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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, November 30, 2004

Wild Craziness 

Jeez, what an afternoon. Here in Cleveland, Butch Davis has apparently resigned. Snap theory -- he knew this season was it and he couldn't take the chance on hoping the Florida job stayed open to get fired to collect the rest of his contract money. Probably some settlement, but not nearly what Davis wanted. (Though, according to this report he did get all the cash.)

Then the news hit that ND fired Tyrone Willingham. That was a shock. Obviously ND has given in to its alumni and booster pressure and feels it must get soon to be former Utah Coach Urban Meyer before Florida.

Now, more importantly/selfishly, how does all of this affect Pitt? Well, Willingham is already rumored for the Washington job. No one know when the move on Meyer will come (he has a clause in his Utah contract allowing him to take the ND job for little or no buy out). One way or another this has to have an effect on the Utah team, that Pitt will face in a month. The "best" thing for Pitt is to have this whole thing be unclear for at least 3 weeks. Keep things in flux and distract Utah as much as possible. In an ideal world it would be like the news leaking that John L. Smith leaving Louisville for Michigan St. just before the Liberty Bowl -- totally demoralizing the Cardinals.

As for the status of Harris and what the Pitt administration will do. It is pure speculation. My thought is that with so many higher profile jobs open -- Washington, ND, Florida, Stanford (and maybe Cal, Iowa, and LSU if any of those coaches leave for a pro job) -- not to mention the other schools with openings that Pitt may suddenly be looking at having limited options in who it could go after. They might realize that their best option is just to re-up with Coach Walt Harris, rather than try and compete for another hot coach or assistant.

After the Prosser/Dixon basketball coach hiring fiasco, I don't have faith in the administration to have created an extensive list of candidates and to have prepared for these contingencies.

My feeling is that if Harris and Pitt takes care of USF, then the school and Harris might very well work to get an extension in place and announced in the intervening time between then and the Fiesta Bowl.

Again, this is just immediate, first impressions. I may completely change my mind in a little while. My underlying assumptions about much could be dead wrong, but that's what I'm thinking right now.

Go West 

It should be explained that I'm about the only one in PSB who has played golf on any sort of regular basis, and I haven't even had time to pick up my clubs to get to the driving range since my daughter was born 2 1/2 years ago. So one of the oft-cited appeals of going to a bowl game in Arizona -- golfing, doesn't work for us.

Still it is a selling point for some. Anyhow, we invited JFC, who attends school at Arizona State to give us some reasons to travel to Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl, assuming that is where Pitt is going.

Here it is:

Well, it's a tall order when you're asked to convince people to spend
thousands of dollars to visit your city. I suppose it's nothing new as
people often feel sorry for me when I say I am from Pittsburgh. Imagine
trying to explain Primanti's, the O in Oakland, Station Square or the Strip
to an outsider. They just don’t get it. So here is my valiant attempt at a
convincing argument for spending New Years in Phoenix.

As Patrick earlier said, one of the big drawing points for him was the
proximity of the Superdome and the French Quarter. Sun Devil Stadium is
right in the heart of Tempe. Our version of the Quarter is Mill Avenue.
Restaurants, Shops and Bars are right there. Mill is the main hangout for
any student at the University. I can only imagine the hordes of people who
will congregate there before, after and during the game. It was my Dad's
favorite spot to hang out while he visited. It's perfect for families,
singles and the occasional man having a mid life crises. Mill is of course
equipped with all the gimmicky bars that college campuses usually have. The
Library, Dos Gringos (which sells more Coronas then any bar in America) and
the Firehouse to name a few. Mill is maybe two blocks west of Sun Devil
Stadium


To the North is Tempe Town Park. Think Point State Park with a man made
lake instead of rivers. This is generally a family oriented area during the
Fiesta Bowl. They have petting zoos, concerts, boating, etc. It's kind of
a carnival like atmosphere up there. ASU generally sponsors a portion of
the Lake activities so they are generally pretty tolerable. It’s a good
place to take the wife and kids for a couple of hours.

A common misconception is that Tempe is a city unto itself. Tempe is just
like Oakland. It's not like we are out in the middle of the desert or
anything. Phoenix is set up on the grid system so it's surprisingly easy
to navigate a city of 6 million. Ten minutes from the airport, 30 minutes
from downtown and 30 minutes from Scottsdale puts Tempe in a central
location.

Scottsdale is a definite hot spot. There are some unbelievable bars and
nightclubs up there that really make that community the best in town. There
are plenty of singles looking to steal married men from their husbands. For
what its worth, a lot of reality TV casting goes on up there.

I attend ASU on a golf scholarship so one of my biggest reasons for being
here is weather and golf. I probably haven't seen a cloud in at least two
months. By late December it will be a more then comfortable 70 degrees.
Golf is everywhere out here. Phoenix is home to three PGA Tour stops and
there are premier golf courses at every turn. Where there is golf there are
5 star resorts. As I recall there are three within reasonable driving
distance and a slew of lesser resorts within the city. The state of Arizona
is also full of entrepreneurial Native Americans. Casino Arizona and Gila
River Casino are 5 minutes from Tempe via Highway 60.

I think this is the best I can do besides listing college kid type things
like Lake Havasu and $49 flights to Vegas. If I haven't touched on anything
pertinent please leave a comment. Really, the only reason for coming to
Tempe is to see Pitt. Everything else is secondary. You guys are Pitt fans
and have waited a long time for this. The team held up their end of the
bargain by qualifying for the bowl. It's time for us fans to do our part.
This is easy for me to say as I just have to pay for the plane ticket and
don’t have to worry about family aspect but every time someone says Pitt
doesn't travel well it stings a little. If you are not going to go and
enjoy your teams first BCS bowl when will you go and support them?
Thank you and well said, John.

Another one of our readers, Tony in Harrisburg sent his own contribution to why go to Tempe:
#10 Chest & Face Painting is the norm in Tempe
#9 You know the Utes Fans will be there & we need a counter Balance
#8 If you don't go you give the media another reason to say Pitt doesn't belong in a BCS Bowl
#7 You can fly Southwest for less then a Ben Franklin per person
#6 It's warm in Tempe in January
#5 The rest of the country thinks Texas should be playing, and there will be No bigger stage for Pitt Fans to flip them off.
#4 Killer golf Courses!
#3 You know you want to be there for Walt & the Panthers @ the time of their greatest achievement.
#2 You won't have to attend the same lame New Years Eve BS get together this year if your in Tempe.

& the number one reason on why Pitt fans should make the trip to Tempe

The Utes are an over rated, weak schedule playing, want-a-be, and PITT will kick their sorry ass program back to the WAC where they belong!
Anyone else care to E-mail us with reasons to go, I'll post them.

Now if I had the discretionary income and the indulgence of the wife, I would make the trip. I'm in no position to do so, however. I hope many, many others will.

Baskteball Going Up-Tempo 

I feel like I should do something to point out when I get to a post pertaining to basketball. We've kind of drowned the blog in a sea of football posts and ruminations. The patsy game tomorrow against St. Francis - PA. Game Notes are here (PDF), but there isn't much to them. I mean if you like to see what the suggested storylines are, that's fine.

I think that has been an oddly fascinating thing about everything being on the net. The transparency with which athletic departments provide "suggested" storylines regarding a team for writers and game commentators. Stuff that has been going on for years, usually with the fans blissfully unaware of where some of those weird storylines or stats developed, now know it before the stories are written or the games are broadcast.

With the new mix of talent, Pitt has shown more of an up-tempo game at time. This has been much to the delight of Carl Krauser. For Pitt fans, mainly me, this has to be a little disconcerting. Pitt got burned last year whenever it tried to run. The team functioned best in its half-court set offense. Why would you change what worked so well? At the same time, it only took them so far. I believe the team can do better in the NCAAs and there is a lot of new personnel that you have to adapt the situation to fit. So, for now, I will not complain about trying to fast break and the team running -- just as long as they don't let themselves get burned too often on defense.

That is part of the reason, Coach Dixon has found himself playing 3 guards -- Krauser, Ronald Ramon and Yuri Demetrius at times. It has met with success so far, but it remains to be seen if it still works when the competition improves.

Honors and Notes 

[Editor's Note: Blogger was acting up a bit yesterday. I just noticed that an entire post never made it. Annoying, because I had already deleted the file from my temp folder without realizing it. Essentially reconstructed and updated.]

Darrelle Revis has had a good few days. His interception helped Pitt win the Backyard Brawl, along with an excellent punt return on his first try this year, and it looks like he may get some more opportunities. Now he has also been named to the second team Freshman All-American squad by Rivals.com.

Josh Cummings won his second Big East Special Teams Player of the Week honors for going 3 for 4 on field goals and making the lone extra point attempt.

Also worth mentioning and giving much credit and love to is Diamond Ferri of Syracuse, who won both the Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week honors in the Big East. Ferri clearly earned it in leading Syracuse over BC. And of course knocking BC out of the BCS and sending Pitt.

Pitt's game notes are available here (PDF). Nothing really jumps out from them. They contain a painful reminder of the 2001 USF game with the box score. And of course, the "Tale of the Tape."
PITTSBURGH --------------------------------- SOUTH FLORIDA
27.5 ..................................... Points ..................................... 25.7
355.1 ............................. Total Offense ............................. 353.4
110.3 ............................ Rushing Yards ............................ 192.0
38.4 ............................ Rushing Attempts ............................ 40.6
2.9 ............................... Yards Per Carry ............................... 4.7
244.8 ........................... Passing Yardage ........................... 161.4
34.2 ............................ Passing Attempts ............................ 26.9
12.9 .................... Yards Per Pass Completion .................... 12.7
23.9 .............................. Points Allowed .............................. 30.8
392.6 ............................. Total Defense ............................. 390.8
139.7 ...................... Rushing Yards Allowed ...................... 160.2
252.9 ...................... Passing Yards Allowed ...................... 230.6
+9 ............................... Turnover Margin ................................ -7
Definitely not much of a passing team, as they average more rushing yards than in the air. Also, they seem to turn the ball over a lot.

All Attention To the Game At Hand 

That's what the stories are based on Coach Harris' press conference. One report describes it as a bull's eye. I won't repeat a lot of the stuff that came from the press conference. Tyrone Gilliard, though, also remembers the Bulls:
Safety Tyrone Gilliard, who was a freshman when South Florida defeated Pitt, said the Panthers plan to avenge the loss to the Bulls.

"We still owe them. I have that feeling just like the rest of the seniors," Gilliard said. "We still hold a grudge. It was embarrassing to us the way they came up here and beat us that way. We still have a grudge and that's why even with all the other stuff going on we're only concentrating on South Florida because we still owe them some payback."

Yes. Yes Pitt does. Pitt is now a 7 point favorite for this game. Back in September, USF was a 3 1/2 point favorite.

The other story based on the press conference puts it in terms of "focus." In one of the notebook stories, it is observed how much of a run-oriented offense the Bulls are. Very true. USF has a 1000 yard rusher, but no WR with more than 430 yards.

The other not ebook story takes a theme for a post I was hoping to save, if for no other reason then the fear of jinxing things. The recruits that bailed on signing day last year.

Pitt fans should be somewhat familiar with South Florida freshman wide receiver Johnny Peyton, who leads the team in receiving yards (430) and is second on the team with 19 receptions.

Peyton, who is from Dade City, Fla., verbally committed to Pitt but reneged on his commitment during a news conference on signing day and, at the urging of his mother, signed with South Florida.

He was one of four players who left the Panthers high and dry on signing day, including local stars Andrew Johnson (Miami) and Anthony Morelli (Penn State). The other was Florida prep star Alphonso Smith, who chose Wake Forest.

Peyton is in a run-first offense where the top two- receivers have combined for 40 catches and 687 yards. Pitt's top two receivers of Lee and DelSardo have 88 catches and 1453 yards. Think Peyton ever goes back to his mother and points that out? As for Andrew Johnson, he got into 4 games this year, touched the ball 16 times for 41 yards. I would want to say something about how he would have gotten more touches at Pitt, but after seeing how Brandon Mason was wasted this year (12 carries, 35 yards), but it seems like he may have been wasted at Pitt this year. Morelli. He would have done nothing this year, just like at Penn St.

You know, I had to go back and look at some of the posts from September and October when Pitt was getting ready to play USF. USF was picked to finish 7th in C-USA by the coaches. If they were to beat Pitt, they would finish tied for 7th with TCU. Otherwise, they will actually end the season 8th.

Finally a column from Ron Cook, who decides it was better to be lucky than good. Rant coming on, bear with me.

From the beginning, Pitt was lucky.

It was lucky Walt Harris picked quarterback Tyler Palko in an 11th-hour decision before the start of the season. Here's a name you don't hear much around here these days: Luke Getsy. Either Getsy is going to be a tremendous quarterback at Akron or Harris knew exactly what buttons to push to bring out the best in Palko.

Isn't revisionist history wonderful? In the beginning of the season, Palko struggled. He was horrible against Ohio U., and it took until the second halves of both Nebraska and Furman for him to show some consistency. Why does it seem that outrageous that Getsy was right there with Palko for the job? The beat writers covering Pitt during training camp and practices even said that the two QBs didn't seem to have a lot of separation. Palko improved as the season went along. That was part of the reason he was heavily recruited and he got the starting nod. His perceived and apparent upside/room for improvement was much higher.

Pitt was lucky its opening game at South Florida was postponed by Hurricane Frances. It didn't want to take a young team on the road for a Labor Day game in zillion degree heat and zillion percent humidity. Now, it gets South Florida Saturday. The Panthers are playing their best football. The weather won't be a factor.
Fine. Maybe. I'm not that wild about saying Pitt was lucky to have a hurricane blow through, destroying people's lives and property. Actually, I'm with Coach Harris on this one. It's kind of useless to speculate. Yes, I wouldn't have been shocked if Pitt lost, but I also wouldn't have been shocked with a win.
Pitt is lucky it has wonderful senior leadership. Vince Crochunis. Dan Stephens. Malcolm Postell. Tyrone Gilliard. Rob Petitti. Justin Belarski. They wouldn't allow the Panthers to lose despite being down 17 points in the third quarter at home against Furman and 10 points in the fourth quarter at Temple, which is being thrown out of the Big East Conference for -- get this -- incompetence. They wanted a chance to go out as winners. They earned it.
It's luck to have seniors that are leaders on the team? Luck to have been recruited? I don't get this one at all. Good players and good people. To quote from The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
Pitt is lucky its players didn't give up on the season early the way Harris' mouthpiece -- agent Bob LaMonte -- did. After the shaky wins against Furman and Temple and losses to the worst Nebraska team in 43 years and a Connecticut team in its first season in the Big East, LaMonte blasted the Pitt administration, Pitt fans and the Pittsburgh media for unrealistic expectations. "Pitt is not a major power," LaMonte said, unconscionably. "It is not one of the top 20 jobs in the country. There are limitations. Nobody was fighting to get Pitt into their conference during the Big East shakeup last year. They were an afterthought. They were treated like a stepchild, so it is a little delusionary to believe the program is bigger than what it really is." You think LaMonte believed then the Panthers would have any chance of a Fiesta Bowl bid? Do you really think Harris did?
Again, if his point is only that, "Pitt is lucky its players didn't give up on the season early," then no it isn't luck. That was good hard work by the coaching staff, and a credit to the players themselves who stayed focused while the fans and the media were distracted. If his point is to engage in some gratuitous Harris bashing via proxy, then it's a different issue.
Pitt is lucky chancellor Mark Nordenberg didn't fire Harris on the spot after LaMonte's absurd comments. How would you feel if you were Nordenberg, had invested so much in the program and then had your coach's knucklehead agent go public to belittle it? Tempting as dismissing Harris might have been, Nordenberg had the good sense to realize midseason coaching changes are so messy.
Firing the coach for the agent's words. Why? To tank the season completely? To ensure that Pitt has no decent recruiting for 2005? The last time Pitt fired a coach mid-season, it was Mike Gottfried. That begot Paul Hackett, and... [involuntary shuddering]. Again, not luck.
Pitt is lucky its coaches, including Harris, kept teaching, kept pushing the players through the turmoil. Lost in all of the speculation about Harris' future is the uncertain futures of his assistants. They did a marvelous job keeping the team on track. New tackles/tight ends coach Bill Bleil deserves special mention for helping to turn the offensive line -- once a weakness -- into a strength.
You mean they did their jobs, worked hard and are now in a position to keep their jobs? Why is it luck? I'd go on, but you get my point. Things now appear to have broken well for Pitt and you can ascribe some things to luck -- BC and WVU imploding when it mattered, the timing of Pitt's run this year, and the state of the Big East; but the things Cook chooses to call luck are not even close. He is wildly dismissive of the individual talents and abilities of the people who made the decisions and did the work. As near as I can tell, the point of the piece was to dismiss and deflect any substantive credit that Coach Walt Harris may deserve for this season.

You stay classy, Ron.

Fiesta or Sugar? I say go Bruins! 

Where will Pitt end up?
Pitt cannot go to the Orange Bowl since they are nowhere near #1 or #2 in the BCS rankings. The Rose Bowl likely out too, since USC would automatically go if they lost this Saturday to UCLA. So it must be either the Sugar Bowl or the Fiesta Bowl.

It seems like each national sports publication that engages in bowl projections has Pitt going to the Fiesta Bowl and not the Sugar. Why?

Take a look at the actual BCS bowl selection process.

Basically, the Orange is the championship game this year, so they get #1 and #2.
The Rose has two host teams: the Big10 champion (Michigan) and the Pac10 champion (USC).
The Sugar's single host team is the SEC champ (Auburn or Tennessee). The Fiesta's single host is the Big12 champ (Oklahoma or Colorado).

When a host team is pulled out of their original spot into the Orange Bowl, then a replacement is selected from the BCS eligible teams. If all goes as expected this weekend and the BCS standings stay roughly the same, then the Rose will pick a replacement for USC (since they are higher ranked host team yanked away), then the Fiesta will replace Oklahoma. Those replacements must be among the following teams: the ACC champ (VaTech or Miami), the Big East champ (Pitt), any mid-major conference champ in the top 6 (Utah), and the next highest ranked team in the BCS rankings (California).
The Rose will no doubt pick California to replace USC.
Then the Fiesta will pick between Utah, VaTech-Miami and Pitt. Since Utah is higher ranked, and closer to Tempe, the Fiesta will likely pick Utah to replace Oklahoma.
That leaves one spot in the Sugar and one in the Fiesta. At this point, those two bowls rank their preferred teams from the remaining BCS eligible teams. All biases aside, both VaTech and Miami are preferable to Pitt for both bowls, so it is probable that both bowls would rather have the ACC champ than our Panthers. So which one "wins" in this battle?

According to the BCS web site:
Any BCS bowl game(s) still unfilled will submit a listing of its top three team selections to fill its at-large slot. Any conference champion not already placed in a bowl game must be listed among such bowl game's first two selections. Each BCS bowl will then be given its highest available preference of teams. In a situation where two or more bowls select the same team(s) with their choices, the priority of selection goes initially to the bowl making the larger per team payment and then rotates to the other bowls not given first priority in a previous year.

So which bowl is that? The BCS site lists all bowls as paying between $14 million and $17 million. I can't find any information payouts on any bowl web sites either.
What does "first priority" mean? Certainly the Fiesta did NOT have first priority last year, with also rans KSU and OSU playing in Tempe and producing the lowest Nielsen rating of all BCS bowls last year. The Sugar was the championship game last year, so one would think the Fiesta would get first pick between the two this year. Wouldn't they rather have the ACC champ than lowly Pitt?

But there is also another proviso:
In certain situations, a host team for the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, FedEx Orange Bowl, or Nokia Sugar Bowl may, but need not, be placed in another BCS game. Factors that are considered in making that determination include:
1. The same team hosting the same BCS Bowl for two straight years.
2. Two teams that played against one another in the most recently completed regular season. 3. The same two teams would play against each other in a bowl game for two consecutive years. 4. An alternative pairing would have greater appeal to college football fans.


At the conclusion of these procedures, the pairings established by the BCS bowls may be adjusted by the BCS, in consultation with the BCS bowls and ABC, in the interest of creating the most exciting and interesting postseason matchups possible. The factors considered in adjusting the pairings are the same as those considered in determining whether to move a host team into a different bowl.

Factor #4 may be at work here. In fact, #4 worked to trump #2 last season, as Miami and FSU were paired in the Orange Bowl even though they played each other earlier in the season.
Would an Auburn-ACC Champ match up have greater appeal to college football fans? How about an Auburn-Utah match up? Either way, Pitt ends up in the Fiesta Bowl by that measure, unless Auburn is also pulled to the Fiesta (which is unlikely).

It seems the only way for Pitt to play in the Sugar, which is my preference, is if the Fiesta somehow puts its foot down and demands the better team between Pitt and the ACC champ.


Or...
one or more of the top teams loses on Saturday.

If USC loses to UCLA, but OU and Auburn win - that puts USC in the Rose, Auburn and OU in the Orange, and California (or Texas, if they jump) an at-large team that is VERY attractive to the Fiesta bowl to host - more so than Utah, Pitt or the ACC Champ; Auburn would go to the Orange, perhaps setting up a Pitt v. old Big East rival in the Sugar? One can only dream...

If Auburn loses (and OU wins), then Tennessee is the host of the Sugar; Cal could be out of the BCS, with Auburn possibly going to the Rose since they get first pick (Pitt could still end up in the Fiesta); Auburn could fall below Cal and thus be out themselves, leaving the Sugar as weak a match up as the Fiesta and thus no overriding football reason to take the Fiesta's pick away from them (Pitt could go to the Sugar).

If OU loses (and Auburn wins), then Colorado goes to the Fiesta as the host, Auburn goes to the Orange, and OU would likely replace Auburn as the host of the Sugar - Pitt probably goes to the Fiesta, unless the Rose does something crazy like pick OU to replace USC - thus the Sugar may go after Cal or Utah, which again begs the question why shift teams around in the interests of college football?

If OU loses AND Auburn loses, OU may still be in the top 2, which means they still go to the Orange; Tennessee to host the Sugar, Colorado to host the Fiesta; either Cal or Auburn go out depending on how far Auburn falls; if Cal goes out, then Auburn to the Rose; if Cal ends up #2 because both OU and Auburn dropped below them, then the Rose could take OU or Auburn, OU, or possibly Texas, if OU and Auburn drop enough (hell, maybe even Utah!).

If all top three teams lose, then it's a cluster: the computers will have to somehow pick the top 2 from between USC, OU, Auburn, Cal and possibly Texas and Utah (since schedule strengths would be altered due to the wins and losses on Saturday). Still, Pitt and the ACC champ would await, as well as Michigan, Colorado and Tennessee. None of the latter teams can make the Orange, so with USC still in the Rose if it's not in #1 or #2, it will still be between the Fiesta and Sugar for Pitt - with the same factors at work.

Ugh...my brain hurts from all that hypothesizing. Right now, I'm rooting for the Bruins.

My updated projections:
Orange: USC v. Oklahoma
Rose: Michigan v. California
Sugar: Auburn v. VaTech
Fiesta: Utah v. Pitt

If dreams come true and UCLA beats USC, with Auburn and OU winning:
Orange: Oklahoma v. Auburn
Rose: USC v. Michigan
Sugar: Pitt v. VaTech
Fiesta: Utah v. California

Monday, November 29, 2004

Coach Talk 

Well, the Walt Harris press conference selected transcript is up. Fairly interesting in that read-between-the-lines kind of way. Especially the comments after the question about the way the team has grown this year. It was about as close as Coach Harris could come to calling out the media for questioning his judgment and decisions.

For the last few days I've been mentioning how important this USF game should be for Pitt. And how important it should be to Coach Harris, after the 2001 debacle. Looks like Harris isn't shying away from that.
What do the past events of the weekend mean to you and your team?

"I don't think we've talked much about that stuff yet until we're done honestly. Maybe I'm not smart or maybe I just like to do it step by step. I don't really want to talk about all that stuff. I want our players to focus on what we have to do to get it done against South Florida. I think if we start pumping ourselves up, I think we'll get our eye off the bull's-eye. It's not that I don't trust our players; I think it's a natural tendency when some good things have happened to start feeling too good. We don't want to put too much air up our dresses so to speak. (Laughs) Let's just focus on South Florida. Obviously, it's a big game for our team and it's a big game for our seniors. It's a big game for all those who were here in 2001. It's a big game and it's on the road against a team that would like nothing more than to spoil our opportunity that we have built for ourselves in the past ten games."

Will you use the 2001 South Florida game as motivation?

"Yes, I talked to our team yesterday and we spoke a little bit about that. Quite honestly, they were one of the better teams that we have played here. They were really good. They had a lot of good football players and they had a lot of Division I-A bounce backs and a lot of non-qualifiers; they had some guys that could play. Their quarterback played outstanding in that game and we beat ourselves a bit. A lot of our players weren't there except for most of the seniors and juniors and of course the coaches."
Just what I hoped to read.

Harris' opening statement gave a lot of the credit to individual players. In fact he didn't take much personal credit for the game. He did give the defense as a whole credit but I still found this interesting, "I thought our defense played their best game this year, maybe their best game in a couple of years." Now I'm not disagreeing with that, but in the subtext of it, you have to wonder if he was really tired of having to pretend the defense was simply just a couple blown assignments and some missed tackles. Not just a group that has not played well at all. Something that goes back to the coach, especially Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhoads.

Coach Harris was also on ESPNRadio for Gamenight. You can here the interview here (I hope. If not, got the Pitt page and you will find an audio link.). He apparently has a past with Utah Coach Urban Meyer. He wouldn't speculate much beyond USF. As for the Big East in the BCS, he makes the dubious claim that the Big East has been highly competitive as indicated by the logjam at the top. Not the greatest defenses.

By the way, according to the newest BCS Rankings, Pitt is now #23.

Rising Without a Challenge 

Well, another week of patsy basketball games in the books and more moving up in the rankings. Up one spot to #14 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll, and a whopping three spots to #13 in the AP Writers Poll. All for beating the snot out of Robert Morris and Loyola-MD. This week, St. Francis-PA (Wednesday, Dec. 1) and Duquesne (Saturday, Dec. 4). That leads up to the first big challenge, Memphis on Tuesday, December 7 at MSG.

On the bright side, Pitt has used the weak foes to find out which players will be starters or earn big minutes off the bench. Even Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News seems to approve of that:

Pittsburgh was using its soft early schedule to discover which players would best fit as replacements for SG Julius Page and SF Jaron Brown. "You don't replace seven years of starting experience in 25 practices," coach Jamie Dixon says.

Though he's just 6-1, freshman Ronald Ramon has been starting at shooting guard. He's the team's best long-range shooter, and his skills complement junior playmaker Carl Krauser. Senior wing Yuri Demetris also has been starting. He played little before this season but is the type of player who can scrape up several extra possessions by diving for loose balls and picking up stray rebounds. The key is whether he'll maintain his confidence on offense; Demetris frequently passed up open shots last season but was 4-of-8 on 3-point attempts in Pitt's first three victories. The Panthers also will use Antonio Graves and junior college recruit John DeGroat on the wing. . . .

The other good thing has been giving the set starters (Krauser, Taft and Troutman) lots of rest in these games. The better to save them until they are needed to do more. The same column noted that ND has been having trouble giving some of its key starters much of a rest because of tougher than expected games from predicted cupcakes.

The Post-Gazette has a puff piece on Senior Guard Yuri Demetrius who, early in the season, has been a defensive spark plug. Though, he has suddenly seemed to have a bit of a scoring touch this season.


National Notes of the Apocolypse 

Like most right thinking Americans, I abhor the BCS system and await the day when a playoff system is implemented in College Football.

Today, the sports commentators attack the BCS and to some degree Pitt.

First, though, a little love to some of our regular commentators. Guys like JFC who having long abandoned his own brief attempts at blogging, is a reliable commentator and staunch defender of partying in Arizona -- and as Lee said, e-mail us with your insider view on why Pitt fans should make the trip to Tempe (as that appears more and more to be Pitt's destination) for the Fiesta Bowl. Another regular contributor (more commonly during b-ball season), B.B. who made a smart observation that most sports commentators happily forget:
Isn't it true that prior to the BCS, the major bowls picked from conference tie-ins, so under that system Pitt would likely be headed to the Orange bowl this year (that's not a rhetorical question, but I think its true)? So why all the fuss about them getting in this year? I don't think the BCS was ever designed to pick the top 8 teams, I thought it was designed to pick the top 2 teams to avoid a Nebraska, PSU type situation like back in the day (seem like forever ago). I'm sure the power's the be would never have created the BCS if they thought there was a chance that their conference would be left out.
The BCS was all about the 2 best teams playing each other. The other bowls in the BCS mix ponied up the huge cash just to be in the rotation to host the big battle at the end. The rest of the BCS bowls are there to reward (give big paychecks to) the best of the big conferences and/or the best teams. Even without VT and Miami and before Louisville in the Big East, looking back and forward, which of these 3 conferences would you expect to be consistently better: Big East, C-USA or Mountain West?

Anyways, the national sports media is having its fun. Dennis Dodd at Sportsline gives the typical blast.
Only the Sun Belt, among I-A's 11 conferences, has performed worse than the Big East this year. The Sun Belt's top two teams (North Texas and Troy) each had four losses. BC, West Virginia and Pittsburgh each have three losses. Syracuse has five. Fledgling I-A member Connecticut (7-4, 3-3) actually finished with a better overall record than Syracuse, beat Pittsburgh and finished a game behind the mediocre logjam.

Going forward, the outrage shouldn't be directed at any mid-majors that get to BCS bowls. Like Utah, they will have to achieve a certain amount of excellence to qualify. The Big East's only qualification is that it knows the right people.

The commissioners cut the Big East a break allowing it to keep its automatic bid through the 2005 season. After that, all bets are off. In fact, the Big East's status is one of the touchiest subjects among the commissioners now that the new TV deals have been signed.

It's clear that even with newcomers Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida replacing Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, the Big East is a notch below the other five major conferences. For example, what's to differentiate that lineup from, say, the Mountain West?
Dodd conveniently ignores that ND essentially shares the Big East BCS bid, and is he prepared to throw them out too? Sure. Right.

Or this piece complaining from CollegeFootballNews.com/Fox Sports. Thow even here, they had to give some props to Pitt:
The best moment was the pure joy on the Pittsburgh sideline after beating West Virginia. With the turmoil the program has gone through and the rumors of Walt Harris being on double-secret probation, Tyler Palko and the rest of the Panthers came through when they had to and are now a win away from the BCS.

Matt Hayes at the Sporting News/Fox Sports places the blame on TV money and greed, not Pitt. Of course two weeks ago he had been calling for the Big East to have its automatic BCS bid ripped away (after previously saying the Big East should be happy with the current situation). Matt, baby, you're one of my favorite college football columnists, but a little consistency, please.

In a shock to Lee, Trev Alberts is no longer blaming Pitt and the Big East for the BCS issues -- as much as he despises the outcome.
The real loser is Utah. The Utes have struggled all year to gain some legitimacy but are now in line to play the Big East champ in the BCS, which puts them in a no-win situation. They will be expected to beat Syracuse or Pittsburgh by 25 points, and a loss would brand Utah a fraud. What's good about that?

That said, don't blame the Big East for this mess. Neither commissioner Mike Tranghese nor anyone else should be held accountable for the two best teams in the league deciding to leave. The Big East might not be deserving of that automatic bid, but it's not the fault of Tranghese or the teams still there.

The system is what it is. And in one of the only columns that echoed B.B.'s comments you have John Walters at SI.com:

The ABC, CBS and ESPN announcers (as well as many a sportswriter) like to use the example of B.C. (before the Eagles lost to Syracuse) and now Pittsburgh or Syracuse playing in the Fiesta Bowl as proof that the system has failed us. Um, no it hasn't. If Pitt were playing in the Orange Bowl this year, then yes, it would have failed us. But as long as we can be assured that arguably the two best teams throughout the season are facing one another for the national championship (Read that again -- that's a promise that NCAA basketball cannot make), then how has it failed us?

Because, after the Orange, all of the other bowls are just bowl games. From a fan's perspective, the three other bowls have no more relevance than the Insight.com Bowl or the Humanitarian Bowl.

When it comes time to discriminate between which of the 573 bowl games I'll watch, I choose the most compelling matchups. I don't care if a bowl has the BCS stamp of approval on it. Case in point: I attended the Cal-Virginia Tech Insight.com Bowl in Phoenix last December. It was a lot more exciting than the Kansas State-Ohio State contest played a week later in the Valley of the Sun.

I'm not going to apologize for Pitt getting a BCS bowl/big money payout. Any more than I heard Oklahoma fans apologizing last year, Kansas State fans for getting a BCS bid last year, or any other program that didn't "deserve" to go.

Idle Conspiracy Thought 

Here's a random thought to toss out there regarding the future of the BCS.

ABC will no longer have the BCS games (except for the Rose Bowl) in a few years. Starting in 2007 it will be on Fox. ABC has been a staunch defender of the BCS. ABC and ESPN are part of the same company, and while individual commentators and personalities at ESPN have blasted the BCS, they have also essentially toed the line and not really gone hard after the system (ask an Ohio State fan about the difference).

Arguably it wasn't in ESPN's corporate interests to do so. Without the business concerns constraining them, and in fact it now works to their business interests, they might really try to take down the BCS. ESPN is the 800 pound gorilla of the American sports world. Plain and simple, there is no other entity that can drive and direct sports news and interest like ESPN and its power broker -- Sports Center (hockey, arguably, being the exception to prove the rule).

You Have To Take Them One Game At A Time 

Time to look to the game on Saturday. One of the best things I've read, is that the Pitt players are looking to keep their foot on the gas. Regardless of whether they need to or not.

Pitt (7-3) needs to beat the South Florida Bulls (4-6) Saturday and it will win the tiebreaker for the Big East championship and head to either the Sugar or Fiesta Bowls. There is a backdoor into the BCS party, however, as Pitt likely can still earn the berth with a loss.

Under that scenario, the Panthers' fate would rest with pollsters and computers.
According to Pitt quarterback Tyler Palko, the Panthers aren't interested in allowing others to determine their fate. They've been down that road before and didn't like it.

"It is all in our hands now, we are back to where we were at the beginning of the season, it is all on us," Palko said. "We need to have a great week of practice and guard against any kind of letdown. We hate to lose and we've played those what-if cards too many other times this year, you know, sort of hoping on someone else. We didn't take care of business and had to put our hope in Syracuse.

"We need to take care of this business. We're not going to hold anything back. This is going to be an intense week. We don't want to have to rely on anyone else, we don't want to have to wait around to figure it out, we want to know, we want to do it ourselves, for ourselves. That's the way it has to be."

Interestingly, Kicker Josh "Sunshine" Cummings has been to a BCS bowl before when he was still with Oregon.

During the week, I want to read stuff about how seniors like Petitti, Crochunis and others still remember that loss to the Bulls in 2001. Maybe even some recollection of the humiliation of losing at home and being booed by their own fans. More to fire them up. Remind the other players of how important it is to win this game.

With being ranked this week, it's the first time in about a year since Pitt was in the top 25. Seems longer.

Joe Bendel has a good piece about the criticism of Pitt being BCS bound.

Some might say it is unfair that a 7- or 8-win team gets the lucrative berth. Others, though, could argue that Tranghese is a savvy commissioner, considering he retained the league's BCS affiliation even after the defections of powers Miami and Virginia Tech to the Atlantic Coast Conference this past year.

For Pitt's part, it took advantage of a situation that will earn the athletic department up to $4.5 million when all the bowl money in the Big East is distributed. The BCS tie-in sends up to $17 million into league coffers, which is then distributed among league members.
...
Truth be told, Pitt cannot control how the conference is viewed, but it could certainly improve appearances by winning at South Florida (4-6). By doing so, the Panthers could climb into the mid-teens of the Top 25 poll. The Panthers will have won 6 of their last 7 games going into the BCS game if they defeat South Florida, with three of those victories coming against Boston College, West Virginia and the Irish. The latter two were ranked when facing the Panthers.

Pitt could enter its BCS game the way LSU did in 2001. The Tigers were ranked 13th and had three losses, but they upset then-No. 2 Tennessee to gain the SEC's BCS berth, then went out and beat Illinois, 47-34, in the Sugar Bowl.

Let's face it, winning trumps most criticisms.

Meanwhile, down in Florida...

They are saying the game is not important anymore for any reason. Apparently they are a little bummed with how the Bulls have performed this year, but especially down the stretch.

This is a column about the University of South Florida's football game Saturday against Memphis. If you have followed the Bulls throughout this forgettable season you know what's coming next, but please bear with us.

The Bulls were beaten 31-15 by the Tigers, although it seemed more one-sided than that. Memphis, a superior team anyway, was helped along its merry way by USF's own maleficence - just like the Bulls have done too many other times against too many other teams. That's how you trudge off the field with a 4-6 record and the promise of only the second losing season in eight years of USF footBull.

There were the usual missed tackles, dropped passes, mediocre quarterbacking, a missed field- goal try. There was the failure, failure, failure - three times - to convert on fourth down. There was some joy in the gloom and props to USF running back Andre Hall, who gained 134 yards. But give bigger props to Memphis tailback DeAngelo Williams, who ran for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

You already know this, but we have to say it anyway.

"We're just not playing very well,'' Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said.

We won't argue with that.

And to top it off, they have their annual concern that they could lose their head coach. There may be interest in Leavitt from Illinois this year. I have to admit, after reading this portion of his post-game press-conference, I kind of like Leavitt. A bit caustic, but funny.

Nothing up on the South Florida Athletics site. Nor at a fan site.

Looking at some of the numbers for USF, offensively they bare a bit of similarity to WVU on offense, in that they run the spread offense but are very much a running team. They have the 24th ranked rushing offense, but are a bad 106th passing. There is only a little more than 30 yards difference between their average yards per game passing versus running. They have the 9th leading rusher in the country in Andre Hall. Looks like Pitt should expect to be putting 8 or 9 in the box again. Their defense is not that good. Only 83rd against the pass and 68th against the run.

For Pitt, the WVU game actually made the defense look statistically better against the pass. Moving them up, 11 spots from 109th to 98th on pass defense.

You have to expect Pitt to put the ball in the air a good amount of time early to try and salt the game away quickly. Greg Lee could have another big game (he only needs 7 yards to retake the Big East lead in total receiving yards for the season).

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Just to Rub Some Additional Salt... 

Along with some lemon juice into the open sores of BC. Possibly the best quote from a losing coach trying to explain what happened. BC Coach Tom O'Brien talking about how his BC defense -- formerly #19 in the country against the run -- could allow 309 rushing yards by Syracuse:
"I never suspected that we wouldn't be able to stop them the way we didn't."
Remember sentence diagrams from English class? I would hate to see how that sentence would look.

Guess what? BC feels it has suffered a lot in its last year in the Big East -- unfairly, no less -- so it will not schedule any games against Big East opponents in the future. Man, that's rough.

You know, I mentioned it last year, that BC got no love or attention from the Boston media. And when they noticed after Pitt beat them for the 3rd straight time it wasn't very positive. But now, as they had a chance for the BCS, both the Boston Globe and Herald were paying attention. This meant sending their top columnists. The Herald sent Steve Buckley (paid subscription), and the Globe sent the venerable Bob Ryan. Odds are, that maybe they'll return for their first ACC home game, but not for much else.

There may have been gloomier, more depressing, and costlier days for a Boston College athletic team in the past 40 years, but I can't think of one.

"Not a good day for BC football," sighed an embarrassed Tom O'Brien. "We did not perform up to our expectations."

Translation: "I never saw these kids before in my life."

All BC had to do to get into a lucrative BCS Bowl -- their first such game since the days of Flutie -- was defeat a Syracuse team that wasn't good enough to beat Temple, a team the league has decreed is not good enough to remain a member. The Eagles even had the added motivation of revenge, since all they seemed to be talking about this past week was how much they wanted to make amends for a 39-14 defeat at the Carrier Dome last year.

It was all there: revenge, the chance to make serious money for the school, and the prestige attached to playing in a BCS Bowl as the Big East champion in their farewell season before defecting to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

So how bad was this fiasco at The Heights yesterday? The 43-17 final score only hints at the true discrepancy between the teams. Syracuse, loser of 10 straight Big East road games, was admirable and efficient. Boston College, playing before a sellout Alumni Stadium crowd of 44,500, was lifeless and sloppy. Syracuse deserved this glorious victory. The BC players should have been sent to bed without their suppers.
...
With this game, BC is done with the Big East. There will be no future nostalgic friendlies, at least as long as O'Brien is around. "I am not going to play anybody in the Big East, for what we went through," O'Brien hissed.

Obviously, there are scars from this regrettable conference switch that never will heal.

"I'm just glad it's over with the Big East," O'Brien continued. "It's been a tough year and a half. It didn't have to end this way . . . But, for whatever reason, there's a lot of animosity toward Boston College."

There sure is, but you'd like to think that no one this morning could loathe BC more than BC itself. A performance like this in a game like this is inexplicable. And inexcusable.

Heh. The coverage wasn't very flattering from the regular reporters, either. Oh, and BC may need to find a bowl outside of the Big East tie-ins.

Strangeness and Closure 

Pitt is ranked. I'm still mildly surprised. It's like I'm waiting for someone to tell me that it was a mistake. Pitt made it to #21 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches poll and leaped all the way to #19 in the AP Writers poll. Kind of stranger is that WVU remained in the coaches poll at #24, but dropped out of the writers poll. Then BC dropped out of the coaches poll but remained in the writers poll at #23. In a way, it kind of makes sense.

While most are focusing on the "undeservedness" of the Big East with a BCS bid -- whatever -- most are ignoring (or perhaps waiting to write about it until later) that Coach Walt Harris is on the verge of being this year's Tommy Tuberville. Well, most:
Can you fire a coach who takes your team to the BCS? While Steel City columnists spent much of the season writing Walt Harris obituaries, the eighth-year coach was quietly leading a remarkable in-season turnaround that, barring a loss next week to South Florida, will culminate in a Fiesta Bowl berth for the Panthers. Granted, it's a joke that any team from this year's Big East will be playing in one of the four major bowl games, but that doesn't diminish the importance of Pittsburgh's 16-13 Thanksgiving night win over rival West Virginia.

The Mountaineers came into the season as the overwhelming conference favorite, but the Panthers' come-from-behind win, combined with Boston College's loss to Syracuse, leaves Harris' team at the top of the heap. They beat the Eagles in overtime earlier in the season and, despite losing to Nebraska, Connecticut and Syracuse, should wind up the highest-ranked team among the four tied for first. The key to Pittsburgh's improvement has been the play of QB Tyler Palko, who was brilliant in the Panthers' Nov. 13 win at Notre Dame. Palko struggled much of the night against West Virginia, but he led a 14-play, 73-yard fourth-quarter drive, culminating in a 2-yard touchdown run, to give Pittsburgh the lead.

Palko's emergence gives Panthers fans no shortage of reasons to be optimistic about the program's future. Now, will AD Jeff Long feel the same way?

I am starting to think that a lot of the vitriol towards the Big East is based on all the writers who picked WVU as the sleeper pick to be considered for the national championship. Or at least not to look so bad.

Anyways, before we can punch Pitt's ticket to Tempe or New Orleans, there is still unfinished business in Tampa. While the game may no longer garner hyperbole from the local Tampa press of the game being, "Arguably the biggest home game in school history between future Big East rivals." It will still be important to them. The gear they had on sale earlier is still available.


Pitt wins this game and the debate over Harris should be over. The debate over Pitt in the BCS would be over. Pitt not only has the opportunity to make its statement, but it can close off a lot of meaningless discussions.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Oh Yeah, BTW Pitt Won the B-Ball Game Tonight 

In a game that was never in doubt Pitt crushed Loyola-Maryland 93-57 this evening. Probably the most damning praise about Pitt's scheduling came from the Loyola coach.
Loyola, a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference member, is winless so far
under [Jimmy] Patsos, a former Maryland assistant who repeatedly thanked Dixon
for the game.

"A lot of people won't even book us for a money game because we're so
low in the RPI," Patsos said. "So this was a great opportunity for our kids and
an honor to play."

How bad does an opponent have to be to make you feel embarrassed that your team even played them?

Semi-Defending The Big East 

Does Colorado deserve to play for a BCS bid? How about Tennessee? To the exclusion of Texas and Georgia?

Next week they do. They play in the their respective conference championships. If they beat Oklahoma and/or Auburn they would automatically get into a BCS bowl. Despite teams within their own conference having better records and higher rankings, the division format seems to unfairly reward these teams with an extra opportunity to make it into the BCS. Yeah, maybe the odds are long, and no one really believes they have a chance.

But that's just it. They get a chance.

So does any team in a BCS confernence. Duke, Vandy, Wake Forest, Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, Oregon St., Washington St., Indiana, Iowa St., and Kentucky. Other than conference affiliation, what have any of these teams done in the last 20-35 years done to earn an easier path to a BCS bowl and/or a national championship than teams like Pitt, WVU and Syracuse?

They haven't. Pitt won the national championship in '77. Was a regular contender for the national title for '70s and early '80s. WVU nearly won it in '88 or '89. Syracuse got close in the '90s.

The system is set up for the benefit of conferences not teams. Until college football establishes some sort of European soccer rules for teams and moving between divisions as you achieve and improve (dear god, I just sort of gave some props to soccer), you go by conferences and their champions.

So if you are going to allow all teams from the SEC, Big XII, Big 11, ACC and PAC-10 to have a shot every year, you can't dis the Big East because this is a down year. They are not playing for a national championship. Just like teams from the ACC, Big 11 and either the Big XII or SEC won't be this year. They are playing for money and prestige (mainly money).

So the sanctimonious crap about who deserves what is just white noise. The Big East isn't going anywhere, neither are the teams within the Big East. You can't have it all ways. And guess what? Even if there was a playoff, it would still be very, very dependent on conferences. That's just the nature of the beast.

Good God, Pitt Truly Decides Its Own Fate 

As Lee posted earlier, BC blew their big chance. Hell, they didn't just blow it. They came up smaller than anything Pitt did last year. Even with a young, untested QB, there was no excuse for that lame a performance on both sides of the ball. That BC couldn't run against the Orange was pathetic. Syracuse was without it's star running back, the second running back was gimpy, and the safety for Syracuse was filling the position and scoring. That's just an epic gak.

Now Pitt makes up a game from September. A game that Coach Walt Harris has, in a way, been waiting 3 years to play. That game 3 years ago that really took the luster off of his star with the Pitt fans. A loss one dark Saturday in September 2001. The first time the University of South Florida Bulls -- a freshly minted Division I-A team -- had ever won a road game against a Div. I-A opponent. And they didn't just win. They dominated and humiliated a Pitt team expected to be top 25.

This Bulls team just got crushed, and had its bowl hopes dashed (they needed a win today and against Pitt). Think they wouldn't mind playing spoiler? I mean, let's not kid anyone. This is not a particularly good team. Still they will be at home. This will be their bowl game. They have nothing to lose. Pitt has everything.

LET'S GO PITT!! Or as my 2-year old daughter says in response to that phrase, "MUST GO PITT!!"

Suddenly, BCS!? 

Well, thanks to Syracuse's 43-17 upset drubbing of Boston College, it's official. If Pitt can beat South Florida next Saturday (and yes, that's a big if for those of us who sat through that fiasco back in 2001), we're suddenly going to a BCS Bowl. According to ESPN's College Gameday Scoreboard, we might even be going to the BCS if we LOSE to USF (Pasqualoni doesn't have a vote in the Coaches Poll, Harris does).

Of course, everybody that I've heard both on ESPN Radio and on Gameday Scoreboard is incensed that Pitt somehow got in to the BCS. Suddenly, it's a fiasco that the Big East gets an automatic BCS birth... as if Virginia Tech and Miami's sudden departure was somehow our fault. Trev Alberts even went so far as to suggest that Big East Commissioner should, out of the goodness of his heart, give the Big East's BCS bid to #7 Louisville on the grounds that (1) they actually deserve it, and (2) they'll be a Big East Conference member next year. Mark May reminded Trev that this would mean that the Big East would surrender $14 million to Conference USA, and correctly stated that NOBODY is that generous.

Somehow, I don't feel the need to apologize for rules that were agreed on by everybody at the beginning of this season (however goofy they may be). And I definitely don't feel the need to apologize for the suddenly weak state of the Big East. You can take that crap right to Blacksburg or Coral Gables (one of which will shortly be wishing that they had STAYED in the Big East).

Thus, I'm overjoyed. Our beloved Panthers finally caught a break. A HUGE break. Gimme. And if you don't like it, @#*% off.

I only have two worries right now. One, whether or not we can beat USF. Two, whether or not I should follow the Panthers to their BCS Bowl. We're known as a team that doesn't travel well. I sometimes feel a little guilty about this. I've seen my other alma mater (Ohio State) play in several bowls (including the 1998 Sugar Bowl), but I've never followed Pitt anywhere. Heck, as has been pointed out REPEATEDLY on this site, I even skipped the Backyard Brawl. Is anybody else thinking of following the Panthers to New Orleans (hopefully) or Tempe?

And as was just pointed out at halftime in the USC-Notre Dame game, what a comeback for Walt Harris. From people (including myself) wanting him fired to the BCS in just a few weeks. I'll be more than happy to apologize and sit down to a nice plate full of crow on that one... PROVIDED that we don't choke at USF.

A strange day. A very strange day. But a wonderful day nonetheless. Hell, I'm wearing my Panther tie to church tomorrow.

Er... I meant, heck... sorry...

Hail to Syracuse. It's about time you did something that doesn't piss me off.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Things to ponder this weekend... 

As the Syracuse-BC game approaches, thoughts turn to what bowl Pitt will be assigned, and what factors influence that decision.
Here is what we know:
If BC wins, they win the conference and go to a BCS Bowl.
If BC loses, Pitt most likely goes to the BCS, provided it beats USF next week.
If BC loses, and Pitt loses to USF, then WVU will likely be the BCS team.

Which BCS game? This year, the Orange gets the #1 and #2 teams.
The Fiesta gets the Big12 champ (if not in the Orange), the Sugar gets the SEC champ (if not in the Orange) and the Rose gets the Big10 and Pac-10 champs (again, if not in the Orange). The Big East and ACC champs, as well as 2 at-large teams, are among those eligible to be selected to fill out the remaining spots.

Pac-10: USC is the champ, and currently #1 in the BCS - likely an Orange Bowl team, unless they lose to ND on Saturday, which would probably land them in the Rose...but, if both Oklahoma and Auburn lose their championship games, and USC, Auburn or OU drops below California in the BCS rankings - then Cal goes to the Orange as an at-large #1 or #2 team, USC still goes to the Rose as the Pac-10 champ.
Big10: Michigan is on their way to the Rose Bowl.
ACC: if VaTech beats UVa, then VaTech is in the BCS. If UVa wins, then a complex tie-breaker kicks in (like the BigEast), which puts Miami as the likely BCS team.
Big12: Oklahoma is the favorite to win the championship game over Iowa State (if they beat Missouri on Saturday) or Colorado. If either of those two teams beat OU, then they get the automatic bid and would go to the Fiesta, but OU still would likely be an at-large selection.
SEC: Auburn is favored over Tennessee. If Tennessee beats Auburn, then the Vols go to the Sugar, with Auburn possibly being an at-large team.
At-large: Teams such as Boise State, California, Georgia, Louisville, Texas and Utah are still eligible for a BCS bid, provided some things go their way in the next two weeks. Cal is almost guaranteed a spot, and if Texas beats Texas A&M, they will likely go. Utah is rooting for A&M, and for the favorites to win the conference championship games.

Likely Scenario:
As of 4:30 pm on Friday:
Orange: USC v. Oklahoma
Fiesta: Texas (or Utah) v. Virginia Tech
Rose: Michigan v. California
Sugar: Auburn v. Pitt (or BC)

It's pretty complicated, but after the Orange makes it's selections, then the Rose and Fiesta would pick replacements for losing their "host" teams that are going to the Orange (and they can't pick Auburn, since they are a host team of the Sugar).

Then the unfilled spots are filled by the bowl committees ranking their top three picks, with the requirement that conference champs of the ACC and Big East be in the top two. They get their top pick, unless another bowl picks the same team, then the bowl with the larger payout gets their pick. This year, teh Sugar is at the bottom of the totem pole, so the Fiesta would get the priority.

Since the Fiesta would get to pick their replacement, they would likely pick Texas or Utah (both potential at-large teams) due to proximity and potential of travelling fans. The Rose would naturally pick California to ensure a Big10-Pac10 match. Then, the Fiesta would pick between the ACC and Big East champs, and VaTech will no doubt travel better than either Pitt, BC, WVU or Syracuse. Surely the Sugar would want a southern team like VaTech, but it appears the Fiesta gets to go first. So Pitt to the Sugar!

Granted, this is still subject to everything falling into place...

What if Pitt doesn't go to the BCS?
Then the Gator picks between the top teams in the Big East and Notre Dame. Only if ND beats USC could they end up in the Gator: WVU, and possibly Pitt would be 8-3, with ND finishing 7-4 if they beat the Trojans. There is a one-win rule, meaning the Bowl can pick the team that is not the highest ranked only if the lower ranked team is within one win of the higher ranked team. When comparing a BigEast team to ND, overall records are used (when comparing two BigEast teams, conference records are used).
Thus, if USC beats ND, then WVU and Pitt (if they beat USF) will be two wins higher than the 6-5 Irish. We must root for USC to beat ND.
A pick between Pitt and WVU would be difficult, but the edge would probably be with the Hoopies, since they are closer and Pitt hasn't travelled well in the last couple of bowl games.

The Insight picks next, and the same rules apply: if ND loses to USC, then the team the Gator passed on would automatically go to the Insight. Pitt probably ends up here, provided we beat USF. If not, then ND goes to Phoenix.

The Tire Bowl, in Charlotte, picks last. We will end up here if we lose to USF.

Thoughts from Morgantown 

First things first -- I know I wussed out and left at halftime, but at least I have a real excuse (one that doesn't involve meteorlogical conditions on the Allegheny Ridge, Lee). The excuse: my six-week-old son (whose mother went into labor a couple hours after the BC game). I haven't had a full night's sleep in five weeks. And anyway, by bolting just as the 2nd quarter clock ran down, I made it to my in-laws by the start of the 3rd and enjoyed the fantastic second half in front of a warm fire with a big plate of Thanksgiving leftovers. A great night.

Maybe it's because I spent this season in Morgantown, but I didn't feel that much surprise last night. The Mountaineers have been off-track for quite a while now, and at the same time that Pitt has been looking up. The sloppiness and lack of discipline have been on display for quite a while, and the Henry situation has been a major story/distraction around here ever since he was ejected from the WVU-Rutgers game a couple weeks ago.

By the way, Coach Rodriguez gave my favorite quote of the year when, after that Rutgers game, he was asked if he would bench Henry for getting ejected and giving the Rutgers fans the finger: "As a coach, you wish he would be disciplined, but who else do you have that makes that play?" Rodriguez took a lot of heat for his lack of team discipline after that, but his comment proved to be correct when he did bench Henry yesterday and discovered that yes, in fact, nobody else could make the necessary catch. You have to love the lack of coaching-cliche spin in that quote, though -- I'll play him, no matter how much of a thug he is, because he gives us a chance to win.

But then Rodriguez had to go and counteract his own savvy by benching Henry for "unspecified violations." Wonder how he and the rest of the Mountaineer faithful (including those a-holes who set up a sound system in our parking lot, blasting the rest of us with country music and periodic chants of "eat s---, Pitt!") feel about Rod's tough attitude now?

Anyway, I haven't enjoyed a game so much in a long time. Go Orange!

Break On Through 

Admit it. When WVU QB Rasheed Marshall completed a 4th and 6 pass for 15 yards, after the Pitt should have intercepted it the previous play on the final drive, you were not thinking positive thoughts. If you were like me, you were hoping at best to hold them to a field goal. But not this time. This time Pitt didn't give it up at the end. The defense let them get just outside of a long field goal attempt before coming up with the stop.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Box score here.

Thanksgiving with the wife's family. Divorce means two meals and not being in the right place as game time nears. Force an early escape from her father's so we can get back to her mother's (where we are staying) so I can settle in to watch the game. Barely get upstairs with the notebook in hand in time to turn on the TV as the ESPN intro begins. The crew -- Mike Tirico, Kirk Herbstriet and Lee Corso -- tell me something Pat, Shawn and John (who made it to the game) told me before the game. It's frickin' cold.

Herbstriet and Corso both agree that it will be up to the quarterbacks and whether the defense can stop them. A kick back to the studio with Rece Davis, Trev Alberts and Mark May. In May's time at Pitt, his team was 4-0 with an average score of 40-10. Mark May echoes earlier comments from Rob Petitti by saying "I didn't like the West Virginia fans." Alberts says Pitt has to stop the WVU run, and then picks Pitt. Crap. Cut to commercial and I run back downstairs for my bourbon. Toy briefly with the idea of taking the whole bottle with me, but decide that might look bad to the inlaws.

West Virginia starts with the ball. The get to about midfield before they are stopped. Looked like they were looking for the soft spots in Pitt's line in the first series. They have to punt, and it only gets to the 21 yard line.

Pitt comes out running. Ray Kirkley follows Tim Murhpy (in the fullback position) for 10 yards. The Hoopies appeared to have been caught off guard. Expecting Pitt to throw first it seemed. Setting what would be an early tone, WVU then goes offside to make it 1st and 5. A quick pass to Greg Lee is an inch short of the 1st down. Kirkley gets the 1st. Palko drops to pass on 1st down, but pulls it down quickly and runs for 5 yards. Kirkley again, but is tripped as he runs for only a yard. Palko shook off the rush to roll out and thow the ball away on 3rd down. Pitt has to punt. Graessle, though is run into by a Mountaineer as he took an offcenter snap and was trying to kick for a sideline. The 5 yard penalty gives Pitt a first down (Corso questions whether Graessle was trying to be hit, but Herbstriet pointed out the bad snap and the angled kick).

Unfortunately, Pitt did nothing. Kirkley got 2 yards, then an incomplete pass over the middle. Receiver was hit just as the ball got there. Looked close to interference, but rather than see a replay, we got Palko highlights against ND. A screen to Murphy was incomplete as Palko threw a little too far in front of him -- just off his finger tips. Pitt punts and it goes for a touchback.

During the series, the ESPN crew talks about the bad field conditions. Seems the high school playoff games played on the field in the last week or so has really ripped up the field.

Bothered that Pitt didn't try anything for more than 10 yards. There wasn't much attempt to stretch the field vertically. Almost like they were trying to play a short WVU-like offense. Worrisome if Pitt does that. Don't outthink yourself, Walt.

In less than 2 minutes WVU scores. A rollout pass for 15 yards that surprised Pitt seemed to put the defense off the line a bit more. WVU had some quick runs and another pass that went for 26. Would have only been 10, but poor tackling allowed for 16 more yards after the catch. Colson for WVU ran the ball well in the drive and took it in for the score. WVU's leading rusher Kay-Jay Harris hasn't been seen yet. He must still be hurt. Colson seems like a solid fill-in. 7-0 WVU

Pitt starts from their own 21 after the kickoff. Murphy runs 3 straight times for 3, 11 and 1 yards. A short outlet pass to Kellen Campbell, the fullback, for 5 yards sets up a 3rd and 4. Palko dropped back, and WVU just got pressure right away. Palko tried to scramble away but was sacked for an 8 yard loss. Pitt also flagged for holding, declined, time to punt.

Apparently the punting unit for Pitt decided it was sick of WVU getting all the press for bad special teams. A late snap that was way offline. Graessle barely snagged it, but the punt was partially blocked by a Pitt player who was being driven back into the Punter. WVU ends up with the ball on the 17. Net -16 yard punt.

Harris for WVU out there finally. Gets the ball on a poorly executed reverse and loses 3 yards. Then Rasheed Marshall drops to pass and manages to get sacked for -4 yards. Harris gets the ball on a pass over the middle for 15 yards. He would have had the first down, but lost footing and slipped. WVU lines up for the fieldgoal, and Herbstriet questions why WVU isn't going for it considering how well they were running with Colson. I have to agree. That series was just a classic example of a coach out thinking himself. WVU never gave itself a chance to do what it does best, and Pitt does worst -- just run the ball. Fieldgoal is good. 10-0 WVU and Pitt should be happy about that.

Pitt puts together a nice answer to the WVU drive, with a 38 yard pass downfield to Greg Lee off of play action. Unfortunately the 1st quarter ends, WVU regroups and shuts Pitt down. Pitt settles for a 37 yard field goal. 10-3 WVU

Pitt continues to show why everyone was focusing on the wrong team regarding bad special teams by kicking off out of bounds allowing WVU to start at the 35. They show some numbers and Rasheed Marshall has 90 of 110 total yards for WVU. WVU, though, goes 3 and out -- barely. A short 4 yard pass to Pennington on 2nd and 8, and Darrelle Revis missed the tackle allowing Pennington to get 3 more yards. Pitt is not tackling well.

WVU gets an acceptable punt of roughly 35 yards. Allen Richardson takes the ball at the 22 and busts it for all of 3 yards. Bad, bad, bad return. Leading Tirico to say, "This is just an awful punt return team." Yep.

As they come out of the TV time out, the Pitt Dance Team is performing wearing black tights and white Pitt jerseys. I would prefer more formfitting attire overall. But that may just be me.

Palko impresses and disappoints. He has a great scramble on 3rd and 6 for 15 yards, including a leap over a diving Pac-Man Jones. Then on the very next play he makes a bad decision and pass attempt to TE Eric Gill that was tipped by one WVU defender and intercepted by another. The replays showed 3 WVU jerseys around Gill.

WVU goes 3 and out, though. Harris is stopped in the backfield for a loss of 2. He just isn't right. Not getting a burst or able to cut like Colson was. Again, WVU passes two times in a row and gives up the ball. What are they thinking?

Pitt takes advantage. On 1st and 10, Murphy rips off a 37 yard run straight up the middle, through -- through a hole. A gaping wide, offensive line generated hole. Pitt does the right thing, and has Palko go up top to Lee for the kill. Unfortunately, the defender Mims was able to make a last minute leap to knock away the TD. Herbstriet, though, notes that Lee slowed down too soon for the ball allowing Mims to catch-up and make a play. A screen to Furman goes for 15 and then nothing. Pitt has to settle for a 35 yard field goal -- not a good kick, but it went through -- 10-6 WVU.

WVU seems to finally remember that they can run the ball. They run a nearly 4 minute drive, that stalls out at the 27 when WVU gets too cute with pass attempts again. The 44 yard FG to the open end of the stadium misses. Still 10-6 WVU.

Pitt goes 3 and out. Palko's throws are offline.

WVU takes over on their 30 and another WVU running back, Pernell Williams runs for 19 yards. Colson for 6. Marshall scrambles for 5. Williams for 13 through a big hole again. So, Pitt is on their heels. They have been run over for 4 straight plays and 43 yards, and WVU takes a time out??? The ESPN booth is stupified, and so am I.

The next play WIlliams is stopped for a 4 yard loss, but then Marshall runs for 18 yards. Maybe it didn't matter. WVU now at the Pitt 15. The snap, though, is fumbled. Marshall falls on it for -2 yards. Marshall drops to pass, but has to throw it away. On 3rd and 12, they just run up the middle for 2 yards and call time out with 2 seconds left.

The field goal attmpt was no good. I didn't see it on the play, but according to the play-by-play, Terrell Allen got a hand on it to partially block the 31 yarder. Not so sure. It just looked like he shanked it badly.

Halftime and Pitt is lucky to be down only 10-6.

Jill Arrington talks to coach Walt Harris and Harris talks about the team needing to relax a bit (presumably he means the offense). He actually says that they were "too giddy."

Pitt gets the ball to start the second half. Poor return from the 3 to only the 16 by Furman. Pitt should have gone 3 and out. The first play was a deep pass to Greg Lee that went through his hands. Murphy ran for 2 and then another incomplete. On the punt, though, WVU got a 15 yard personal foul for roughing the kicker. I'll admit it. Bad call. At best running into the kicker for 5, which wouldn't have been enough for the first down.

Pitt looks like it won't do anything with it, but off the play action, Palko hits Lee for 29 yards. Lee beat Mims again. Why is Mims covering Lee. Why isn't their best defender, Adam "Pac-Man" Jones, on Pitt's best receiver? I'm not complaining, I'm just wondering. The reception takes Lee over 1000 receiving yards for the season.

Murphy runs for 4 yards two plays in a row, but on the second one, add another 15 yards for a personal foul facemask penalty. That one wasn't debatable. Murphy for 5 then 4 yards on carries. Then Pitt takes a timeout? With 10:01 left in the 3rd quarter. On 3rd and 1 from the 2 yard line. Why? Murphy is running straight ahead and well. You shouldn't pass with Palko being off on his passes tonight.

So, of course a bullet pass to Darrelle Strong, the freshman converted to WR from QB then TE. The pass was just too hard, too close and bounces off of him incomplete. It looked like he never had a chance to get his hands up for it. Settle for a FG. 10-9 WVU

WVU gets the ball with excellent field position. The kickoff only got to the 36, returned to the 43. WVU looks like it is really starting to wear down the Pitt defense. Mixing good runs with some nice medium distance passing. Even Harris runs for 10 yards, though the ESPN crew points out a blatant hold by WVU WR Miquelle Henderson. WVU is knocking on the door with 1st and goal from the 3. Williams loses a yard, but then WVU is flagge for a personal foul -- not identified as who did what, and once again, no replay to see what happened. WVU now has 1st and goal from the 18. The Pitt Defense actually rises on this occasion to stop them. WVU now using a new kicker makes the 31 yarder. 13-9 WVU

Neither team does much for the rest of the 3rd quarter. Rasheed Marshall makes his first costly mistake when H.B. Blades intercepts the ball and Pitt takes over at the WVU 40. Unfortuately Pitt goes 3 and out. Graessle, though, pins WVU on the 3 yard line with a perfect punt.

WVU goes 3 and out to start the 4th quarter. WVU's punt is way short, and Revis fields it at the WVU 39 and takes it 19 yards. And Pitt goes 3 and out. Josh Cummings 35 yard field goal into the open end of the stadium is no good (after the 40 yard attempt made it, but was waved off because WVU was offsides). Still 13-9.

WVU takes over and goes backwards with a false start and a sack when Marshall keeps on the option. On 3rd and 17, Marshall at least helps for field position by scrambling for 13 yards. WVU fake punts. Perfectly. A ballsy call. Then WVU commits another false start penalty (9 for 81 at this point). 2 plays later, Revis comes up with an interception.

Pitt ball from their own 27. 10:08 left in the game. Pitt uses its second timeout. What? Well, apparently Coach Harris knew what he was doing. Palko just suddenly found his game. Scary drive, though. The bad reverse to have Strong throw a flea flicker was one of the worst attempts ever. Palko converted 4 straight 3rd down passes (Lee appeared to have trapped one, but hey). The last 3 3rd down passes were all to Greg Lee. The most impressive was a 15 yard strike in the face of the blitz as the left-hander had a paw on his right shoulder.

Pitt had 1st and goal from the 10. A scary pass to TE Gill in the endzone. 3 or 4 WVU defenders around him, but none of them even looked for the ball as Gill was dragged down. Blatant pass interference. 1st and goal from the 2. An incomplete pass to Lee, then Palko keeps and runs it in clean for the score. Extra point is good.

16-13 Pitt.

A 6+ minute drive of 73 yards. Palko was 6-10 for 55 yards plus another 7 yards running.

WVU still had 4:06, and a field goal was all they needed to tie it.

Finally a decent kickoff and WVU started from their 26. WVU looked out of sorts. Not prepared to play from behind in the 2 minute drill. On 3rd and 6, Marshall got flushed and threw along the sideline -- right at a Pitt defender (I didn't see who) that had the ball bounce off his numbers. Ugh. 4th and 6, they have to go for it. Complete! Right over the middle for 15 yards to Joe Hunter. His first catch all year! This drive was all on Marshall. Either passing or running. He got them to the Pitt 32 on 3rd and 5.

WVU then runs a double reverse with Dwayne Thompson -- back-up QB, filling in at WR for the game -- throwing a deep pass to (who else) Marshall. He was covered, but it still hit his fingers before falling incomplete. Phew!

WVU calls TO with 55 seconds left. They try to pass downfield and it falls incomplete. Pitt Takes over on downs!!

Palko runs for 13 yards on the first play to ice it. WVU calls its obligatory remaining timeouts, but it doesn't matter! Pitt Wins!!! PITT WINS!!!!!

This was the kind of game Pitt doesn't win. A team about equal, maybe a little better, but Pitt just doesn't do it. This time they do. They broke through for the second straight game. Something they have never done under Coach Harris before. This was huge.

Yes WVU clearly gakked the season and the game. Coach Rodriguez got too cute at times. He got too far away from the run. Yes they ran 49 times for 213 yards, but they threw 27 times. Just too much for the Hoopies. It has to be better than 2-1 for them, not close to 2-1.

Pitt didn't make crucial mistakes. Only 1 turnover. The Defense was just good enough. I do not feel the same effusive praise I heard from the ESPN crew for the job by Paul Rhodes. I just don't understand the raving everyone gives about Rhodes. He must have a fantastic personality and be a great interview, because he has managed to escape being tarred for the poor job of the Pitt D the entire year. I have not seen substantial improvements over last year, nor during the course of the year.

Still, enough with the negative. This was huge. Harris got an ice bath at the end. His postgame interview was high comedy as he desparately ran through a series of cliches: Great game; fought hard by both sides; Proud of the way the team came through; Finally got it done. And then Jill Arrington asked him who he was rooting for in the Syracuse-BC game, and Harris let a little of the emotion leak out when he practically screamed, "Go Paul!"

Hopefully, more later.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

WE WON!?!? 

"Go Paul!"

--Walt Harris, referring to Syracuse Head Coach Paul Pasqualoni, after Pitt upset West Virginia 16-13 just minutes ago...


Well, as usual, Chas will be back with some more thorough and well-reasoned analysis tomorrow (we just spoke over the phone). But for now, my first impression of the Backyard Brawl that we just won is to thank Rich Rodriguez and his West Virginia Mountaineers for self-destructing tonight. Very Virginia Tech of you, really...

As has been the case all year, the Hoopies played like a very talented yet undisciplined and often flat-out stupid team tonight. Ten typically dumb penalties (minus the phantom personal foul call for roughing Graessle) for eighty-nine yards is just the beginning. Far worse is that Rich Rodriguez seemed to come down with a little Tom O'Brien Syndrome (TOBS) and forget the flagrantly obvious fact that the way to beat Pitt is to RUN the damn ball. Every time that Rasheed Marshall stepped back into the shotgun, I couldn't help but wonder what the hell Rodriguez was thinking. Perhaps the Hoopie tailbacks were in worse shape than I had imagined.

Yeah, and the two missed field goals didn't help either.

Mind you, I don't mean to infer that the better team didn't win tonight. Actually, I think that it did. It's just that Tyler Palko had a terrible game (only 14 of 38 for 165 yards), partially due to that strange 3-3-5 mountaineer defensive scheme that I can't help but think is nothing more than a cheesy card trick (I mean, yeah, it confuses people who have never seen it before, but only for a little while). I'm just saying that although I think Pitt is the better team, we didn't earn the win tonight as much as Rich Rodriguez handed it to us. Rasheed Marshall certainly outplayed Palko, in any case.

ESPN's coverage of the event was tolerable. I genuinely like Kirk Herbstreit, and I especially appreciated his seemingly heartfelt praise of Pitt's facilities ("I mean... just look at this!"). But there certainly was a lot of yaking about crap completely unrelated to the Backyard Brawl. The stands certainly looked full on TV, although they did mention that there were a lot of Hoopies present.

Now, as Walt Harris noted, all we have to do is root for Syracuse to upset Boston College this Saturday (1:00 PM on ABC regional -- most of Pennsylvania and West Virginia will get that game, except for Harrisburg) and we're likely headed to a freakin' BCS bowl... well, that and we have to, of course, beat South Florida next Saturday...

And yes, I'm on the brink of issuing one massive apology to Walt Harris. But I'm going to wait to see if he drops the ball against USF (again) before I drop to my begging knees to keep him from leaving Pitt.

Hail to a long, cold, miserable winter in West Virginia. You trash-talking inbreds deserve it.

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