to get deserved crap for its weak-ass non-con. Once more it will have to prove itself in the conference. That means, though, people won't know much about the team until sometime in January.

Coach Talk 

Syracuse plays UConn tomorrow. Pitt has the week off, and apparently the Pitt coaching staff has been out on the recruiting trail for the first half of the week while the players had light workouts. I guess that is part of the reason for no news out of Pitt football.

A puff piece on Junior linebacker, J.J. Horne. Horne leads Pitt in sacks -- with 3 1/2. One notebook piece focusing on offensive lineman Charles Spencer. Spencer converted from defensive tackle during training camp to help provide some needed depth on the line.

Since Syracuse still has a game to play, the media hasn't had a chance to talk to Syracuse Coach Paul Pasqualoni about his season on the hot seat. So instead, the media talked to Walt Harris and what he thought about what Pasqualoni's season on the hot seat. And we have two perspectives. From the aforementioned notebook by Zeise:
A bizarre sequence took place after practice when a television reporter asked coach Walt Harris his thoughts on the plight of Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni, who might be fired at the end of the season. Fans have called for Pasqualoni's job and he has also reportedly received threats.

Harris busted out in laughter when asked if he could "feel for what that guy is going through?"

"I don't know quite how to take that," said Harris, who has been on the hot seat this season. "I mean, like it doesn't happen anywhere else?"

Then here is Bendel's version:
Harris, whose team is off this weekend before playing at Syracuse a week from Saturday, laughed at the irony of the situation when a question was posed about Pasqualoni's current state of affairs in upstate New York.

Harris knows a thing or two about being scrutinized, despite leading the Panthers to four consecutive bowl games and to a 5-2 record this season.

"I don't know how quite to take that," Harris said, when asked if he feels for his colleague. "It's (not) like it doesn't happen anywhere else, you know?"

Harris flashed a sly grin after making that statement.

Either way, it looks like Coach Harris has acquired a sense of humor (gallows humor?).

Finally, from a question to Sportsline writer, Greg Doyel:

Looking into your crystal ball ... do you think the Big East breaks up in five or so years (football schools in one group, non-football schools in the other)? Seems to make sense for the football side to eliminate the "hybrid" situation that plagued the conference prior to being plundered by the ACC. Regardless, the football schools would make a leaner, and perhaps meaner basketball conference: UConn, WVU, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, USF, Rutgers.

Most observers expect one more aftershock from last summer's expansion, and for that shock to involve the Big East and (maybe) Notre Dame. How it all plays out, and when, I can't say. But you're asking me to guess, so here it goes: The Big East football schools break off and convince Notre Dame to join them in a new Division I-A league, while the Big East's leftovers (Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, etc.) pick off a few A-10 schools for their basketball-only league.

This was something I hoped they would do right away (still don't see the ND part happening, but that's another issue). I was pissed when they didn't. Hindsight suggests they didn't split immediately because the football schools needed Tranghese and his close relations with the other conferences built up over the year to preserve the BCS connection. Tranghese had made public statements that he would not be commissioner either conference if the Big East split between the football and basketball-only schools. Therefore, the only thing to do (in the short term) is go to the present situation. The split will happen and both sides will want it to happen in a few years. A few years with the awkward basketball schedule and they'll be screaming for it.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Football Coaches Speculation 

Let's face it, this goes on all season anyways, but this past weekend with Ron Zook actually being declared a lame duck by his AD and Penn State's baseball game with Iowa, speculation about coaching changes is the topic. So there are a couple of articles discussing where coaching changes might take place. From SI.com:
It may seem strange that the Panthers, at 5-2, would appear so high on this list. But the Pittsburgh media, still stuck in the Dan Marino/Tony Dorsett era, have been calling for coach Walt Harris' head since last year's disappointing 7-5 finish and shifted into high gear when the Panthers struggled to open this season. Harris' agent, Bob LaMonte, even called out the school for its handling of his client, never the sign of a happy future together. Ironically, Harris' team could still win the Big East and secure a BCS berth. Anything much less, though, and he could be a goner. The first name on everyone's tongue will be Pitt alumn Dave Wannstedt, whose days with the Miami Dolphins appear numbered, but there's no guarantee he'll be interested. The program has tradition and wonderful new facilities but faces an uphill climb returning to national respectability while playing in the depleted Big East.
This meme that Walt is being driven out by the media is starting to get silly. That may seem strange coming from me since I have been commenting about certain columnists who have been going after him since the start of training camp (Smizik and Cook). The fact is that the Pitt fans turned on Walt after UConn and "slide right." That was it. Even some of the staunchest supporters had to say, "Okay. Fine, time to go, Walt." Follow that up with being forced to come from behind to beat Temple. It wasn't the media that caused Harris to be forced to stop taking calls on his radio show because they couldn't take the chance even with a screener. Even after last season, no sports writer actually called for Harris' head. I think one or two "asked questions" about Harris and the team's direction, but no one was calling for his firing.

Then this standard from Sportsline:

Walt Harris' agent Bob LaMonte called out the administration a couple of weeks ago saying his client was being hung out to dry.

"If they're going to fire him," LaMonte was quoted as saying. "They should have fired him before the season."

The problem, if it is one, is Harris is teetering between a Big East title and the BCS bowl that goes with it and another Insight Bowl. An Insight might get Harris fired. If Pittsburgh wins the Big East, Harris ought to demand a raise and extension. He makes $600,000 per year through 2006.

Swing game date: Nov. 13 at Notre Dame. Harris has to win this one to set up the Nov. 25 clash with West Virginia.

Of course, Pitt actually needs to beat Syracuse on Nov. 6 first. Something I find silly to take for granted considering Pitt under Harris has only won once at the Carrier Dome. Actually, what makes this article curious is the rumor it gives when discussing the pending opening at Illinois, "Oklahoma offensive coordinator Chuck Long, Pittsburgh coach Walt Harris and Boise State's Dan Hawkins have been mentioned." I don't know what to say to that.


Press Release News 

Supplemented with some coaches comments from Big East Media Day. Yesterday evening Pitt finally released its own press release on Taft and Krauser being pre-season 1st team all-Big East and Pitt being picked for 3rd in the Big East. The 1990-91 season was the last time Pitt had 2 players on the 1st team with Brian Shorter and Jason Matthews. While Coach Jamie Dixon and senior players Chevon Troutman, Yuri Demetrius and Mark McCarroll were at media day for Pitt, they weren't quoted much in today's stories. That means we can expect some more stories from the papers in the next couple of days.

Instead, the stories used comments from other coaches about how good Pitt is:
"They deserve it," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who returns all five starters from his Sweet 16 team of a year ago. "They've proven themselves over the course of time."
...
"They just keep getting better," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team was picked to finish fourth. "The thing about Pittsburgh is, they lose these guys who have been around forever, then they replenish with guys who you feel like have been around forever. They've really built things up there, and they deserve to be right up there with the best."

"Every year, we're talking about Pittsburgh now, aren't we?" Boeheim said.

I like the comment from Mike Brey. It does describe to a fair degree how Pitt has been able to let their roster slowly change each year, while still feeling a strong sense of continuity and connection -- that you have been watching the same guys for years.

Of course, Brey also considers West Virginia to be the "sleeper" team in the Big East this year so... No, they are decent, it's just that the top half of the Big East is so good that it will be hard to crack.

This year, the Big East will be competing with the ACC for the reputation as the toughest conference. The ACC, as always, has the pre-season hype. Syracuse Coach, Jim Boeheim, thinks the Big East could be at its best, and with the plethora of big men in the conference there is reason to believe it is more than blowing smoke.

Coach Dixon, like me, was surprised that Troutman wasn't named to the 2nd team.

The issue of 2005-06 couldn't help but be raised despite the attempts to focus on this season. UConn coach Jim Calhoun is pushing to split the Big East back to 2 divisions to create more home-and-home games and rivalries, but it doesn't seem likely he will get his wish. The Big East tried that, as did conferences like C-USA, but found that imbalances occurred and it hurt the conferences in getting teams into the NCAA Tournament.

Calhoun has also admitted that he is using next year as a part of the recruiting strategy:
Tranghese might not want to talk about the future of the league, but his coaches already are thinking ahead to what it's going to be like. And they're not shy in telling prospective recruits about the next era of Big East basketball.

"I started using it on the recruiting trail this year," Calhoun said. "I tell them when you come here, you'll be joining the best basketball conference ever put together. Next year, it will get even better."

I know the incoming teams have been using it as a selling point, and I have to imagine all the coaches have.

Everyone can't help but talk about next year right now. It is part of the pre-season filler, and will be a side story in all Big East games this year when the announcers start running out of things to talk about over the action. Once the season starts, though, I look forward to it fading to the background for a while.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Tomorrow's Press Release News, Today 

This works out well for the Pittsburgh media, who could use something about Pitt to write about during a bye week. The Big East released a flurry of press releases. Let's start with the mundane. Propaganda possibly coming to a Fox Sports Net station near you, "Inside the Big East.
The half-hour program, which will be driven by features on BIG EAST student-athletes, will debut on December 31. Nivea for Men will be the presenting sponsor of the show.

"We're excited about the launch of Inside The BIG EAST," said BIG EAST Commissioner Michael Tranghese. "It's going to be another vehicle for us to be able tell compelling stories about the people and teams in our conference."

The show will be telecast on numerous regional cable networks throughout BIG EAST markets as well as nationally on CSTV. To date, Inside The BIG EAST has been cleared on CSTV, MSG Network in New York, Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Fox Sports Pittsburgh, and Cox Sports Television of Rhode Island.

According to the press release, the company that is producing it does TV propaganda for Rutgers, Villanova, Seton Hall and St. John's. They also do stuff for the Yankees.

The slightly more important information are the coaches pre-season votes. The pre-season player of the year is Ryan Gomes of Providence and rookie is Rudy Gay of UConn. I'm saying by the end of the year it will be Josh Boone of UConn or Chris Taft of Pitt (darkhorse Hakim Warrick, Syracuse). For Rookie, I don't know the other teams well enough, but I think Gay won't get enough time in another loaded UConn team. On the pre-season All-Big East team, Krauser and Taft were named to the 1st team. Once more, Chevon Troutman was overlooked. How he was passed over in favor of Whitney from Seton Hall and Sumpter at 'Nova is beyond me.

Then, the "big" one. The coaches pre-season Big East Coaches poll.

  1. Syracuse (9) 119
  2. Connecticut (2) 106
  3. Pittsburgh (1) 100
  4. Notre Dame 88
  5. Boston College 78
  6. Providence 69
  7. Villanova 59
  8. Seton Hall 56
  9. West Virginia 43
  10. Rutgers 42
  11. Georgetown 21
  12. St. John’s 11
* First-place votes in parentheses
Last year, Pitt was picked to be 4th in the Big East. Obviously the Big East coaches are not underestimating Pitt like last year -- unlike many pre-season polls that have ND ahead of us. I think that is about right in the pre-season for Pitt. I have questions about ND's heart. I think BC might be better.

It's hard to argue Syracuse and UConn at one and two. I might flip it because UConn has so much talent, but considering they lost Gordon and Okafor it is understandable. Syracuse has just about the same team from last year back plus a supposedly ready to play Billy Edelin to resume at PG and allow McNamara to get back to shooting guard. (Did Pitt even try to recruit McNamara? This kid from Scranton, PA ends up at Syracuse, and I've never heard that Pitt even made an attempt. It haunted Pitt last year at the Pete, and I fear it will again.)

Now I have to ask if the Pitt Athletic Department has taken the rest of the week off? These press releases aren't up on the Pitt site. Nor have they bothered putting up even the partial transcript from the Walt Harris press conference from Monday. I guess they figure if the football team has a bye week, so do they. I mean, the AP had a write-up based on the press releases out rather early this morning.

Hey, A Recruit 

Pitt got a solid verbal from Oderick Turner out of New Jersey. Turner is both a defensive back and wide receiver. While Tom Lemming at ESPN listed Turner as the 25th best safety in high school, the 6'3" 185 pound kid is coming to Pitt primarily as a WR. Turner is considered the 28th or 29th best player in New Jersey. His father, Odessa Turner, was an NFL WR for the Giants and 49ers from 1987-1993. He chose Pitt over NC St., Wisconsin, Syracuse and Indiana.

Bendel's Inside the Big East column for ESPN.com doesn't really say anything new.

Gene Collier has some fun picturing a Pitt-Penn St. game this year, with Penn St. winning 4-3.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Preparing for Basketball Season 

The Pitt Fan Fest is this Saturday, and a week later Pitt plays its first exhibition game (against the Tartans of Carnegie Mellon). The Fan Fest also features a video game competition for the students -- you can win t-shirts!

Some Pitt students feel like the ticket system screwed them (via CollegeBasketball Blog). I have no way of confirming if there was a problem.

The Big East is still trying to figure out how it will schedule the b-ball games as a 16 team bloated behemoth of a conference (my abbreviated feelings about the New Big East Basketball conference from last year are here -- I'm going to have to update and maybe detail a little more my thoughts someday).
Big East presidents face an important decision when they meet November 2: How many league games should teams play starting next season? There will be 16 members after Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, Cincinnati and South Florida join, so a double round-robin is out of the question. The presidents want to avoid a sense of detachment inside the league, so it's almost certain all teams will play each other once. The issue is whether teams should play a home-and-home series against one rival (for a 16-game schedule) or three (18 games). Some athletic directors and coaches prefer the 16-game format because of concern league members will beat up one another and hurt their pursuit of NCAA Tournament at-large berths. . . .
It will also come down to money. Pitt has just about all their non-cons at home. They wouldn't like to lose even one or two home game receipts. I suspect other teams may have similar feelings.

ESPN.com with Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook has its look at all teams. Unfortunately, to see the teams it is subscription only -- ESPN Insider, except for free previews of UConn (and Wake Forest). The reviews are rather long, so I can't really excerpt the whole Pitt preview without running into some nasty copyright violation issues. I think, though, looking at their preview, they expect Pitt to be around #3-5 in the Big East.

UConn
BACKCOURT: A-
BENCH/DEPTH: A-
FRONTCOURT: A-
INTANGIBLES: A
Syracuse
BACKCOURT: A-
BENCH/DEPTH: B+
FRONTCOURT: A-
INTANGIBLES: A+
Notre Dame
BACKCOURT: A
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: B
INTANGIBLES: A
Providence
BACKCOURT: B+
BENCH/DEPTH: B-
FRONTCOURT: A
INTANGIBLES: B+

Boston College
BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: B+
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: C+

Pitt
BACKCOURT: B
BENCH/DEPTH: B
FRONTCOURT: B+
INTANGIBLES: A

Essentially for Pitt, like last year, they think the losses of key players creates a lot of questions. It's part of the reason Pitt is where it is in the pre-season rankings. The talent is there, but how will it work this year? I think they overrate Providence and Notre Dame a bit and underrate Boston College.

I'll give my predictions for the conference this year, next week.

Penn State, Pitt, and Ohio State 

As chaotic as this season has been so far for us Panther fans, it could -- as always -- be worse in that we could be Nittany Lion fans. Penn State's 6-4 loss to Iowa in nine innings has dropped the Nittany Lion nation to an all-time low. Never has the Altoona Mirror or the Centre Daily Times been so down on Paterno. As Chas reported yesterday, never has there been such a strong chorus for Paterno to step down on the internet. And trust me, it isn't just on the internet. Both the radio and television sports talk shows in Altoona have been almost unanimously venomous towards the old guy. And we can all certainly understand the anger. Paterno told Lion fans over the winter that things would be better this year. But despite the introduction of new offensive coordinator Galen Hall (who was pretty good everywhere else he's ever coached), this year is even worse.

You could almost pity Lion fan if you could get past how pitiless he was towards us when we were down on the ground during the Paul Hackett era. Fortunately, I'm not mature enough to get past that yet. Just ask my wife.

So for now, Penn State will have to deal with being ranked on ESPN's Bottom 10 list, as well as being ranked behind Pitt by the Associated Press, the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and even CollegeFootballNews.com (Pitt #36, PSU #58). And although it's admittedly very early in the season and we Pitt fans are all too aware of how things can change (more on Anthony Morelli later), our current recruiting class is ranked ahead of Penn State's by Rivals (Pitt #38, PSU #69). Not bad, given that our head coach's tenure is even more unstable than Paterno's.

So what can Penn State do to turn this all around? Well, I can't bring myself to say that Paterno must go just yet. After all, he hasn't drug that program down far enough for my liking (I won't be happy until they stop drawing 100,000 fans every Saturday while we only draw 42,000). But perhaps the re-introduction of a real rivalry might spark the Lions out of their cloud of underachievement. Now pardon me while I shamelessly reprint some material from one of my own posts.

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 (especially the younger ones) 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. Plus, I know from repeated experience that wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt into Beaver Stadium 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 Big Ten Conference 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. 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. (Heck, the Ohio State-Michigan game is even sponsored now.) On the other hand, 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 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 career. Heck, many of your more knowledgeable fans demand it.

Of course, I bring all of this up because Penn State has to go into Columbus and play Ohio State this Saturday (fortunately for me, Pitt has a bye). The rumor on the "Press Box" (a public access channel sports call-in show in Altoona... think of Stan and Guy on a couch behind a card table) is that former-Panther-star-recruit-turned-Nittany-Lion Anthony Morelli will start... and quickly learn why he should have gone to a school with a better offensive line... or at least some semblance of an offense (four points!?). The line came out at 5.5 and quickly moved down to 4. Personally, I don't think Ohio State can cover either. The Buckeyes aren't nearly as good as either Wisconsin or Iowa, and lost to each a lot worse than the Nittany Lions did. Penn State has a better defense than Ohio State, and OSU's offense is almost as bad as the Nits's. But because Ohio State has kicker Mike Nugent and home field advantage, I still think that OSU will eek out another win here. But it will be close, and an upset is definitely possible.

Hail to Ohio State's beating Penn State. And more importantly to this website, hail to Paterno's getting out of the way of the Pitt-Penn State rivalry soon. For Penn State's own good.

Slow Day 

Expect some basketball stories in the next couple of days. There just won't be much Pitt football news with a bye week.

A puff piece on Palko's development and the terrifying shovel pass he's been doing lately. Scares the crap out of me everytime he does it.

Pitt Center Justin Belarski hurt his right arm during the game, missing a few series, but is expected to be fine for Syracuse.

Despite the blowout, back-up QB Joe Flacco saw no action. Harris made excuses, but I don't buy them. He just doesn't give the 2nd team QB even a sniff of game action, once he's got his QB. It's maddening. Especially after that Louisville-Miami game where Louisville barely missed a beat with their back-up in part because Petrino made a conscious effort in every game prior to give the back-up some real playing time.

If You Read One Column Today... 

Make it Starkey's column. All of it. Here's a taste.
Far from a surprise, this is shaping up as a typical Walt Harris season in so many ways.

He does an excellent job of developing quarterbacks (see Tyler Palko), always produces a game-breaking receiver (see Greg Lee) and wins more than he loses.

He beats up the lousy non-conference teams (of which there are many) and defeats the bad conference teams.

He also loses a game or two that he should win, confounds the general public with inexplicable maneuvers and rarely springs an upset against a highly-ranked opponent. In eight years, Harris has yet to defeat a team that finished the same season ranked in the Top 15.

He effectively sums it all up.


Odds and Ends Post 

A few items to toss out. Some obviously need to be looked at later in depth, and some can be taken for what they are.

The Rutgers win gave Pitt two more Big East Player of the Week Honors.

Josh "Sunshine" Cummings received his second Special Teams Player of the Week award. Reading the press release, you can see that Pitt is now starting to push him for the Lou Groza Award ("The emerging Lou Groza Award candidate...").

Josh Lay earned co-Defensive Player of the Week honors. He shares it with West Virginia's Adam "Pac-Man" Jones.

SI.com's Stewart Mandel puts Pitt amongst 5 teams on the season turnaround.
Pittsburgh (5-2): A quick refresher: The Panthers, facing the daunting task of replacing QB Rod Rutherford and WR Larry Fitzgerald, opened the season completing just six passes against Ohio, then lost to Nebraska, squeezed by I-AA Furman and lost to Connecticut. But after upsetting Boston College and routing Rutgers, Walt Harris' team actually controls its own destiny in the Big East (they host first-place West Virginia on Nov. 25). Sophomore QB Tyler Palko had his best game so far against the Scarlet Knights, going 27-of-43 for 318 yards and three TDs.
This turnaround is only good until next week's game. Stumble up in Syracuse, and the season is back in the toilet. Not trying to be negative, I'm just not taking Syracuse for granted at this point.

With Zook being fired at the end of the season at Florida, yet another top program will be looking for a new coach. To some degree that will impact Pitt and the rest of the Big East. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel lists 5 candidates. No. 1 is obviously Steve Spurrier. Bob Stoops is #2. Urban Meyer is getting priced up to the penthouse at this rate at #3. The last two are a bit more intriguing.
4. Rich Rodriguez: He's home at West Virginia, and he's winning, and he's a big fish in the smaller Big East pond. Would he be interested in the bigger pond?

5. Bobby Petrino: His Louisville team made Miami work for 60 minutes, and he proved last season that he's willing to leap at an SEC job, even if it's still filled.

Guess it's time for the Hoopies and Cardinals to re-re-work some contracts.

This final tidbit is for Pat to help fill in the details.
For what it's worth, Brad Cline, a candidate for the Pennsylvania legislature, promises that, if elected, he will introduce legislation requiring Penn State and Pittsburgh to play every season. . .
Cline was endorsed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I know nothing about him (though apparently Turzai, his opponent, is a little worried). Here's his site, and a press release on it. I know Florida and FSU are required by Florida law to play annually, so this isn't unprecedented. This sort of thing has been tossed around a few times, but nothing has ever come of it.

Monday, October 25, 2004

We're Just Glad to be Here... 

The Pitt News echoes other local media and highlights DelSardo and Lee's performances.

Young DelSardo does a bit of "aw, shucks"-ing when recounting his highlight-reel catch:

"It seemed a little high," DelSardo said. "And with me being as short as I am, I didn't think I could get two hands on it, so I went up with one and pulled it in."

Afterwards, Lee and DelSardo let the logrolling begin:

Both Palko and Harris acknowledged the growth in the receiving corps, improvement which both Lee and DelSardo attributed to pushing each other through competition in practice.
"Anytime you have somebody who is a very good receiver who pushes you to be a better receiver, it makes both of you better," Lee said.

"Whenever there is competition, it always pushes you to be better," DelSardo echoed. He went on to say that this group of receivers has a chance to be one of the best the school has ever seen, despite the alumni of Wide Receiver U.

Of course, they both make sure the program gets its due:

"When you have a lot of great names like Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Latef Grim, you feel like you always have big shoes to fill," he (Delsardo) said. "It's a tough task to fill shoes like that, but I think with each game we are progressing."
Lee also described the pressures of continuing Pitt's tradition of wide-receiver excellence as a daunting task.

"When you come to a school like this, you start to feel like you owe it to the program to be a very good wide receiver because of the legacy that has been here," he said. "You sort of take it on your shoulders and do extra work to be the best and keep the legacy going."

Say what you will about these lads, but they seem to already know how to roll out the cliches. Does ol' Walt make these guys watch "Bull Durham" after every practice or do they just come by it naturally? Enquiring minds want to know...

The Bye Week 

A week of meaningless blather and speculation. No game to look towards this weekend, so the sportswriters have to find stories, do puff pieces and just pull stuff out of their ass to fill the column space.

Let's face it the script has changed. We did not expect to be 5-2 after the first 4 games. Wins and losses. It's amazing how that loss at UConn seemed to make everything so clear about how lost over this season was; then that win over BC tossed the script out the window. Now, no one knows what to do or think.

Now, Pitt is faced with an unexpected dilemma. The Panthers (5-2, 3-1) have climbed back into the Big East race with back-to-back wins over Boston College and Rutgers, and Harris - who had coached the Panthers to four straight bowl games - is suddenly in position to leave the school with egg on its face.

Pitt may be young, but sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko, who picked apart Rutgers for 318 yards and three touchdowns, has a bright future. This is a team headed in the right direction. The Panthers, who dusted off the Scarlet Knights, 41-17, Saturday at Heinz Field, have two conference games remaining - at Syracuse Nov. 6 and home for league favorite West Virginia Nov. 25. If Panthers win both, they would win the Big East title on tiebreakers and earn a spot in a BCS game, mostly likely the Fiesta Bowl.

It is hard to believe that Harris, who has two seasons remaining on his $600,000-a-year contract, wants to stay. But if he wins seven games, he may have a choice. And if he wins the Big East, he should ask for a raise.

If he wins the Big East he, would get a raise and an extension. I think the school and the fans could live with a little embarrassment in that case. Still this came from a NYC sportswriter and the last time guys in NYC actually cared about college football, Fordham was a power. I mean just look at his top-25 at the bottom of the column.

Tim Murphy finally returned in the Rutgers game. He ripped off a couple of nice runs, caught some passes, and did some good blocking as fullback. His return, though, really creates a logjam in the backfield. Especially when Marcus Furman returns from his concussion.

Well, we may not know what to think about all of this, but the players do. They believe.
"We're taking it one game at a time, but you can't help thinking about the Big East title and a trip to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl hanging out there," [Greg] Lee said. "That's the goal we set at the beginning of the season and we're on our way."

Lee, however, conceded that he wasn't always sure about this Panthers team.

He recalled early-season struggles in losses to Nebraska and Connecticut, and skin-of-their-teeth wins over Division I-AA Furman and Big East cellar-dweller Temple.
...
"People have a tendency of writing people off when things go bad, but I can also see good things happening," said [Tyler] Palko, who went 27-of-43 for 318 yards with three scores and one interception in the blowout of Rutgers. "You have to get your feet wet and learn. We took that path at the beginning of the season. But we're not going to make excuses anymore because we're young."

Palko believes a winning attitude is permeating the program.

"I think winning solves a lot of problems in how you believe, mentally," said Palko, who led West Allegheny High to three consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles, in addition to a state crown. "Sometimes people don't come from winning programs and they need to learn how to win. I think the guys are starting to do that. Once we realize that no one person is bigger than the whole program, that's when it will come together. We're almost there, but we're not there yet. Hopefully, I'll be able to let you know we're there when we're playing for the BCS (berth)."

I've said it before. The players should believe, they should have confidence, and they should be backing Coach Harris. Leave all the doubts, fears and questions about Harris to the fans and media. And let's see some of this winning translated into some new gets in recruiting.

As pointed out by Lee, Joe DelSardo's one handed catch was the ESPN Top Play.

This brings us to a place where the receivers can't hold onto the ball. Penn State. I was warned not to talk to my dad about this game. I had spoken with my grandma Sunday morning and brought up the game. Ever hear a head shake over the phone? She just told me that dad was not in a mood to even hear the name Penn State and Joe Paterno. So sad, and his Paterno's other son may become his Congressman, just to add to the misery. I feel I have to bring this up, because the fans are just not rallying behind Joe Paterno. The relentlessly upbeat PSU Weblog echoed a lot of their fans' sentiment.

LET'S GO . . .oh, what's the use.
This is sad. You have Penn State fans giving into conspiracy theories, demanding JoePA go, and apologizing to Chad Henne for going to Michigan all at once.
It is painful. It is embarrassing. And if no one on the Penn State campus or in the Paterno home has the guts to tell Joe, then let me be the man. GET OUT. NOW. Don't wait for the end of the season, because it will be over anyway. If you think you are doing a good job preparing these kids to play, then you are wrong. You are hurting this program in ways I never thought imaginable. Don't question me--I have been writing about PSU football for five years now so I know what the hell I'm talking about. I feel my pain.
...
Galen Hall is taking up space on the sidelines. I watched him on the sidelines, rather than the offense--it was more interesting. I don't even see him communicating with anyone. He looks like he'd rather be someplace else. When we have the ball, I wish I were someplace else, so I can't blame him. I have resisted the conspiracy theory from the outset, but it is becoming painfully clear that Hall is not running this offense. This is the same Jay Paterno inspired offense we have come to loathe for the past four years. And if Hall wasn't brought in to change the offense, then the only logical premise is that he was brought in just to get rid of Fran. And extrapolating on that . . . Fran was removed to lay open the way for someone else to succeed Joe. Either that, or Galen has lost his touch. But, I digress.
...
I also want to apologize to Chad Henne, who I was harsh on for his decision to spurn PSU. You made a good choice, and you couldn't help us--you would only be sitting on the bench here. I feel equally bad for Morelli, and I only hope that whatever promises were made to him are being kept. We have only our word and an education to offer recruits anymore.
I know Penn State fans are feeling down, but this is no time to quit. You have to rally behind Joe. Give him another extension. Show him some more love. Leave that negativity and callousness behind. It isn't you. Rise above it.

Late, Late, Late, Way Late Media Recap 

At this point, I'll keep it short. Pitt slayed them. Pitt with the early blow-out then cruise control.

Ron Cook appears to be willing to consider eating some crow while throwing laurels to Greg Lee and Joe DelSardo.

Josh Lay's big game was a popular storyline. As was Joe DelSardo.

Mike Prisuta still sees room for improvement (it was only Rutgers, you know).

Goose Goslin gives much love to Tyler Palko -- for both his game and his attitude.

Paul Zeise's Q&A column seems to be a lot of arguments over bias. He does have solid defenses of Harris, Rhoads and even Dave Wannstedt.

Meanwhile in New Jersey...

Seems kind of weird to read this about another school this year.
Just when it seemed the Knights had something to play for over the second half of the season -- which they had many fans believing heading into yesterday's game against Pittsburgh -- they no longer do. Not realistically anyway.

With four games left against opponents that are a combined 22-6, the only suspense now for Rutgers is whether there's another victory left this fall.

It was hard to make a case for that after the erratic Panthers seemed to put it all together in a 41-17 laugher over Rutgers before a crowd of 41,232 at Heinz Field.

Truth be told, the Knights (4-3 overall, 1-2 Big East) were exactly what every homecoming opponent is supposed to be: Short work for the guys in the dark uniforms.

Even the disturbingly upbeat Rutgers weblog is feeling a darkened mood.

A QB throws 4 INT and fumbles, there are going to be questions about the wisdom of still playing him. Rutgers head coach is staying with Hart.

The overall "grades" for Rutgers are lousy for this game.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Rutgers-Pitt: Recapping Homecoming and the Last Road Trip 

Please forgive a little too much sentimentality. In what has already been a strange season, it is even stranger that this was my last roadie to the 'Burgh. Technically we have one more home game, but I'm now an old, settled fart with a family and kind of satisfied with that. I can't take off on Thanksgiving day for the Backyard Brawl and expect to remain married (I know, seems unreasonable).

As was oft repeated on Saturday, by many, "I hate noon games." Just doesn't work well for tailgating. Too early to feel up to putting away much in the way of burgers, dogs and beers at 9:30-10 am. Afterwards, it seems too early in the afternoon to party when you still have the night ahead of you (either to go out or drive home).

The only recollection to the nooners from the student days was non-existent. Or as Lee put it, "I didn't f***in' go to them in college. Why the f**k am I doing it now?" The difference, I suppose, is we can only get together for the games, so the incentive is as much to gather to drink, talk and abuse Shawn as it is to see the game.

The weather was excellent. High 50s/low 60s. Mostly sunny, light breeze. Very warm for late October, and the last home game for a month.

Enough of that. On to the game. Unlike Lee, I haven't watched SportsCenter or College GameDay this morning. Not really by choice, but that's not the point (I really want to kill that red, furry muppet). I have 24+ hour recollections to work from with nothing but the boxscore, drive chart and play by play to help. I'm going to keep this short, because this game was effectively over in the first half. As *ahem* improved as Rutgers may be, to paraphrase Dana Stubblefield from the 49ers in the in the early 90's, they are still the "same old sorry-ass Rutgers."

Argument from the parking lot carried over prior to game time as to the over under on points in the game (45 1/2). There was a leaning towards taking the over based on the piss-poor pass defenses of both teams, but neither team has exactly translated the yardage to a lot of points this year. I think I was leaning towards under, because neither team could get to 20 in regulation last week. Good thing I don't bet.

Pitt looked solid right from the start. First drive, right down the field for that amazing one-handed-snag in the endzone from DelSardo. 80 yards in just under 3 minutes. Palko was 4-4 for 71 yards on the drive. Rutgers' pass defense was as porous as advertised.

Rutgers looked nervous and went 3 and out. But Pitt gave the ball back on a poorly thrown ball that was intercepted. Despite having the ball just in the Pitt side, Rutgers only got to the 30. They settled for a 48 yard field goal. 7-3 Pitt.

Pitt went backwards and 3 and out. Punting from the 11, Graessle punted a 49 yard hanger that was returned for -1 yards. The defense though, could expect the pass given Rutgers limited running game. Tyrone Gilliard, the defensive back, intercepted the ball to even the turnover battle.

The turnovers killed Rutgers. Their QB threw 4 interceptions and had a fumble. 3 interceptions in the first half led to 21 points including that spectacular interception by Josh Lay taken back 82 yards for a score. Lay finally cracked the starting line-up, displacing freshman Mike Phillips. Lay tends to try and hang back then break on the ball. He has great closing speed so he can take some chances like that.

I can imagine how sick to the stomach Rutgers fans were, by the end of the first half. Pitt was up 38-3. The game was already over. It would take a Houston Oilers vs. the Buffalo Bills playoff style collapse for them to win. In the stands we were laughing and arguing that if Pitt got up by 50 we would just go back to the parking lot for an early celebration.

I guess if Rutgers fans want to find a positive, it's that their team at least put some second-half points on the board and actually made those of us in the stands start to rumble nervously in the 3rd quarter. Rutgers had two straight big drives for touchdowns, and Pitt seemed to be sitting on the lead rather than trying to step on their neck.

The Pitt defense stiffened, though, after that. They forced Rutgers into 2 straight 3 and outs; and Pitt added a field goal to make it 41-17. Then, as Rutgers seemed to be answering with another big drive, Hart threw his 4th interception to Darrelle Revis at the 1 yardline with a little less than 10 minutes left in the game.

That seemed to break their spirit. Even with 2 consecutive blocked punts and some great field position, Rutgers got nothing other than some yardage. They ended up with more total yards than Pitt (417 to 378), but they couldn't get into the endzone.

For Pitt, this was a good, solid win. For once they never looked like they were clueless and struggling against a clearly inferior team. They actually appeared to know what they were doing. Pitt now has a bye week to get ready for Syracuse and then Notre Dame.

Only other thing to note, was that Pitt's new merchandising deal with Adidas has yielded a great new throwback hat,


that Lee and I were drooling over. Neither of us could pull the trigger on the buy at the time. They also have a fitted version.

SportsCenter's Top Ten Plays for October 23 

Despite all of the great plays that happened in both college football and the World Series yesterday (including Paul Peterson's last second pass to Tony Gonzalez to take Boston College past Notre Dame and Mark Belhorn's 8th inning home run off the foul pole that put the Red Sox over the top in game one), SportsCenter's number one play for October 23 (given during the "Top Ten Plays" segment) was Joe DelSardo's jaw-dropping one-handed catch that put the Panthers up 7-0 at the end of their first drive. Given that Pitt-Rutgers was a relatively unimportant, second-tier, blowout game to most of the country, that's kind of impressive.

From where the PSB crew sits in Section 132, we had the perfect angle to catch DelSardo's full extension. I'd swear that I saw the nose of the ball being grasped by only his index and middle fingers at first. In any case, I'm not sure if I ever saw Larry Fitzgerald make that good of a catch... although that one in triple coverage against Texas A&M would have to be a strong contender...

However, I think that the crowd might have been louder for Josh Lay's 82 yard interception return. It helped that he was running into the student section, whereas DelSardo's catch happened at the far end of the field (towards the river).

Overall, it was a great day. Sensational weather for late October in Pittsburgh, good friends, lots of laughs, and a Panthers win over a potentially troubling opponent. However, our ground attack was still very weak (we got 317 yards through the air, but only 82 on the ground). At times, it seemed futile to do anything but throw the ball. And this was against Rutgers, mind you. Just wait until Notre Dame or West Virginia comes around.

Overall, my position on Walt Harris remains unchanged. He should have beaten Rutgers and he did. Unless he beats either Notre Dame or West Virginia, Pitt should let him move on to a likely successful career as an offensive coordinator in the NFL. 6-5 or even 7-4 aren't good enough, given the disappointment of last year and (as Chas put it) the overall direction (or lack thereof) of the program.

So hail to Pitt's upsetting the Irish or the Hoopies. Heck, if Boston College could win in South Bend...

Friday, October 22, 2004

Rutgers-Pitt: Your Guess Is As Good As Mine 

So which Pitt team will show up tomorrow? The team with a struggling D that needed overtime to beat Furman and had to come from behind to beat Temple? Or the one with the questionable offense that lost to UConn and Nebraska? Or will the team that showed up on both sides of the ball last week to beat BC be returning for a second week?

How about Rutgers? The team that played one of its best games in defeating Michigan St.? The one that decided not to rollover and came back against Vanderbilt? Or the team that struggled to beat Temple? Perhaps the team that had Syracuse beaten, then gave it away in the final minutes? Maybe the team that lost to New Hampshire?

Fans on both sides should like their chances. Fans on both sides have no idea what will happen.

Rutgers does seem to know how important this game is. The winner would just need one more win in 4 chances to be bowl eligible and have a winning season. Something Rutgers hasn't experienced since Bush 41 was in the White House.

Say this for being a Rutgers QB in the last 10 years. They produce quality NFL back-ups like Mike McMahon and Ray Lucas. Ryan Hart, the junior starting QB, is the latest.

Pitt tight ends, Erik Gill and Steve Buches, get a nice piece. They've done a nice job trying to fill the shoes of Kris Wilson, and especially doing a lot of blocking to help the O-line.

Starkey gives the Pitt D some love for their numerous goal line stands so far this season. The AP even has a wire article previewing the Rutgers-Pitt game.

Finally a puff piece on incoming Big East member Louisville's AD Tom Jurich. Give Jurich the Pederson award for being a ballsy AD. He's the guy that had to kick Denny Crumb to the curb, then replaced him with Pitino. He's 2 for 2 on football coaching hires. First John L. Smith, then replacing him with Petrino after Smith left for Michigan St.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

When and How 

After this post, Lee left a couple of interesting comments:

But if Pitt beats either Notre Dame or (especially) WVU, I'll concede that Walt should stay... of course, his problem with... ...burning bridges in the WPIAL and throughout Central & Western PA's high schools would still be with us, but one can always build new bridges I guess. Incidentally, Chas, I found Joe Bendel's words chilling... only because they so closely echoed what I read for so many years in the Columbus Dispatch about Harris's mentor. Each time John Cooper was about to get fired, he'd suddenly turn into Woody Hayes for five or six games and silence the critics. He'd even beat Michigan on occasion. The Dispatch would tell everybody to back off, and then Coop would drift right back to being John Cooper again. Finally, the frustration with this pattern (that stretched over 12 years) just exploded when he lost to the other USC in the Citrus Bowl and too many of his players got arrested. Those were always patched together excuses for getting rid of Cooper in my mind... Either way, I dread falling into a Cooper-esque pattern with Harris... not that this alone is grounds for dismissal, mind you... I'm just scared...
Of course, Lee's words sent a chill down my spine. And shortly after reading that there were a couple articles discussing coaches on the hot seat. Rod Gilmore at ESPN.com (subs. req'd) brings up Harris in the context of how other than the hot seat, being a head coach doesn't seem worth it.
Harris is on his way out at Pittsburgh even though he turned the program's fortunes around (48-42 in eight years). Harris made the mistake of having a "disappointing" 8-5 record last year, and has "struggled" to a 4-2 record with a young team this season. Pitt's athletic director gave Harris' agent the cold shoulder when the agent requested a contract extension.
Then there was a mid-season review of what coaches were hot and what coaches were on their way out:
Harris worked his way off the "Farewell Tour" list with a 4-2 start, but he's still on the bubble. If his team can win games against Rutgers, Syracuse and South Florida, Harris should be invited back. However, with the administration seemingly looking for any excuse to get rid of him, a 6-5 finish might not be good enough to save his job.
Last year, we saw the Auburn-Tuberville-Lousiville-Petrino fiasco blow up in Auburn's face. That was about wins and losses and not meeting pre-season expectations. We also saw Nebraska fire it's coach Frank Solich after a good season, because of questions about the direction (long term) the program was going in.

There are three reasons that coaches get fired: scandal, direction, but primarily wins and losses. The former 2 often lead to the last so many argue that it really is always about wins and losses. Either view is fine, but what Lee describes as happening at OSU was direction.

It was a long-term trend that took time to clearly see the pattern. It was hard to see, until it culminated in a horrible season where all the problems seemed to have been revealed at once because they weren't winning to cover them up any longer. Then you look back at it, and wonder how you missed the trends. I used to give Lee (and my one brother-in-law) crap all the time about how insane he and his Buckeye fans were in their yearly zeal to fire Cooper. They were right, ultimately, but not for the reasons they often gave.

Pitt is at a point, where Harris -- who should always be acknowledged and Pitt fans should be grateful to for helping to bring back this program to where it is -- is no longer taking the football program in the right direction. His methods and approach for the long-term do not seem particularly healthy. When the beat writers are pointing out how Harris and his staff systematically ignore the recruits right in their own backyard, unless they are top blue chippers, to pursue the same level of talent elsewhere (Ohio and Florida) where there is more competition for the players. You have to worry.

Arguably, the cycle Lee described began for Pitt back in the 2001 season. A team with modest expectations that went 1-5 before recovering to salvage the season and earn a minor bowl bid. This means we aren't that far along (as OSU was) . Considering the relative stature in programs, that is good, because Pitt can't afford to wait as long if we want to see the program reach higher goals in the next few years.

Pitt has almost no choice but to fire Harris from a financial standpoint. He has 2 years left on his contract. They would have to give him an extension if he came back, and that would mean a higher buyout. Considering the level of confidence left in him, and the negative reaction that would get from the fan base (and ticket sales); that just isn't going to happen.

The only good out of this, is that Pitt has the opportunity to face the issue now and make the changes.

The Bad Non-Con 

It's been a month and a half since I bothered complaining about Pitt's weak-ass non-con schedule. Yoni, over at College Basketball Blog has given me reason to bitch a little more. He put together the Strength of Schedule for all top-25 teams in categories of non-con, conference and overall, based on last year's RPI of each team's opponents.

The good news, Pitt doesn't have the worst non-con RPI. Notre Dame blows everyone out of the water for that. The bad news, is Pitt is the second worst non-con RPI.

How bad is it? Despite the excuse of Pitt's difficult conference schedule, there are only 5 teams with worse overall schedule RPI than Pitt: Illinois, Michigan St., Texas, Gonzaga and ND. Four other schools -- Ok. St., Ariz., Louisville and Washington -- are a stone's throw away in overall RPI but still better than Pitt. It's embarrassing and it could end up looking worse by the time this season ends now that the NCAA tweaked the RPI to give more points for road wins -- which Pitt only has one (Penn St.) and one neutral site (Memphis) .

News Lull 

Quiet day in the media. Puff pieces and non-news. This forces me to remind readers of Pitt Sports Blather not to go here. As I said last night this is just wrong and inappropriate. Again, do not go to this site.

Defensive Tackle Dan Stephens gets the puff piece for his academic achievement -- nothing to sneeze at by the way -- and dealing with Type I diabetes. Expand it further and you will have 3 "CoSida Academic All-Americans" on the field at one time. Dan Stephens and Vince Crochunis of Pitt and Center Ray Filch of Rutgers.

Freshman corners Darrelle Revis and Mike Phillips get a nice piece, that seems oddly timed as a notebook hit mentions that Josh Lay could end up starting over Phillips this week.

Finally, now it looks like Fullback Tim Murphy may not be playing again this week. He has missed 4 games.

Just as quiet in New Jersey. Their notebook leads with the observation that the back-up QB has never taken a snap in his 2-year career at Rutgers. Coach Schiano might want to give Coach Harris a call about how well not letting the back-up get any snaps works out. The story also noted that a Rutgers win would give them their first 2-1 start in Big East play ever. Their previous best start had been 1-2 in '94. Until this year they had been 0-3 to start the following 9 times. As always, the key was to have Temple on the schedule early.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Immature and Tasteless 

One of our readers, Matt, e-mailed this. Sooner fans farking Joe Paterno.

I am disgusted. I was repulsed as I went through the pictures on every page and then did it again. This is just disprespectful of a great coach. I for one think this sort of thing should not be tolerated. I am going back to the thread to see what other ones get added so I can again express my disgust and distaste. Shameful.

Long live JoePA at PSU!

Rutgers-Pitt: Health and Direction 

For Pitt, part of the story from BC and this week is the team getting healthy. The offensive line (except for Rob Frederick) was the healthiest and strongest its been all year. While there was still pressure on Palko (and a couple no-call roughing the passer late hits), he was not sacked in the game. Part of that is attributable to his mobility and strength, but the O-line also deserves credit for at least slowing the down the advances. Now fullback Tim Murphy appears fully recovered from a high ankle sprain that had him sidelined since the first game of the season. This can only help the O-line with protection on passing and hopefully help improve the running game further.

Rutgers, on the other hand, has no depth in its secondary because of the accident last week. It's running game has been virtually non-existent, in part due to its own problems with health on the O-line and its starting running back. While their RB, Brian Leonard, should be fully recovered they are still patching people in at the right offensive tackle position. As we've seen, shuffling offensive linemen into another spot on the line is not a great option.

Coach Harris, though, has irked the New Jersey media by either missing or skipping the teleconference with them.
Lots to talk about. Except Walt Harris wasn't talking. The Pittsburgh coach has sealed his lips. Refused to indulge Rutgers' media with the usual 10 or 15 minutes of phone Q-and-A yesterday.

It hasn't been easy being Walt Harris this year, according to some reports. Pitt's late-season slide last year, when a 7-2 start fueled by the brilliant Larry Fitzgerald and QB Rod Rutherford evaporated into an 8-5 finish, left a lot of Panther not-so-faithful disenchanted. Including, the rumors say, athletic director Jeff Long, who wasn't there when the former Jets assistant was named head coach.

Then recruiting took a late hit with a number of critical defections. And both Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News in recent weeks have rumored Pitt grad Dave Wannstadt warming up in the Panther bullpen.

Maybe that's why Harris copped out yesterday. It can't be because he's frightened of the Scarlet Knights, against whom his Pitt teams are 6-1 including five wins in a row.
Well, the Pittsburgh media is trying to take the Scarlet Knights seriously. I don't know why Harris skipped out or missed. I thought he was required to do the teleconference under Big East rules. Seems stupid to miss it.

This brings us to the latest from Bob Smizik. With a Pitt win, there isn't much to bash Harris for this week. So, instead he gets really ahead of the curve by complaining about how bad the Big East is, and will be. You know, this was standard predictable stuff back in June. By August it was overdone. To trot out this dog in late October? At the very least, you save it until the end of the season so it can be excused as a "look back" column. I would say he's been saving it as a filler column, but it does reflect the current games.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Kitchen Sink Post 

Odds and ends before I start drinking early to brace myself for Yankees-Red Sox, Game 6.

The start of basketball practices was this past Saturday. On Friday, the coach and players talked to the media. Pitt finally got around to putting up some of the comments from Coach Jamie Dixon and some of the players like Krauser, Taft and Troutman. I liked this comment from Krauser about practices this year (Pitt got to do some early practices because of their early trip to Canada)
"It's same old Pitt defense, same old Pitt practices. We're going to continue to work hard, play hard, and go out there be aggressive like we usually do, and go to work."
If the offense improves as expected and the defense is even close to what it was last year, I see no reason why this will not be a top-10 team.

Walt Harris' press conference is now available in video feed (Windows Media).

Former Pitt star wide receiver, Antonio Bryant was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Dallas must have just wanted to get rid of him and clear a little salary for next year. Dallas got WR Quincy Morgan, who is inconsistent at best. Morgan is also in the last year of his contract. Well at least there will be someone for me to root for on the Browns when the wife is watching them.

Finally Joe Bendel has his ESPN.com Big East Insider column posted. He uses the dreaded D-word.
Coach Walt Harris endured heavy doses of criticism last week due to remarks made by his agent ("resign him or let him go.") and by all-time great Tony Dorsett ("Pitt is not it."). The veteran coach never flinched. He got his highly criticized team ready for Boston College and led it to a 20-17 overtime upset at Heinz Field. All of a sudden, the Panthers (4-2, 2-1) control their own destiny in the conference and have an air of confidence about them. Two of their final three league games are at home, starting with a Rutgers team they've beaten five years in a row. Senior left tackle Rob Petitti said adversity brings out the best in Harris. "When we start having problems and things are bad, he gets it going," said Petitti, who recalled the 2001 season when the Panthers opened with a 1-5 record, but came back to win six in a row. "He has this way about him."

If the Big East gave out a "Warrior Award," Panthers sophomore quarterback Tyler Palko would be a leading candidate. He is as gritty as it gets and he proved as much when he sprinted down the sideline and drove his shoulder into BC cornerback Peter Shean. The latter ended up flat on his back, with his helmet off of his head. The Pitt bench went wild, and the collision signaled that these Panthers would not be bullied. Pitt went on to control the line of scrimmage, something it's rarely done in two years, and might have found an identity. The offensive line, intact for the first time this season, paved the way for 177 rushing yards against a BC defense that ranked No. 8 in stopping the run. "Things are changing for us," Petitti said. "I don't think we'll get pushed around anymore."

The Pittsburgh defense got stellar play from linebacker H.B. Blades and lineman Dan Stephens in holding BC to 56 rushing yards, 128 below its average. The Panthers also held BC scoreless during two trips inside the 4-yard line. Blades, the son of former University of Miami and NFL star Bennie Blades, had 13 tackles. His average of 9½ tackles per game ranks third in the league. Stephens contributed five tackles, including two for losses. BC came in with a reputation as "O-Line U.," but Stephens repeatedly beat the Eagles up front.
As for Rutgers, well Bendel notes that Pitt should be looking to pass, not necessarily run, against a Rutgers team that was already 106th against the pass before the accident. Of course, Pitt is 100th, so there might be a lot of throwing in this game (Pitt is 69 and Rutgers 86th in Total Defense; 83 and 52 in Total Offense) . Note, that those stats do not include games from this past week.

Preparing for Rutgers 

I'm not sure I can even try to top this from Paul Zeise about Rutgers:
Much like the Energizer bunny, this particular story seems to go on and on and on and on with no end in sight ...

"Rutgers is much improved; they are on the verge of great things."

And those Scarlet Knights are just a year or two away from becoming a perennial powerhouse.

At least that is how the story goes, and usually it is the coach of the team that is getting ready to play the Scarlet Knights that wants to tell it.

The reality has been that the Scarlet Knights never get better and continually seem to lead the country in the unofficial categories of moral victories and heartbreaking losses.

Now Rutgers (4-2, 1-1 in the Big East) is off to its best start in years, and once again there are rumblings that this is the year the Scarlet Knights will earn their first bowl game outside of New Jersey. And since they visit Pitt (4-2, 2-1) Saturday, it is Panthers coach Walt Harris' turn to tell the world how good Rutgers is.

I approve this cynical and sarcastic take. You know, I think Zeise has been given more freedom in his style by his editors this year, and it is definitely a good thing. He will still do the perfunctory notebook reporting pieces on players and status as required from a beat writer, but his other pieces and especially his Q&A are much more entertaining and interesting.

I think the P-G has had no choice but to loosen things up a bit. The Trib. and Joe Bendel has been doing some solid reporting and writing about Pitt the last few years, in fact they generally produce more pieces about Pitt in a given week, so the competition has to have had some effect.

Harris, though is making it clear that Pitt can't sit back and be satisfied with one good game. They have to keep pushing and getting better each time.

Running Back, Ray Kirkley believes the team and the line are definitely getting better. He is now stating that he wants 1,000 yards and to lead the Big East in rushing. Wow. Um, that's quite a pair of goals at this point in the season. It'd be nice, but I don't see that happening. Kirkley has 432 yards and 5 games left. I suppose it could happened, but I doubt either will. UConn's Cornell Brockington has 590 yards on the season to lead the Big East.

Here's something to make you scratch your head. Pitt actually got a vote in the latest AP Writers' poll. And the polls are better than computers because?

On the Rutgers side of things, their head coach, Greg Schiano, seems concerned about containing Tyler Palko both passing and running.
"You see him getting better and better every game. He's not a madman trying to run every play out there," Schiano said of Palko. "And when things aren't there for him, and he (runs) himself, he's very elusive. He's a big man, and when linebackers and defensive backs are smaller than you, it puts you in an advantageous position. We have to make sure he's accounted for. Big, mobile quarterbacks seem to be a trend in college football."
Bigger, faster is the overall trend in football last time I checked.

Rutgers may be very vulnerable to the pass because of the drunk driving accident that hurt two of their cornerbacks. Rutgers was already giving up a lot of passing yards.

Press Conference and Other Things 

The selected transcript of the Walt Harris Press Conference is up (but not the video yet). The first part of his opening statement is well worth reading
"Thanks to all of you people who came today. I appreciate all of you coming. We're excited about playing more four-quarter type football than what we've played so far this year. I think there were some areas of our team that really stepped up and I think you have to give a tremendous amount of credit to the players' preparation. In order to play against Boston College you have to be physical. I think we measured up extremely well in that part of the game. I thought our defense played the run the best we have in a long time. To give up 56 yards and 26 of them in the first drive on one carry and only 30 yards the rest of the day against Boston College is a really significant accomplishment and the couple of jobs they did on the goal-line to keep them out were instrumental in the victory.

"I thought for the first time this season to have an offensive line finally intact that we thought was going to start for us was great. We had 177 yards rushing which is really a good performance by everybody. I thought our backs ran hard. I thought Marcus Furman played real good as well as Ray Kirkley. Our specialists came through. We missed a field goal but Josh (Cummings) hit everything else. Adam (Graessle) did an unbelievable job on holds. Thank God he’s 6-3 or however tall he is; he’s got long arms and boy he made a tremendous punt.

"The overtime period became significant. There were a couple of big, great plays by Mike Phillips. That punt block he picked up and got the first down…the only time I've seen that before was when it happened to us.

"The last part that I thought was very significant was the enthusiasm of the crowd. I think our crowd and our fans were ready. I think as the game unfolded and some of the physicalness of the game came out, I believe they really got into it and were a factor in the game, which is tremendous for us. I can't tell you enough how important that part of the game is in helping our football players play better. When Tyler Palko had his sideline hit against their cornerback that helped ignite our fans and everybody on the sideline. It was truly a statement by him that he was going to do whatever it took to win the football game. It was tight game that we were fortunate to win but our guys really fought and showed the same kind of spirit with better play — not yet quite good enough but better play and we were able to find a way to win."
No talk of how the plan worked or that the players executed the plan. This was all credit to the players, the crowd and the team. It may have taken him until he's halfway out the door, but he seems to have finally started to "get" that.

But even the national media knows this is it for Harris
It's probably a case of too little, too late, but Pittsburgh's 20-17 overtime win against Boston College couldn't have come at a better time for embattled coach Walt Harris. In the most intense week of speculation yet surrounding the eighth-year coach's job status, Harris' agent, Bob LaMonte, criticized the school for leaving his client "hanging out to dry" by not defending him publicly. More damning, Pitt legend Tony Dorsett went public with his displeasure about the program. "It's sad. It's god awful," said Dorsett, whose statement "I didn't even know that Connecticut [which beat the Panthers] had a football team" lessens his credibility just a tad. While the Panthers have certainly looked bad much of the season -- even against BC they got outgained 423-308 -- but the reality is, by handing the Eagles their first conference loss, Pittsburgh (4-2, 2-1) now has as much a shot at the Big East title as anyone.
Pitt has the Rutgers "Game Day" press release with links to info on the teams available.

The Pitt-Syracuse game on November 6 has been picked up by ESPN Regional and will be played at noon.

Monday, October 18, 2004

More Notes 

If you, like Lee, are wondering why the hell I am posting so much. It's because I can. My wife and daughter are away for a couple of days which gives me a lot of extra time and no competition for the computer. This means I can bang out some things as they come, rather than save it all for one post.

So, despite my belief that Adam Graessle was going to win the Big East Special Teams Player of the Week on the basis of his 79 yard punt (they dropped it from 80, which would have tied the school record) and another overall solid week, it went to the Rutgers kicker who went 3-3 on his kicks in their win over Temple.

H.B. Blades, though earned co-Defensive Player of the Week honors. Blades, "made a game-high 13 tackles. The Panther defense allowed only 56 yards rushing. The Eagles went into the game averaging 183.6 yards per game." He shares the award with Rutgers defensive back Ron Girault. Excuse my snippiness, but how does Rutgers in a 16-6 home win over one of the worst teams in all of college football generate 2 BE Player of the Week honors?

Just wondering.

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