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, July 31, 2005

College Previews 

The Pitt Athletic Department recently trumpeted the CBSSportsline.com college football preview that listed Tyler Palko as a Heisman Trophy potential candidate. This was the subject of an incoherent column I mocked a week or so ago.

So, what's in this preview. I suspect many of the articles will eventually be published online, leading up to the season. Right now, most of them are only in the magazine. Most (if not all) of the featured articles are written by their College Football columnist Dennis Dodd.

There is an article titled "The Main Attractions." It is about key players and their team. Tyler Palko gets featured in the article. Friendly stuff.

Another article, "New Beginnings," talks about the coaching changes in short one hitters. On Coach Wannstedt, the summary is essentially that he is home and the team has a great opportunity.

In the bowl predictions section, they have Louisville, as the Big East BCS rep, facing Virginia Tech from the ACC. Continuing the, uh, irony, Pitt would face Miami in the Gator Bowl.

In the magazine's ranking of the teams(page 51) , Louisville gets ranked #12 and Pitt comes in at #15. Others to note: ND #33, PSU #43, Syracuse #46 and @VU #55. Dodd's top-25 has been subject to continual revisions. In early July, he updated the top-25 and dropped Pitt to #20.

For the All-Big East team (page 40), they have Palko as the QB and offensive player of the year; Greg Lee at WR; Charles Spencer, OL; H.B. Blades, LB; Josh Lay, DB; and Adam Graessle, P.

As far as the individual evaluation of Pitt (page 67), the preview expects Pitt to compete but not be able to win the BE from Louisville, coming in second. The offense is expected to be very, very good. Palko to Lee leading, but with much more balance and a better running game. The concern is on the defense. Not with the starters who are considered to be good, but with the depth. A fair point, Pitt is kind of thin. The defense should still be better with Wanny's impact as a coach being felt there.


You can watch some brief interviews from Big East Media Day (click the link "Media Day Overview," the two links beneath are from the 2004 media day). From Pitt they talk to Coach Dave Wannstedt and QB Tyler Palko (Windows Media). Wannstedt appears about 3:15 in and Palko follows at about the 4:45 mark. Amusing, perhaps only to me, they mute out the actual question being asked of the interviewees. Likely so the media outlets that used the clips can do a voice over of their own or even pretend they were asking the question.

South Florida's head coach is very excited about the future.
"It's something you can't even measure," Leavitt said of joining the Big East. "Because now you have taken away the last obstacle from getting the very best players. Now you can tell them that you have a legitimate opportunity to play for a national championship."

Leavitt said he didn't sense feeling any pressure as one of the three schools replacing Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, who have bolted for the ACC in the past two seasons. How the Big East performs in the next two seasons could dictate whether the conference will remain Bowl Championship Series eligible when the current BCS contract expires in 2006.

"I didn't feel it as much as some did in the Big East," Leavitt said. "I got more of a sense of excitement and energy at Big East media days with the NFL coaches (Dave Wannstedt at Pittsburgh) returning to college."
As for new coaches getting the area to drink the kool-aid, it isn't as easy when you are Ohio University, but there are flashes.
Miami, Bowling Green, Toledo, and Marshall have dominated the MAC picture over the last decade or so. Hopefully, Solich can build Ohio into a contender. He has a great reputation despite his demise at Nebraska.

Solich coached under the highly successful Dr. Tom Osborne and played under the legendary Bob Devaney at Nebraska. And he's an Ohio native from Cleveland, knows the state, and shouldn't have difficulty recruiting once he becomes fully acquainted with the state's high school coaches.
Hey, it's important to keep an eye on what is going on at some of the other teams Pitt will face.

Speaking of other schools, WVU is finally getting some more depth back at Wide Receiver. Three of their WRs who were academically ineligible last year have qualified.

Finally CollegeFootballNews.com has some more way early predictions of some big games in September.
Saturday, September 17th - Pitt at Nebraska
It's a rematch of last year's mistake-filled 24-17 Nebraska win with Dave Wannstedt taking his Panthers to Lincoln for a big early season showdown. The Big East needs this win to help in the national respect department, while Nebraska could use this win before Big 12 play starts. As tough as it is to win in Lincoln, Pitt will pull it off thanks to Tyler Palko, Greg Lee, and the Panther passing game lighting up the young Husker secondary. The Pitt run D will keep Cory Ross in check.
Predicted score in late July: Pitt 27 ... Nebraska 24
Oasis Line: Nebraska -3
This actually conflicts with their Pitt page, where they mark this one as a predicted loss for Pitt.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Feel Positive 

That is the opinion of a Louisville newspaper column about the Big East.

While I agree that the Big East currently lacks sizzle, it does have room to grow and upgrade to a top-five league. Conference USA does not.

When U of L can step in and be voted the team to beat before the Cardinals have taken a snap in the league, there is no doubt the Big East needs work. But when I look at how formidable the league is in men's basketball, women's basketball and other sports, I don't see a league that will be willing to embrace football mediocrity.

There are programs in the Big East that understand what is required to hang out in the Top 25 or contend for national titles. That's what separates the Big East from C-USA.

Pittsburgh has no interest in being anybody's chump. Pitt is where Dan Marino and Tony Dorsett played, where Johnny Majors coached.

The Panthers schedule as if they mean business, playing Notre Dame and Nebraska. Although he failed with the Bears and Dolphins, new coach Dave Wannstedt gives Pitt more name recognition.
Where the Big East needs improvement is from its bottom four -- Connecticut, Rutgers, South Florida and Cincinnati.

UConn means business in everything it does. The consistent success of its two basketball powers is proof of that. The Huskies are in only their sixth season of Division I-A football, and coach Randy Edsall's program has won 21 of its last 28 games.

South Florida thinks just as big. The Bulls' agenda never has been a secret: Use big-time football success to grow interest in the university.

Being a Louisville piece, it takes some gratuitous shots at Cinci.

This piece works in conjunction with the article I noted yesterday about all the BE schools upgrading their athletic facilities.

Here's what the Big East has to do, it can't just have teams rise and fall quickly. The conference needs at least 2 schools to show consistency in being in the top-25 and keep getting a little better. That's why all the focus is on Louisville and Pitt. They are the programs closest to achieving that. Other programs in the BE might reach that point, but in the short-term it is Louisville and Pitt.

That is something that Walt Harris should always be given much credit for. The long term growth. Yes, the team would seem to stumble backwards every other year, but it was never falling as far back as it had been before (it just seemed that way). I'm thinking in 2001 when the team lost 5 straight, by the end of the season it still finished with a winning record and a bowl win. Then in 2003 when it fell flat in expectations to challenge for the BE title. Even when the team missed the expectations, they were higher expectations each time.

Now, Pitt is poised to try and take advantage and meet and exceed expectations. Expectations nationally are a close 2nd in the BE and top-25. Obviously, we want to see those exceeded -- #1 in BE and top-10 to -15 would be a good start.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Big East Preview -- Sort Of 

Pre-season mags predicting orders of conferences and top-25s are generally speaking: simply a matter of expectations, name recognition, a quick scan of returning starters and personal biases. I like them only as a matter of setting out what the more national perspective is on expectations for Pitt and other teams.

Usually, I find more reliable and trustworthy, conference previews from beat writers of the individual teams in the conference. They may still have biases towards the particular team they cover, but they also have a better idea about the other teams that they have seen, talked to and generally paid more attention to their activities during and after the season. There are the head-to-head and more common opponents to compare.

The Big East this year, is an exception to that. This time, the beat writers know no more than the pre-season mags. There are 3 new teams to cover and no solid basis to compare them to the other teams. Add in 2 new head coaches to the other 5, and really there is just no way of knowing.

With that extended caveat, the Rutgers beat writer does a BE preview (via Knight Hawk -- Rutgers blog).


Nickname: Panthers

Head coach: Dave Wannstedt

Last year's record: 8-4 (lost to Utah, 35-7, in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl)

Names you should know: QB Tyler Palko, WR Greg Lee, TE Erik Gill, OL Charles Spencer, LB H.B. Blades, CB Bernard "Josh" Lay, CB Darrelle Revis

Football tradition: The Panthers claim nine national championships -- the most recent when Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett led Pittsburgh to a 12-0 season in 1976 -- as part of their rich football history. Glenn "Pop" Warner and Jock Sutherland, two of the game's coaching giants, applied their trade at the school, and the program's list of retired jerseys features several of college football's all-time greats: Mark May, Dorsett, Dan Marino, Hugh Green, Bill Fralic, Joe Schmidt, Jimbo Covert and Mike Ditka. Pittsburgh ranks 12th among Division 1-A schools with 22 inductees in the college football Hall of Fame.

Why they will finish higher than Rutgers: The cupboard certainly wasn't left bare for Wannstedt, a Pittsburgh graduate who was the Miami Dolphins' head coach from 2000-04. After earning a share of the Big East title and representing the league in the BCS, the Panthers return 16 starters and both kickers. Palko, a junior, blossomed into a star the second half of last season.

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh, Sept. 3

Irish usher in the Charlie Weis era just as the Panthers embark on the Dave Wannstedt era. An important opener for both.

South Florida at Miami, Oct. 1

The Bulls aren't ready to beat Miami yet, but how much would it help the Big East's image if USF put a scare into the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl? Miami is where South Florida wants to be some day.

Louisville at North Carolina, Oct. 8

It's an ACC-Big East matchup and those always matter now -- especially when Louisville looks to be the Big East's best team.

Pittsburgh at Louisville, Nov. 3

The way things shape up, this should be the game that decides the Big East title and a BCS bowl berth.

Pittsburgh at West Virginia, Nov. 24

The Thanksgiving night matchup is far and away the best rivalry the Big East has to offer. The Backyard Brawl almost always seems to produce something memorable or unexpected.

Tyler Palko, QB, Pittsburgh

The junior blossomed into one of the country's top QBs the second half of last season, finishing the year with 3,067 passing yards and 24 TDs.


H.B. Blades, LB, Pittsburgh

The latest football star from the Blades family -- dad, Bennie, and uncles Brian and Al all were standouts at Miami -- earned first-team all-league honors as a sophomore last year.

Like everyone else he picks Louisville and Pitt 1 and 2.

The piece also picks Rutgers to have their first winning season since 1992.

An interesting companion piece discusses how all the Big East schools have just completed, are working on, or are about to upgrade their overall athletic facilities. I take that to mean these are programs that will not be losing the Big East's auto BCS bid without a major fight that I don't think the rest of the conferences want to happen. Too many documents that could come out in discovery that would not be good for most conferences.


Apparently I'm not the only one concerned about not having enough material in the dead times. CollegeFootballNews.com has an interview with Tyler Palko. They did the interview back in April but have been holding it until today.
CFN: How stressful was the time period between knowing Walt Harris was gone and before the new coaching staff came in? You're obviously not going to dog your new coaches, but what was your reaction when they decided to hire Dave Wannstedt?

TP: I understand that this is a business and the decision was made by people who are paid to make the hard decisions. I'm not getting paid to make those decisions. I've been around football forever, and I understand not to worry about the decisions that are out of my control. Coach Harris and I had a good relationship, and we'll continue to have a great relationship because of all he did for me through my first three years of college. But the new staff brought in some new energy, and obviously Coach Wannstedt is a very respected coach around Pittsburgh and the NFL. You can't turn your back on a coach and a staff with so much experience just because you liked the old coach; that's an immature way to look at it. You have to roll with the punches. Fortunately, the whole experience has been positive so far, and we're ready to move on to bigger things.

CFN: The current joke is that this is the first time Wannstedt has been able to coach a pro quarterback. Because of your status on the team, did he do anything special to ingratiate himself to you to ease the transition?

TP: When I was at the press conference, he put the pressure on me right away. They asked him about is quarterback situations in the past and how and why they weren't successful. Then he starts out with how I need to have a great off-season. Actually, he has been tremendous. He sat me down right away and talked to me about being a leader and what's expected of me this year, and he talked to me about always working and always getting better. I've always been evaluating and working on what I need to do to get better, so he really didn't tell me anything earth shattering. It's all about working hard and being a leader, and I already feel like I try to do both.
It may be just me, but it seems like every other week I find yet another interview or update piece on Yogi Roth. This one fleshes out Roth getting his present job on Pete Carroll staff at USC.
Roth received his present job offer when discussing job possibilities with ESPN.

"Coach Carroll offered me this position when I was sitting in a meeting with ESPN," said Roth, who is single and lives in Hermosa Beach, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. "They told me at ESPN that television isn't going anywhere and they said I can always come back to television.

"But what's going on at USC is very special."

Roth's relationship with Carroll developed during his early days at Pitt. Carroll's son, Brennan, was a tight end at Pitt.

"He was two years older than I was and he took me under his wing," Roth said. " I would go out to the West Coast during summers and work coach Carroll's camps."
You know, I forgot that Pete Carroll's son was a Pitt grad. Hmmm. Carroll and Wanny are reasonably close. You don't suppose all of these connections would help work out a home-and-home with USC in the near future do you?

Canadian Sweep 

Canada's under-21 team completed the sweep in the tourney warm-up. It wasn't even close, as Canada put the Australians away early.
Canada defeated Australia 100-80 last night in the final of the inaugural Jack Donohue International Classic, a round-robin tournament held at the Hershey Centre this week. The Canadians were 4-0 in the tournament and led at the end of each quarter of the final last night. They were sparked by some torrid three-point shooting. Andy Rautins, a Canadian citizen who played high-school basketball in Syracuse, N.Y., where he'll attend university in the fall, connected on six three-pointers, including five in the first half, and led all scorers with 20 points. Canada shot 13-for-25 as a team from behind the arc. Levon Kendall of Vancouver chipped in 14 points and a game best total of eight rebounds in 19 minutes.
It was, apparently, Levon Kendall's 3rd straight good game. In the game against China the day before, he sparked the rout in the 3rd quarter with 9 points and 2 rebounds.

Canada will face 2 of the 3 teams -- Australia and Greece -- again next week in the real tournament. They are all in the same grouping that will play round robin, along with Argentina, Israel and Iran. The US squad is in the other grouping.

Kendall also gets a piece discussing him as the anchor and key for this squad in the upcoming games, and speculating as to whether he can make the NBA.

The question is how far Kendall's basketball journey will take him. Based on his production at the University of Pittsburgh, where he averaged 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds a game in a part-time role last season, a spot in the Panthers' starting lineup would be a worthy goal.

Based on his performance for Canada this summer, that journey could lead to the National Basketball Association.

"Can Levon Kendall play in the NBA? I think he's legit," said Leo Rautins, the head coach of Canada's senior men's team. "I've told him, 'Hey, you can be an NBA player,' but he's got a little bit of that West Coast casual in him. He's got to break through the casual. When he's intense, when he goes at people, he hurts people."

But perhaps the most important step Kendall made in realizing his potential came while lifting weights in Vancouver in May. A documentary featuring Steve Nash, Todd MacCulloch and Jamaal Magloire was on television, and Kendall noticed a common thread among the three Canadians who made it to the NBA.

"I noticed that every one of them said at one point they made a decision that they wanted to play in the NBA," Kendall said. "Up until then, I'd never really fully committed. Obviously, it was a goal, but when people would ask me about it, I would say: 'We'll see what happens after school. If not I'll go overseas.' "

And now? "I realized I have to make a choice and commit. Now, whenever anyone asks me, I say my goal is to play in the NBA. That kind of puts it out there."

If he's serious, it will have to start at Pitt this season. It will be his senior season. He should have a shot to start at small forward and it will be up to him to make the most of it. He's going to have to show the intensity he showed in early in Big East play and much more consistency in his shot then the brief flashes he had in that stretch.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Looking To the Games 

It's starting. I don't know if you caught the Charlie Weis-ND-ESPN media blitz yesterday. I caught part of his appearance on PTI. There is a transcript of some of his appearance on ESPN Radio.
Q: How much of an emphasis are you putting in the Pitt game?

A: "Two things. First of all, not to get into coaching analogies, but I think that because we are a game-plan team, you have to look at your season as 11 one-week entities. And because Pitt is the first one, it obviously is the most critical game on our schedule because it's the next one. But, with that having been said, the one thing you have to d0 -- winning that game would obviously do great to build the confidence of your team. At the same time, you have to make sure that you don't put all your eggs in one basket so that if something negative came away, you can't say, 'OK, it's time to throw in the towel.' Obviously I have a lot of respect for (Pitt coach Dave) Wannstedt and his whole coaching staff, but I think the most critical thing for Notre Dame is to start playing football, playing smart intelligent football and playing it for 60 minutes."
Obviously, no one is expecting him to start running smack. He's going to avoid any bulletin board stuff. Weis may not be trying to put too much emphasis on that first game. Coach Wannstedt has mostly been the same way.

The thing is, I think the fans for both are. Starts of new eras. High expectations. Everyone has drunk the kool-aid (yes, I know I've been abusing that line for a while now with respect to both new coaches, but I haven't found a suitable replacement that captures the feeling as effectively). That first game is the test to see if such faith and trust is warranted. Fair or not, that is the early sense I am getting.

The looking to the games has begun. College Football News.com has its early picks for key games up.
Saturday, September 3rd - Notre Dame at Pitt
It's the battle of the new head coaches. While all eyes will be on Charlie Weis and Notre Dame, Dave Wannstedt will have almost as much pressure trying to keep Pitt at a high level. The Panthers won a classic between the two last year beating the Irish 41-38, but everyone seems to remember quarterback Tyler Palko's f-bomb in the post-game interview more than the stirring finish. Palko will leave all of the talking on the field as he'll riddle the Irish secondary for 300+ yards. However, Notre Dame's Brady Quinn will also throw for a ton of yards.
Predicted score in late July: Pitt 31 ... Notre Dame 24
Oasis Line: Pitt -3
Last year, Pitt was very, very good at not turning over the ball. That will have to continue.

Meanwhile at SI.com, there is interest in intersectional games:
It isn't that I loathe great rivalries. It's simply that those teams play one another every season. No, what I live for is seeing the teams who rarely meet, or have never met, play one another. I love to see unusual pairings.
Contests between schools who do not compete in the same conference are known as "intersectional games," except in the Southeastern Conference, where they are known as "wins." See, SEC teams rarely schedule worthy non-conference foes and even less often do they leave home to play them. Les Miles isn't just an SEC coach; it's an SEC credo. This year the 12 SEC schools will play a total of six intersectional games on the road. ...

... The point is, intersectional matchups rock. Athletic directors owe it to fans to schedule at least one non-conference opponent who is better than a 10-point underdog each season. A cursory glance at the list above illustrates Miami and Michigan deserve extra-special props for giving the people what they want. Notre Dame, being an independent, plays nothing but non-conference games, so I did not include them, but the Irish always play at least three top-10 teams each season -- or so it seems. This year they're Michigan, Southern Cal and Tennessee.

Here's my list of this year's top 10 intersectional games (not including the previously mentioned Notre Dame games), in chronological order:
September 17: Pittsburgh at Nebraska. Let the commentators talk about ex-NFL coaches Dave Wannstedt and Bill Callahan. I'm more interested in seeing how Panther QB Tyler Palko operates amidst the Red Sea.

This is what scheduling good (or name) teams in the non-con does. It generates early attention for the program. Think Wanny and the coaches aren't out on the road selling that, along with an easier route to the BCS bowls?

Making Room 

An article today on Freshman Point Guard Levance Fields getting playing time in the upcoming season.

There could be some reading into the article that controversy could erupt with Fields' statement that "I am not going to redshirt. I didn't come here to do that." I don't see it that way. That sounds like a reporter asked him about that possibility and an honest answer. Considering the story takes the view that there will be an issue of playing time with a crowded backcourt.

Fields must earn the playing time he receives because the Pitt backcourt is crowded. Krauser averaged almost 36 minutes per game last season and figures to play just as much as a senior.

Three other veterans return and will compete for time at shooting guard. Junior Antonio Graves started 25 games last season and played 27 minutes per game. Sophomore Ronald Ramon started four games and played 26 minutes a game. And sophomore Keith Benjamin played 10 minutes a game.

There does not seem to be a lot of room for maneuvering, but Fields is confident that he can crack third-year coach Jamie Dixon's lineup.

Fields is Pitt's point guard of the future. He will crack that line-up. It is more likely that Graves will suffer the most in minutes. Carl Krauser, in his first year as Knight's back-up, averaged 18.6 minutes per game. Krauser of course had a redshirt year -- for academics -- so he got to practice with the team and really learn the system. Still there was an effort to make sure Krauser got real playing time in Knight's final season.

That is what Coach Dixon has to do with Fields. It also an issue of using the best talent. Fields is considered one of the best players. The program has to show that it will use the talent if it wants to keep recruiting it.

This is just part of why I have been saying that this will be Coach Dixon's big season as far as showing what kind of coach he is. He has all the big decisions and he has to show he can handle it.

Canada U-21 Looking Good 

They keep winning in this warm-up to the real U-21 championships. If anyone knows where box scores for these things are, please let me know. I would really like to know what kind of game Levon Kendall is actually showing.

This time they beat China with ease.
Pierre Cespedes of Montreal led Canada with 13 points, Levon Kendall of Vancouver added 12 and Majak Kou of Hamilton chipped in 10 points plus six rebounds in the one-sided contest. "A 30-point win is a good win," said Canadian head coach Dave Crook. "We saw a lot of positive plays from the guys on both ends of the floor. Now we just have to work on being more consistent from the opening tip to the final buzzer."
They will face Australia once more for the "gold medal" of the tournament.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

BlogPoll Questions, Round 4 

From Blue-Gray Sky, it is all about the rivalries. This is football, so the choices are limited. The questions are a little more involved than they appear, hence the further details

1. Who are your rival(s)?
West Virginia. It is the Backyard Brawl. They hate Pitt and we look down upon them like the backwater bumpkins they are. During the games, a favorite chant is, "Hoopies rape Sheep!" 75 miles separate the 2 schools, but the cultural divide is far greater.

When old Pitt Stadium was around and I was an undergrad in the late 80s, there was a chain link fence dividing the bleachers in one endzone. This served to separate antagonizing fans who would shout obscenities back and forth throughout the games. After a while, the empties -- cans, bottles, whatever projectile could be found would start getting hurled back-and-forth. Inevitably some idiot would get enraged and drunk enough to decide he would scale the fence and take on his antagonist. Almost with out fail it was one of the inebriated, inbred hillbillies. As he would scale, he would get tangled in the fence and forcibly dragged down and pummeled by the waiting Pitt fans who were equally inebriated but not as stupid. Hey, the Pitt fans still had teeth that weren't worth losing.

2. Size up your chances in your rival games this year.
Slightly Above Average. It is frustrating to actually respect the rival's coach, but I respect Rich Rodriguez. He is doing a very good job with the Mountaineers' program. He gets the entire team up for the Backyard Brawl, because as an alum, it really matters to him. In recent years the series has see-sawed (4-4). Neither team winning more than 2 games in a row. This year's game is in Morgantown on a Thursday night. Given the way family grates for most on Thanksgiving, this could be very dangerous for the fans. I expect the Morgantown police will be out gathering couches from the porches for 2 weeks prior this time.

3. If you could start up a new rivalry with another team, who would it be?
Multiple answers here.

We should be playing Penn State annually. The fact that the old man cancelled the rivalry and refuses to renew it out of spite and vindictiveness has been hashed, re-hashed many times here.
Many Penn State fans reflexively defend their coach and his pettiness by saying Pitt was the one who refused to join Paterno's Eastern Conference dream in the 80s -- even if history reflects there wasn't much support for that dream much beyond Rutgers and Temple. In their view if Pitt had signed on, everyone else would have fallen into line. Right.

I grew up on that rivalry. Both my parents are PSU alum. I chose Pitt. Sparks flew every fall. It mattered in the state. Now it fades. Penn State fans now try to claim that they don't need it or any rivalry game (which is a good thing since they don't have one).

I think where the best potential for a new rivalry will be with UConn. UConn and Pitt have been going at it fiercely in basketball for the last 4 years. There is real potential for it to carry over to football if their program continues to develop.

Louisville is another possibility, but they the teams have only met 8 times. The last time being 1994.

4. Overall, what do you think the best rivalry in college football is?
I want to say the Wagon Wheel between the Zips and Golden Flashes (Akron and Kent), but I haven't started drinking yet.

I hate to have to admit this, but it is the Ohio State-Michigan game. The vitriol and hatred is so strong. It is impressive, despite my urges not to.

5. Lastly, game trophies. What are the best and worst rivalry trophies out there?
Best: I'm partial to most anything involving symbols of alcohol. Unfortunately, Kentucky "retired" most of its trophy games titled for alcohol -- Beer Barrel (Tennessee), Bourbon Barrel (Indiana).

I'm going to have to go with Paul Bunyan's Axe -- Minnesota-Wisconsin. Sure it's a little cheesy and ridiculous. But you have to go with trophy where there is a potential to cause a decapitation and mayhem. Seriously, have you ever watched those players start swinging that thing around after the game? It's a wonder there hasn't been a Chris Hanson incident.

Worst: This is easy. Pick the Land Grant Trophy -- Michigan State-Penn State. This one was created for them when Penn St. joined the Big 11. They made MSU their rival, because there was no other team to use. This is one of my favorite quotes to describe the players passion:
"The only thing we know about the trophy is that it leaves a big empty space in our trophy case when we don't win," Penn State senior offensive lineman Matt Schmitt said.
Hate when that happens.

Lamest Attempt: A few years back, the Hoopies alumni association offered up some ancient moonshine jug as a trophy for the Backyard Brawl. There was no interest.

Early Comparisons 

As I warned, I have more to discuss on the newly released non-con for basketball. I'm going to compare it to last year's non-con. This was last year's non-con with the RPI of the teams from 2003-04 and how they ended in 2004-05
2003-04 RPI ------------- Team --------------2004-05 RPI
322 --------------------- Loyola-MD ------------- 315
321 ----------------------- Howard --------------- 322
249 ------------------- St. Francis - PA ----------- 203
234 --------------------- Coppin St. --------------- 151
217 ------------------- Robert Morris ------------- 224
216 -------------------- Bucknell ------------------ 64
189 --------------------- Penn St. ---------------- 227
162 --------------------- Duquesne --------------- 259
47 ----------------------- Richmond --------------- 150
45 --------------------- South Carolina -------------- 90
32 ----------------------- Memphis ----------------- 109
184.91 -------------------- Avg. RPI ----------------- 192.18
Not only was it a bad schedule to before the season started, buy it looked even worse at the end. Readers who have endured by rants over the past season know how much I hated that schedule.

Here's the 2005-06 Non-con with the RPI from the end of this past season:
Team ----------------- RPI

St. Peter --------------- 164
Robert Morris --------- 224
Maine ----------------- 174
St. Francis (NY) ------- 261
Auburn ---------------- 137
Duquesne -------------- 259
Penn St. --------------- 227
Vermont --------------- 26
Coppin St. ------------- 151
South Carolina --------- 90
Wisconsin ------------- 14
Average RPI ----------- 157
Obviously, the simple raw numbers suggest a better non-con. Other important features. No games against a team in the 300s. Image-wise alone, this is important. Last year, Pitt scheduled 6 of its 11 non-cons against teams with an RPI above 200. This year, only 4 and 3 of them -- Duquesne, Robert Morris and Penn St. -- are natural games for Pitt to play.

The variance between the best and worst has shrunk as well. Last year 32 to 322, a range of 290. This year, 14 to 261. A range of 247. No this is not Indiana's non-con of last year.

It's an improvement. Maybe not a vast improvement to where I would like, but it is progress. From a perception standpoint alone, it is much better. Pitt is getting more games against teams that may not be upper-tier but are teams that can play and occasionally surprise -- Maine, Vermont, heck even Coppin St. was a lot better than expected last year.

On the issue of lack of away games, that is still a work. Pitt only plays away from the Pete twice, and one of those is just down the road at Duquesne. To some degree, the athletic department has been upfront about needing to play a lot of home games to help pay for the Pete. Consider, though, that the school will have at least 3 away games next year -- Auburn, Wisconsin and Penn State. For most upper-tier schools, there are usually only 3-4 away games.

At least there are signs of finally understanding this.

Games Up North 

Time for the Levon Kendall in Canada post.

Canada broke away from Greece in the 4th quarter to win 73-61. Kendall led Canada with 14 points. Once more, no box score to be found so no real context to put it in or to know how he did on the other numbers.

This is just a tune-up for the FIBA U-21 championships in Argentina that starts next weekend.

Qualified Thumbs-Up 

That seems to be the response to the new Pitt basketball non-con as reported in the papers.
With Pitt's non-conference basketball schedule receiving as much scrutiny as any team in the country the past several years, there was a movement within the athletic department to upgrade the level of opponents so the NCAA selection committee would have less ammunition to downgrade the Panthers when it came time to seed NCAA tournament teams.

Pitt's non-conference schedule, released yesterday, addressed some strength-of-schedule issues, but another aspect of the schedule that has drawn criticism remained the same.
That other issue is the fact that Pitt has only one game that takes them out of Pennsylvania, nay, out of Pittsburgh.

Apparently AD Jeff Long actually got involved in the scheduling to try and raise the level of opponents. (An implication that Coach Jamie Dixon wasn't going to change the approach to non-con scheduling?)

The other story focuses heaviest on the New Years Eve game against Wisconsin.

Technically Pitt's schedule has 2 Big 11 teams, 2 SEC teams an A-10 team and a good mid-major opponent. If you didn't know the foes, it would seem like a pretty rugged non-con.

Recruiting Snippet 

A brief update on the pursuit of Darrin Walls, the Woodland Hills Senior from Pittsburgh. Pitt is not leading for his services, but he isn't writing them off. Pitt remains in the list of 5. He has scheduled an official visit to Florida, which would appear to lead. Then it is ND and Michigan. USC is 4th, recruiting hard, including the daily handwritten letter thing. Pitt is at the end, but not out of it.
"I really like Pittsburgh a lot and I've been looking at them more and more lately especially with their recent commits."
As long as Pitt hangs around there's still hope.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Media Guide Released 

Hat tip to "anonymous."

We love you Wanny, but I'm really not sure about this picture.

I don't have the time to look at the 2005 Pitt Football Media Guide at the moment.

Quick observation. Since there is now a page limit on media guides and each athletic department will need to find other ways to use the guide as a promotion. Here's the 2004 for comparison. Looks like they added a couple more color pages for 2005.


And I am not displeased.

Hat tip to Jamie for the notification that the basketball non-conference schedule has been released.
Saturday, Nov. 19 ------- ST. PETERS

Wednesday, Nov. 23 ----- ROBERT MORRIS

Saturday, Nov. 26 -------- MAINE

Tuesday, Nov. 29 -------- ST. FRANCIS (N.Y.)

Sunday, Dec. 4 ----------- AUBURN

Wednesday, Dec. 7 ------- at Duquesne

Saturday, Dec. 10 -------- PENN STATE

Saturday, Dec. 17 -------- VERMONT

Wednesday, Dec. 21 ------ COPPIN STATE

Wednesday, Dec. 28 ------ at South Carolina

Saturday, Dec. 31 --------- WISCONSIN
No it isn't the most difficult schedule, but it is definitely an improvement over the last year. There are, of course, some patsy games, and no sure losses, but there are several games that should be tough and/or toss-ups.

Based on last year's RPI, the St. Francis (NY) appears to be the biggest dog. They had an RPI of 261.

The toughest games will likely be Wisconsin and at South Carolina.

Kudos to the Pitt Athletic Department, Jamie Dixon and the basketball program for improving the non-con (finally).

I'm sure to have more on this later.

Goal Post Moving 

Score one for common sense from a court.

Andrew Bourne of Liberty was paralyzed in an accident after a Ball State University Cardinals football game on Oct. 20, 2001. The Cardinals upset the Toledo Rockets and, to celebrate, a crowd gathered and climbed up on one of the posts on the field. Soon the crowd's weight toppled the aluminum structure. Bourne was hit by the gooseneck of the post.

Two years after the accident, Bourne sued Gilman Gear, a Connecticut company that makes goal posts for high school, college and professional football teams. Bourne claims the structure gave way too quickly instead of bending over slowly in the way he said he was accustomed to seeing on television.
[Emphasis added.]

Yeah, that's what I always think when you see kids trying to rip down goalposts. That the darn things are just so flexible. Judge David F. Hamilton of the Southern District Court of Indiana ruled for Gilman Gear. No surprise that Bourne plans an appeal.

Link via the blog of the sexiest NY Timesman. Hey, Warren, I never got my copy of RJYH.

Not Krauser, Dixon 

Ron Cook goes for the full-court backing of Carl Krauser returning to Pitt. I'll give him credit for going fully to one side in declaring this very good for Pitt. He's gone opposite Smizik on the issue.

Me, I'm still stuck somewhere in the middle. I wish I wasn't being so wishy-washy. Love Krauser and his game. Plain worried about how the coach will handle him and the whole team; and I worry about how Krauser's long decision making after the draft about coming back affects the team.

This is why Jamie Dixon gets paid to be a Division I head basketball coach. The expectations should be lower, even with Krauser back, but the ceiling will be higher for this team.

He will have a talented, mature Krauser. A guy who always wants to be out there. Wants to be playing. He also has a young, talented and raw kid for the future in Fields. Not just at point guard. There is a lot of young talent on the team that should push the guys in front of them.

Fields will benefit from having Krauser around. Not just learning to lead the team and run the offense (and defense), but from going up against him in practice.

Last year, Krauser averaged just under 36 minutes a game. Fields will have to be worked in more, and given opportunities to run the team in anticipation of the future. That means Krauser should see his minutes drop. He will have to be held out for periods lasting more than one or two minutes.

Dixon will have to be keeping him from barking and complaining from the bench about wanting back in.

The situation, frankly, will be more about what kind of coach Dixon is than anything else. Even if Pitt has an up and down year -- which I expect they will. A lot of focus will be on the decisions and coaching of Dixon. How does he handle the players? Substitutions? Intensity? Focus? How does he handle the scrutiny of what he does?

Lots and lots of questions for 2005-06.

Hoop Things 

Starting international, the Under-21 (U-21) tournament got under way with Canada coming back to beat Australia. Kendall had 13 points, but reportedly "struggled from the field." Canada faces Greece tonight. No box score has been located, and the game was witnessed by crowds in the hundreds.

The Big East has created a new position called Associate Commissioner for men's basketball. Kind of makes sense with 16 teams in basketball. You have to imagine they may need a little help. This is what the position will do.
In his new role, he will serve as the league's primary basketball administrator and contact. He will represent the conference on a day-to-day basis in the overall administration, management and control of the men's basketball programs. Additionally, he will serve as the office liaison with all internal basketball constituencies including institutional administrators, coaching staffs and game officials.
Gavitt will also be at the point in developing and cultivating relationships with all television and sponsor partners, providing oversight and administrative direction to the Basketball Supervisor of Officials and assisting with the basketball television/scheduling processes. Further, he will also be asked periodically to assist with basketball media relations, NCAA and league compliance matters, and other conference related functions.
To fill the position, they hired the AD from Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. The Bryant Bulldogs are Division II. His name, Dan Gavitt. According to this bio, he barely leaves the state of Rhode Island, Oh, and Dan Gavitt, just happens to be the son of the first BE commish, and the guy who first hired Mike Tranghese.

Think I'm kidding about not venturing far from Rhode Island? He was the AD for 6 years. Here's the rest:

Before assuming his position at Bryant, Gavitt had established himself as a prominent figure on the Rhode Island and New England sports scenes. He was the president and owner of Craigville Sports Associates, Inc., a sports marketing and event management firm based in Providence, from 1995 to 1998 and enjoyed a distinguished career in intercollegiate athletics as a coach.

Gavitt also spent six seasons as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Providence College, working with current University of Texas head coach Rick Barnes. During that time the Friars amassed a record of 108-76, qualified for three NCAA tournaments, made two appearances in the NIT and won a Big East championship while maintaining a perfect graduation rate.

Dan earned an MBA from Providence in 1995 after accepting a bachelor’s degree in history from Dartmouth College in 1988.

In addition to his work with Bryant University, Gavitt also serves on the board of trustees at the Rhode Island Sports Council and Providence Country Day School. Gavitt serves as chair of the NCAA Division II Northeast Region baseball committee and is a member of the national committee for that sport as well.

I wonder if he risks bursting into flames if he physically leaves the state?

Hat Update 

I never got back to that vital sartorial issue. It seemed to generate some comments. I did not buy the very, very retro cord hat with the script traditional Pitt script. As far as I know, it is still languishing there, waiting to be rescued. Instead, I bought this one:

This was a style of hat I had previously owned but it eventually reached the end of its natural life. It had been a very durable hat. Trust me, the photo doesn't even come close to doing justice to the dust that was on this thing when I bought it. It's been through the washer a couple times now.

I know that if I had gone out to the malls I could have found a new model of the Pitt hat, probably to my liking but I was not going to spend my brief time back in the 'Burgh going out to the mall.

I'm sure that the Pitt Store was trying to clear out old inventory, but then you need to mark them down. Far too much of the gear was still at regular price while still sporting the "Pittsburgh" logo.

I don't like to mail order hats. I like the chance to look at them closer, and get an idea as to how they will fit. Despite an outsized ego, I do not posses a particularly large skull.

I'm sure come September I'll be investing in yet another Pitt hat.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Ugliest Cheerleaders 

Want to see a bunch of middle-aged, overweight, mostly white guys in suits get fired up for college kids and their coach? Then make plans for lunch the day before the ND game.
This exclusive Panther Club member event will kickoff the Coach Dave Wannstedt era and the 2005 Pitt Football season. Hosted at the Hilton Hotel-Pittsburgh, the event will feature introduction of select football student-athletes, as well as comments from Coach Wannstedt.

The cost of the event is $40 per person. Tables are also available for purchase at $400 each. All tables are rounds of 10. While reservations are required and will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis, tickets will not be mailed in advance. All table assignments will be provided at the Hilton the day of the event.

The reception will begin at 11:30 a.m., while the luncheon will start at noon.
Be there!

Media Day Fashion Report 

Apparently Coach Dave Wannstedt was feeling laid back.
Some wore ties with school colors, others donned dark blazers and swanky summer shirts. They came dressed for the media, wearing their smiles and buttoning their lips to talks of game plans and punditry. Hopes were high in the room. "Last year was last year, let's talk about this year" was the mantra. So, they did. They got back into "move forward" mode. Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese called the day exciting, but it was the new Pittsburgh coach who seemed most relaxed. He called it comfortable, and lived it so, as well.

Standing amongst the other coaches with their best corporate attire, selling the company line and grinning for the cameras, was Dave Wannstedt. Wearing his white Pitt golf shirt and holding the team's gold and blue helmet in his hands, he looked laid back amongst his new coaching comrades. Just there for the show, not really worrying about the upcoming battles. Not on this day. Not with the atmosphere all set for relaxation.

"Look at these other guys in the room. I would've showed up here in shorts if I didn't know. I'm still underdressed a little. Typical Miami. No socks. Everybody else has got suits and ties," said Wannstedt as she showed his sockless ankles and calm demeanor.
It's no exaggeration as this BE Coaches photo shows. Got to admit, the man keeps finding ways to stand out in the crowd.

Obligatory Ricky Williams Stuff 

There has been no shortage of Ricky Williams stories as he reports to Dolphins training camp. I was going to ignore the stuff, because I just don't care. Still, Ron Cook decides to be a harpie on it, going with the oh, so unexpected angle of getting more comments from his former coach and of course head coach at Pitt, Dave Wannstedt.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Let's call Dave Wannstedt!

The new Pitt coach comes to the phone quickly, his voice clear and strong, the enthusiasm in it palpable. Wannstedt is still riding the high of his first eight months on the job, time in which he has worked tirelessly to get commitments from several top recruits, mend the fences with local high school coaches, rebuild the relationship between the football program and the university's students, faculty and alumni and generally enthuse Pittsburgh to the point we're going to be in for a real downer if the Panthers don't whip Notre Dame in that opening-night game Sept. 3 at Heinz Field.

Then, Williams' name is mentioned.

A couple of things are clear immediately.

One, Wannstedt is glad he no longer has to deal with the Williams headache. And two, Wannstedt's worst nightmare has nothing to do with the possibility of Pitt coming up short against Notre Dame.

Okay folks, it is time for some honesty about Ricky Williams. He handed Coach Wannstedt to Pitt. His "retirement" cleared the way.

Consider this. Suppose Williams didn't retire just before training camp. He shows up, then gets the 4 game suspension. The Dolphin season is toast, but things definitely don't result in Wanny resigning halfway through the season. Wannstedt was already on thin ice, but the suspension results in A) Wanny hanging on through the full season and/or B) Wanny given yet another year in Miami, because it wasn't his fault that Williams was suspended.

If Wannstedt even makes it to the end of the season, Pitt has to hire someone else. Which could very well have meant talking about Head Coach Paul Rhoads. Or Pitt would have had to wait until sometime after he was fired in January.

Think about how well Wannstedt hit the ground on recruiting and salvaging the 2005 recruiting class. That wouldn't have happened. At least 2-3 weeks would have been lost.

Nope, the cynical, selfish fact is we owe Ricky Williams for getting Wannstedt to Pitt.

In that respect, I have a hard time getting too interested in Ricky or condemning him.

Take Off, You Hoser 

Yeah. I had nothing else for the post title.

The Canadian Under-21 team starts tournament play tonight. They are taking on defending champ Australia. In a couple weeks, they play in the actual world championship.

Pitt forward, Levon Kendall is not only on the team, he's a key player.

Crook is looking to Vancouver's Levon Kendall, a six-foot-nine forward at Pittsburgh, to lead his squad.

"He's been our go-to guy for the last three years, and with this group has just done an outstanding job, a very, very good young player and I think he's got a great national team player," he said.

The team plays aggressive.

Crook said his club, sparked by standout 6-foot-9 forward Levon Kendall of Vancouver, brings a dynamic brand of basketball to the court.

"We push the ball up the court and are aggressive offensively," said Crook. "Defensively, we're hard-nosed and play a lot of man-to-man."

Last year, Kendall starred on the Canadian under-21 team and it gave him some real confidence in his game. The confidence faded, but hopefully he is getting it built back up and will work his way back into Pitt's rotation come the fall.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Subtle Parody 

Really, that is all I can conclude Mike Prisuta of the Trib is engaging in for this column.
As unrealistic as it is to consider Tyler Palko a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate this season, the Pitt quarterback's designation as such according to CBSSportsline.com is, nonetheless, revealing.

Palko put himself on the map last season, which wasn't easy since he was playing for Walt Harris.

It has to be a parody, because, golly, it was real hard for a QB under Walt Harris' offensive scheme to complie huge numbers. I mean, Palko put up 3067 yards passing last year and 411 in one game against South Florida (PDF). Good enough for 3rd and 4th all-time, respectively (PDF, p 25).

I mean look at the numbers, 6 of the top 12 passing games for Pitt QBs came during Harris' tenure. So did 5 of the 10 for a season (again, PDF, p 25).

Palko will have a chance this season under first-year Pitt savior Dave Wannstedt to push himself and his program into the NCAA's upper echelon, and to establish a reputation and a resume that will make subsequent Heisman hype more than just fodder for someone's blog.

As for the list CBSSportsline.com compiled last week, Palko was included along with 11 other preseason Heisman hopefuls for 2005.

Still sounds like a parody with the "first-year Pitt savior" crack.

This piece is essentially a riff off of the Pitt athletic department press release, and he is making some weak-ass cut on "someone's blog?" I thought that was what we derivative, unoriginal bloggers do. Not serious, credentialed sportswriters. Alternatively, maybe he's hoping to drive up hits by having it linked and read and generate lots of e-mail. Again, subtle in the brilliancy. Hats off Prisuta.

I mean, I haven't even gotten to the Sportsline.com/CBS advertiser (seriously, half the ads in the mag are for CBS tv shows -- hilarious) college football preview yet. The HeismanPundit, doesn't even include Palko in his top-10. I guess, my question is, where did the snipe come from? Who blogged it to set him off? He isn't making unsubstantiated allegations, is he? That seems reckless and irresponsible.

And then, the whole parody he was shooting for, stopped. Nothing. I must be missing something. The rest of the piece, makes the entirely agreeable point that Palko will likely be more poised for a potential Heisman run in 2006. Obviously, I am missing more of the subtle nuances.


Once more I weep at my own lack of skill with words when compared to the masters.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Schedule Notes 

Penn State made the official announcement that it will be playing Temple in football. Renewing that "old rivalry." Even PSU beat writers had to deride them for it.
The addition of "old rival" Temple, which was announced by Penn State's sports information office this week, to the Nittany Lions' future schedules caused the tiniest of blips on the national college football radar (outside of the Temple campus itself), but to some Penn State fans, it is a sign that the team's nonconference schedule isn't getting any more demanding.
Having the likes of Akron, Central Michigan and Kent State filling up September home dates didn't help, either. But all of that might have been forgiven if, instead of the Owls (who have defeated or tied the Nittany Lions just four times in 35 tries), Penn State had added a certain team from the western part of the state to fill its first NCAA-approved 12th game.

So the logic went pretty much like this -- If Penn State adds Pitt, no one talks about the schedule. If the Nittany Lions add Temple, they haven't played anyone but patsies in years.
Patsies it is, then.

Some small note on the Pitt basketball non-con. The actual schedule hasn't been released, but one date has been confirmed independently. Pitt will host Wisconsin on Saturday, December 31. In 2006, Pitt will go to Wisconsin. Pitt has an away game in Columbia, SC to play the Gamecocks. Other expected games: Duquesne, St. Francis (PA), Penn State, and Robert Morris. I'm not sure if Pitt goes to Richmond this year to play the Spiders.

Last year, Pitt had 11 non-con games. That means, Pitt has 4-5 more games to schedule. Somehow, I doubt they want to play Bucknell again.

One More Time 

Just as I figured on crashing, there is this.
Carl Krauser had been going back and forth for weeks about his future in basketball. A month ago he was almost sure he would be playing next season overseas for a professional team.

But when it was time to make a decision yesterday, Krauser said it wasn't the money but the relationships he had forged in Pittsburgh the past four years that ultimately swayed him in favor of returning to the Panthers for his senior season.

Krauser has a son who will have his first birthday in two weeks, and the opportunity to be around him for another year while playing in front of what he described as "great fans" was enough to leave the offers he had on the table.

"I'd rather not talk about the offers I had," Krauser said yesterday afternoon. "But everything was going to work out fine if I pursued [professional basketball]. I had great options. But I wanted to come back for another season.

"I had a long talk with my family [Thursday] night and [Friday] morning. I asked the players on the team about it, and they were cool with me coming back. I get to watch my son grow up for another year. I get another year of playing in front of these great fans in Pittsburgh, where I have been treated great. The fans are the ones who really brought me back. Everyone was asking me if I was coming back. I was at coach Dixon's camp the other week, and the kids were all asking me what I was going to do. Everyone kept telling me how much they needed me."

Who needs coffee? Well, I do, but it can wait. I've said my good-byes to Krauser a few times already. Now I need to readjust my whole worldview on this. I'm not going to hate on him for this. I have my worries, but it is what it is and I just need to look at the positives. He appears to be academically fine.

There's the implication that Levance Fields could be redshirted. I'm not so sure about that. Ramon seems more like a shooting guard and Fields could be a hell of a good back-up and come off the bench like Krauser did when Knight was still running things.

Quick Late Analysis, subject to change after some sleep: It does seem clear, though, that Pitt will be a very different team regardless. With Krauser back, the depth and potential strength will be in the back court for Pitt. Opportunities will be there for Biggs, DeGroat, Gray and Kendall to make the front court a factor and really get on the glass, but the back court should be where it is at.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Alumni Notes 

Donatas Zavacas lives. And for some reason he is playing in Columbus, Ohio.

If you are an Ohio State fan, more specifically, an Ohio State basketball fan, tonight was your night in the Worthington Summer League.

Buckeye Corner squared off with Union Savings Bank in the semi-finals of the league tournament tonight. The combined starting lineups had Tony Stockman, Sylvester Mayes, Ron Lewis, J. J. Sullinger, Scoonie Penn, Brayden Bell, Matt Marinchick, Je'Kell Foster and Terence Dials on the floor. The lone starter without an OSU connection was Donatas Zavacas from Pitt.

Apparently he does this, well I don't know why he does this, but it isn't a full-time thing.

Buckeye Corner has played with a total roster of five all season, but baseline player Donatas Zavacas could not be on hand for tonight's game. Zavacas plays professional ball in Europe and has left the country to join his team. Zavacas, a power forward/center, was replaced on the roster by a guard who has played sparingly this season.
Understand, that these stories were one day apart on datelines -- July 20 and 21. Any insight into this would be appreciated.

Yogi Roth went home and spoke at the University of Scranton (who knew?) for the Shamus Foundation (I have no idea).

Former Pitt QB, David Priestley just got married and admits he probably won't get another job in the NFL. He's now living in New Jersey.

While not an alumn, he was a graduate assistant for Pitt and Walt Harris and he's from Mt. Lebanon. Brian Lowe is the guy behind the company that will be providing the replay system used by the Big East and other conferences this fall.

Eventually he landed at Pitt, where he served as a graduate assistant under Walt Harris in 1997. It was in that position, while editing tapes, that he realized most of the technology and videotaping systems available for coaches were not well suited for producing coaching tapes.

"I was at a coaches conference and talked with a rep from Avid Sports, which was the company that was producing the system we were using at Pitt," Lowe said, "and I gave him some ideas on how I thought it could be made a little more coach-friendly. They must have liked my ideas because I was hired and I worked as a liaison between the company and coaches. That's really how I got my start."

Avid Sports became Pinnacle Sports and Lowe continued to work for the company until 2001, when he decided to try to produce his own digital video editing and game analysis software for coaches.

He started DVSport that year and the company has grown since. Today, the company has 10 employees and has its technology being used by Central Catholic and Mt. Lebanon high schools as well as colleges such as Pitt, West Virginia, Westminster, Washington & Jefferson and Thiel.


The 'Eers Keep Looking Too Far Ahead 

You know, if you are going to create a whole fantasy of a season complete with the games and everything else, how can you not beat your rival. Apparently it is so if you are WVU fan. Words fail me on this exercise in creative writing.

Meanwhile the Charleston Gazette, profiles Pitt as the last in its series on opponents Marshall and WVU will face this year.

Just can't bring myself to start discussing teams Pitt will face in October and the outlook, nevermind the end of November. Especially in July.

Recruiting Things -- Fear the WWLS 

Yeah, I think Rivals.com and Scout.com should definitely be paranoid about ESPN.com's foray into recruiting information. While it remains unclear as to whether ESPN.com will be dealing in reports about where recruits could be heading, they have set themselves up to provide information on recruits.
Now Scouts, Inc. will take its expertise and apply it to college football recruiting. It will do everything its college counterparts do, but instead of internalizing this information, it will provide it exclusively for ESPN Insider. Scouts, Inc. is dedicated to serving the hard-core high school and college football fan with thoughtful, in-depth analysis.

Scouts, Inc. will be the authority in recruiting. Unlike other recruiting services, Scouts. Inc. employs football scouts and coaches with many years of professional experience and expertise. It will evaluate talent in games on the football field rather than relying solely on combine numbers. The student athletes will be evaluated in person and on video and not by word of mouth. Every top recruit will be compared to players across the entire United States rather than only players within his region. This will allow Scouts, Inc. to judge college recruits and recruiting classes more thoroughly.

This is an expansion of what Scouts, Inc. was. The information will be put behind the Insider Subscription firewall. Obviously, this only increases the value of an ESPN.com Insider subscription, and undercuts the price of the recruiting sites by a huge amount.

Scouts, Inc./ESPN.com tries to give this the most professional appearance. They have a grading system:
8.0-9.0: Rare Prospect
Player demonstrates rare abilities and can create mismatches that have an obvious impact on the game. Is a player that has all the skills to take over a game and could be an impact player as a true freshman.

7.0-7.9: Outstanding Prospect
Player has the ability to create mismatches against most opponents. He is a player that could be a contributor as a true freshman.

6.0-6.9: Good Prospect
Player does not dominate in every game, especially when matched up against the top players in the country. Could become a good starter at the Division I level.

5.0-5.9: Solid Prospect
This player is overmatched against the better players in the nation. His weaknesses will be exposed against top competition. Has the ability to develop into a solid contributor at the Division I level.

4.0-4.9: Prospect
Player has some redeeming qualities, but is not projected to contribute at the Division I level.

They are planning to release their full grades on their "ESPN 150" recruits on August 8. Likely, that will happen to coincide with ESPN The Magazine's college football preview.

In advance of that they have some of the recruits grades available as sneak peaks. This includes Pitt commit, Dorin Dickerson. Dickerson was graded at a 7.2.

Strengths: Dickerson is a big, physical galloper that can really cover some ground. He has such a long stride that you don't realize just how fast he is moving, but he will show a sneaky second gear.

He has excellent size and good speed for his size. He can out-muscle smaller defenders. Has no trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. He has long arms, excellent leaping ability and will win many jump ball competitions. He uses his frame to shield defenders. He is a huge threat in the red zone.

Shows good sideline awareness and body control. He can make the acrobatic catch. He is a long-strider after the catch. Will build speed as he goes and is difficult to bring down because of his size and strength. He has very quick hands, can pluck the ball and get up field in a hurry for his size.

Shows good concentration and focus on the ball and rarely drops passes he should catch. Is a fairly precise route runner and will only improve in this area. he is not very sudden in his movements, but the more you watch him, you realize just how elusive he is in the open field and he will show a nice little burst.

Overall: He is best suited as a wide receiver at the college level, but he has experience as a running back and also a linebacker. He is a rangy, smooth athlete with explosive potential as an outside receiver.

The thing that recruiting sites will have to be wary of, is not just the capitalistic pressures. It is the stuff from the NCAA and legislators. There will be lots of talk in the coming year about how recruiting sites work, gather information, talk to kids and pressure them. I will not be surprised by some nanny-state-esque proposal to "protect" the kids from "predators" amongst the recruiting sites. After all, it's for the children.

Liberty Bowl Appears Near 

It looks like the Big East is closing in on a deal to play in the Liberty Bowl on New Years Eve starting next year. The Liberty Bowl is played in Memphis, Tennessee. This becomes more likely as the ACC appears close to nailing down the Music City Bowl deal. The foe for the Liberty Bowl would be either a SEC or Mountain West opponent. The Liberty Bowl, not surprisingly favors an SEC team.

A sticking point is that the Liberty Bowl wants the Big East's #3 team. The Meineke Car Care Bowl (previously the Continental Tire) in Charlotte, North Carolina wants to move up from BE #4 to BE #3 in its deal. Presently the Liberty Bowl has the higher payout -- $1.5 million per team vs. $1.27 -- but the Charlotte group says it is willing to go higher. It also says that it will open negotiations with other conferences if it doesn't get the BE #3.

Of course, if the BE places a team in the Liberty Bowl, it means that once again, C-USA gets squeezed by the BE. C-USA used to send its top team to the Liberty Bowl. Food chains are brutal.

With all of the bowls out there, and yet another expected in Toronto, it was never really in doubt that the BE would find enough bowls. The issues really were about payouts and prestige.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Still More Media Day Notes 

Another travel day. Back home, finally.

I'm going to keep the commentary short.

CSTV.com has a long piece on Big East Media Day. Here's what they said about Pitt, or specifically, Coach Wannstedt, at Media day.
One of the most seen faces in Newport was that of Dave Wannstedt, whose picture adorns the cover of the Panthers' 2005 media guide. Wannstedt, who grew up in Pittsburgh and returns to both his hometown and his alma mater this fall, following 16 years in the NFL, most recently as the Miami Dolphins' head coach.

"I'm real comfortable there," Wannstedt said of his new/old home. "I can relate to what people think and do, and how they react to things there. That's been fun. I've kind of enjoyed it. You've got to be able to walk both sides of the street in Pittsburgh. You've got to be able to go downtown in the kind of position I'm in and sit down with the top CEOs and then the next day, you need to be able to go down to the South Side where all the mills are at, and walk in and have a beer and a fish sandwich. That's a balancing act, and I'm comfortable doing both."
The only reason I want to hear that story repeated for the umpteenth time during the season is that it will mean Pitt is winning and there will be lots more interviews with Wannstedt talking about the transition and going home.

So the media guide is finished? It's not yet on the Pitt site.
Of course, Wannstedt will see a couple of familiar faces as he guides the Panthers through their 2005 schedule, which may or may not add to his comfort level. New Syracuse coach Greg Robinson spent over a decade in the NFL before returning to the college ranks with Texas last year, and new Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, who will bring his Fighting Irish to Pittsburgh on September 3, is all too familiar to Wannstedt.

"I'm sure that Charlie's dealing with the same things we are," Wannstedt said of his once and future rival. "From a philosophy standpoint, he knows what we want to do here, and I get a good feel of what he's going to do up there, but it still comes down to players. Am I going to be able to get a guy on defense to make plays like Jason Taylor? And is he going to be able to get his quarterback to make throws like Tom Brady?"

While those questions will remain unanswered until Sept. 3, the Pitt players are certainly impressed with their new coach's conduct toward the team. "He really treats us like men," said quarterback Tyler Palko. "That's the biggest thing. In college, sometimes, coaches try to be too much like your parents. He's really like, 'Hey, we need to get A, B and C done, and I expect you to do A, B and C by this time period.' If you don't do it, you're either not going to be around very long, or you reap what you sow. You're going to have to suffer the consequences."

If Palko and the rest of Wannstedt's new charges have anything to say about it, it'll be the rest of the Big East that suffers the consequences in 2005.
And hopefully beyond.

At least one reporter found that the most common response to questions about the new Big East and what will happen when the new teams meet the old is "I don't know." Why this should be surprising, is a mystery to me. No one actually knows right now.

Meanwhile, there is more worrying about what Wannstedt and Pitt will mean for the Hoopies.
There's a potentially chilling story writing its early chapters in Big East Conference football.

Pitt, and the pendulum.
It's potentially bad news for the neighborhood, and West Virginia needs to understand that the Backyard Brawl will be played out with more verve and charisma in recruiting. It's not just about a cold, November sellout anymore.

Wannstedt's homecoming has arrived at a crucial time for Pitt, too, with Keystone State football god Joe Paterno about finished pacing the Penn State sideline. Wither WVU?

"You particularly want to beat your rivals, and Pitt is our biggest rival," Mountaineer Coach Rich Rodriguez said at the Big East Summer Kickoff media session. "Dave coming in and Pitt working the way they have is a concern for us, because western Pennsylvania is a big area for us.

"We're such a small state that in recruiting, we have to go into western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia. Pitt is making a move to put more emphasis there. I think we'll still get our share, and compete like we have been, but there's no doubt it will be tougher."
"He's ignited a fan base that had been a bit hesitant about whether they wanted to be aboard, one that kind of always had these doubts in the background," Pitt Athletic Director Jeff Long said.

As a coach and administrator, Long worked at eight schools before becoming Pitt's AD in 2003. He's got plenty of reference points on roots.

"Everyone thinks they love their own, and they do, but there's no way I've seen them do it like in Pittsburgh," he said. "They're very proud of their own; they have a way of talking to one another that's different.

"Dave's part of that. Western Pennsylvania never left his blood. He embraces it, the blue-collar, steel-mill, melting pot. Pittsburgh, as a city, looks to the East, but it's really a town of Midwestern values."

Read all of it. And grin.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Minor Notes 

Just a couple other things. From Bruce Feldman's ESPN.com blog (Insider subs.):
In the process of working on ESPN The Magazine's college preview, I talked to some coaches for some scouting stuff and came up with some extra that I thought was pretty intriguing. The following was compiled with the help of four different coaches:

Most underrated QB?

* "[Tyler] Palko from Pitt. He's a gamer. Much better athlete than we thought. I think he's a guy I'd hate to be facing on fourth-and-4 late in the game because he's finding a way to win the game right there. [New Pitt QB coach Matt] Cavanaugh's gonna help him get to that next level. Watch how much sharper he'll be this year."

Given all the credit and he keeps making lists as one of the top-10 QBs in the country, how can he still be called underrated?

I don't have time to go into the piece right now, but ESPN.com/Blue Ribbon Yearbook has their Pitt profile available (again Insider Subs.)

Final, but probably the most important piece for college sports in general, and a rare smart move from the NCAA. They are going to actually start paying closer attention to betting lines.

One response from an NCAA task force on gambling would have the organization start checking in regularly with a longtime antagonist -- the Las Vegas sports books.

Rachel Newman-Baker, the NCAA's director of gambling activities, said Tuesday the group hoped to re-establish contact with the oddsmakers to watch for instances where heavy wagering has caused significant changes in point spreads or for the casinos to pull games off the board.

This is generally how betting scandals have been discovered. Not by investigations, but by such heavy shifts in the line that someone would finally point it out. It's such a no-brainer that it defies belief that they haven't before.

I don't bet, but the anti-gambling on sports legislation stuff always struck me as moronic. It would still happen, and having the info as public knowledge is a way to keep things more honest.

Media Day -- Part 3 

Final installment. The subject, Coach Dave Wannstedt.

Some actual notes of interest. It looks like College GameDay is almost assuredly going to happen.
A Pitt spokesman said the deal is not yet finalized, but yesterday coach Dave Wannstedt made a reference to "Gameday" when talking about the 8 p.m. game against the Fighting Irish.
Also, there is still no answer regarding the status of back-up QB Joe Flacco as to whether he will be coming back to Pitt.

At Big East Media Day, Wannstedt was the celebrity coach given his NFL past, and having won national championships as a player and coach and has a superbowl ring.
"I talked to Pete Carroll (Southern California), Chan Gailey (Georgia Tech) and Mike Shula (Alabama) before I took the job," Wannstedt said. "I got a little something from each of them. Pete talked about recruiting, Chan talked about building a staff and Mike talked about going back to his alma mater. It was very helpful."

Wannstedt said the biggest changes from the NFL are the year-around commitment to recruiting, which he was prepared for, and the importance of time management, which he's still getting used to.

"In the NFL, if I wanted to keep the players from 7 a.m., to 7 p.m., it was fine," said Wannstedt, who's taking over for Walt Harris, now the head coach at Stanford. "But now, you get an hour and a half here and an hour and a half there, and you have to maximize that time. You can't waste time in your meetings, and you can't waste time in practice."

Wannstedt also emphasized that while he expects to win and wants to win, that he appreciates that winning isn't everything at the college level, an attitude after being let go by the Dolphins despite averaging 10 wins per season.

He also knows that he'll be able to make a mark on his new community.

"You're going to have a chance to do things in the community outside of football, you get to give back," Wannstedt said. "To me, that's exciting."
Well, you definitely don't want to talk to Chan Gailey about recruiting.

A West Virginia columnist tries to put cold water on Wannstedt erecting a fence around Western Pennsylvania.

"Now we've got it turned to the point where we're going to dominate Western Pennsylvania. We're going to be competing with Penn State and West Virginia because they're there, but we're going to eliminate most teams from even coming in here. We're going to put a fence up around it and we're going to dominate that area. And I don't care who it is."

That, of course, is easier said than done. Harris couldn't do it. Johnny Majors couldn't do it again. Certainly Paul Hackett and Mike Gottfried and Foge Fazio couldn't do it. Jackie Sherill and Majors the first time pulled it off, but that's really the only time in modern history -- we won't go back to the Jock Sutherland days, thank you -- that Pitt was able to recruit Western Pennsylvania with anything resembling a fence around the place.

But then he has to concede that it could actually happen.

Somehow, though, you tend to think that if anyone can pull it off again, it might be Wannstedt. He has the charisma, the NFL background kids love, the Pitt connections to the glory years. He's got a network of Dorsett and Mark May and Dan Marino and Bill Fralic and, yes, even Johnny Majors, to make it happen.

But it won't happen overnight.
All in all, it makes for a pretty perfect situation for Pitt's new coach. With all of that, maybe he can build that fence.

We shall see.

Media Day -- Part 2 

It was apparently a very foggy morning in Newport, Rhode Island. Many of the stories led with that. It was also well attended by various others.

The upbeat mood at the well-attended Big East functions, which included visits by officials from ABC, CBS, ESPN, the National Football Foundation and numerous bowls, was a drastic contrast from the last two years when the conference seemed to be falling apart due to defections.

"There was a lot of animosity and not much optimism," said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall.

Depending on where this AP wire story was published the headline was either positive or negative about the state of the BE. Keep in mind the actual content is no different -- just the headline.

Louisville seems aware they are going to be a target in the league this year, but are going to stay aggressive.

It is noted that the hoped for favorite has spit the bit, the last couple of years.
Pitt had the chance two years ago under Walt Harris and fell short. West Virginia followed suit last year. This year, it appears that newcomer Louisville will carry the mantle, increasing the burden of being a new player in the league.
Other than that, no pressure.

West Virginia Coach Rich Rodriguez is fine with being picked middle of the pack.

Cincinnati, picked last this season, seems a bit awed by the whole process. Or at least the beat writer is a little unnerved in the step up in class.

For the University of Cincinnati, it was the first tangible evidence of the new company it's keeping and the benefits it will reap from membership in the revamped league, one of six members of the Bowl Championship Series that determines the national football champion.

More than 130 representatives from 60 media outlets gathered Tuesday for the Big East Football Media Day, the first for the league since the addition of UC, Louisville and South Florida to the football mix after the defection of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech.

Actually, it would appear that all 3 of the newbies are a little taken aback by what it means to get out of C-USA.

On a foggy Monday night at a Rhode Island state park, coaches, players, administrators and media covering the new Big East Conference gathered around a smoking pit and watched while cooks unveiled ... clams.

Lots and lots of clams.

For the University of Louisville athletic program, which has been salivating at the opportunity to join a big-time conference, the chance to join the Big East represents a chance not only to make considerably more clams but to gain considerably more exposure doing it.
Signs of a new day dawning were everywhere. When the prizes were handed out for winners of Monday's golf outings and many participants were awarded sets of Nike irons, U of L sports information director Kenny Klein looked over at football SID Rocco Gasparro and said, "We're not in Conference USA anymore."

Jim Leavitt, coach of new member South Florida, left Monday night's clambake with a big tray of lobster.

"It was either this," Leavitt said, "or I was going to put some lobsters into my pockets."

You always judge meetings, conferences, conventions and groups by the kind of free schwag given away.

Media Day -- Part 1 

There's a lot, and I haven't even really looked too far or deep yet. Judging from the quotes and photos, Pitt's contingent to the Big East Football Media Day consisted of Athletic Director Jeff Long, Head Coach Dave Wannstedt, Linebacker H.B. Blades, Wide Receiver Greg Lee and Quarterback Tyler Palko. All apologies if I missed anyone.

The BE Coaches pre-season poll has Pitt firmly in 2nd behind Louisville. These are about expectations and what the coaches see in the returning teams.

Louisville received 23 of a possible 24 first-place votes. The Cardinals are coming off an 11-1 season which included a 44-40 victory over Boise State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. The U of L's final rankings of sixth in the Associated Press poll and seventh in the ESPN/USA Today poll were the highest in school history. This season, the Cardinals, under coach Bobby Petrino, return 14 starters.

Pittsburgh was picked for second place and received the only other first-place vote. The Panthers, under new head coach Dave Wannstedt, welcome back 16 starters, including nine on offense. Last year, the Panthers were part of a four-way tie for the conference crown and were the BIG EAST's BCS representative in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Pitt finished 8-4 overall and 4-2 in league play.

You have nearly a wash in returning starters, recruiting classes not too far apart, and the only difference is coaching stability/questions. It really is not that outrageous for Louisville to be picked to win the BE over Pitt. Louisville Coach Petrino, of course poor-mouthed it, saying they were chasing Pitt since Pitt won the BE last year. The Pitt players aren't bothered.

"They deserve it, so it doesn't bother me," Palko said. "But all this preseason stuff really means nothing. We were picked fifth or sixth (in the league) last year, and look what happened."

Said Pitt linebacker H.B. Blades, "It's a great motivation for us."

There are of course stories on the overall state of the BE, and the sense of optimism that the worst has passed.
People said the Big East was falling apart. They said it would be stripped of its Bowl Championship Series bid. They said it was going to lose its basketball-only members and cease to be relevant.

"I stand here two years later and none of that is true," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said Tuesday at the league's football preseason media day.

Tranghese welcomed three new teams -- Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida -- into the conference's football fold. He also said the league will have a new postseason destination in 2006, if the NCAA approves a proposed bowl game in Toronto.

"It's a pretty historic day -- probably the most exciting day in the 26-year history of our league," Tranghese said. "We've got eight programs, all on the upswing. We just need time to stabilize (the league) and play."
"What it was before was, people were playing for second place," Tranghese said. "Now, there are a lot of people who think they can win in this league. I see it in the eyes of our coaches. There are a lot of coaches here who think that down the road they can be the dominant program in this league."

Tranghese indicated that the Big East's main issue for now will be finding enough games for each team to play with the 12th game situation, but only 7 conference games.

Half the schools will get four home conference games a year, while the other half will have three. While the league is not opposed to adding a ninth football member, Tranghese said it is more likely the conference will enter into some sort of a scheduling alignment with another conference or several teams. The conference's top targets for such a deal are Army and Navy.

"Your seeing a lot of creativity in scheduling out there," Pitt athletic director Jeff Long said. "The Big Ten and the Mid-American Conference are on the verge of entering a scheduling agreement, and you are going to start to see more of that kind of thing as we move forward. And that is something we need to look at in the Big East in order to satisfy our lack of an even home-and-home conference schedule."

Tranghese said: "I don't think we're interested in taking on a ninth school. In order to take on a ninth school they have to make you better, it can't just be adding a ninth team to add a ninth team. We need to give our schools a balance of four home and four away games so this is the next big agenda item for us."

This is going to be tough because I think a lot of conferences are leaning towards adding a 9th game. Boost the overall strength of schedule and get more match-ups in 12 team conferences.

As far as bowls for the Big East are going, it looks like there is a good chance over half the tie-ins could involve cars:

The Big East has two slots tied up with a BCS Bowl and the Gator/Sun agreement. Other possibilities are the Auto Zone Liberty Bowl in Memphis, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, the Champs Bowl, the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, the Motor City Bowl in Detroit or a new bowl proposed for Toronto.
[Emphasis added.]

Just one of those quirky things, I guess.

I think this could be my favorite quote from media day:
"We treat one another like family and we are very close," South Florida's star running back Andre Hall said. "We listen to the same music and like the same kind of girls."
The odds for fireworks and a locker room brawl at some point just went to even money.

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