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.

Monday, October 31, 2005

UConn -- Pitt: Early Kickoff 

Final home game and it's a nooner.
The University of Pittsburgh's Nov. 12 football game versus Connecticut at Heinz Field will be televised by ESPN Regional and have a noon kickoff.

ESPN Regional will televise the game as part of its Big East Game of the Week package.
Looks like I'll be hitting the highway before daybreak.

Pitt-Louisville: Preparing 

Well, it's important to have vital background information. Now, while they are amateur works and a little dated here are the always important cheerleading and "Ladybirds" dance team sites for Louisville. I must concede some disappointment, I was led to believe Louisville was high ranking for its "spirit" squads. Definitely unimpressed.

Coach Wannstedt talked a bit about the upcoming game in his press conference.
On Louisville's offense in comparison to Notre Dame's:

It's probably comparable. It's different. Notre Dame's offense is more vertical, down the field. Louisville is more of a ball control team, even though they score maybe more points and put up more yards. You don't complete 70 percent of your passes like [Brian] Brohm is doing, their quarterback, without taking what the defense gives you. Both of them have outstanding running attacks. Both of them are balanced. There are some similar things about both offenses at the end of the day you could say that, but looking at it a little closer, they attack in different ways.

There's no question that defensively we've kind of matured or evolved, progressed. I think we've gotten better. If you look at our defense in the last five or six weeks -- and take out the blocked punt, or take out the fumble or an interception that's run back -- and really look how many times the team has taken the ball and moved it 70 or 80 yards on us. It hasn't happened a whole lot. I think that's why this week will be a challenge for us because these guys do [move the ball]. They explode. Sixty-four points per game at home, I think, is what they're averaging. As I said yesterday, Matt Cavanaugh's got his work cut out for him figuring out how to score 65.
I guess he wasn't totally kidding about scoring points. How serious?
On the importance of Pitt's running game:

We're going to have to throw the ball to score points, but we're going to have to run the ball to make some first downs this week and keep their offense off the field a little bit, and slow down the pass rush. All the reasons that people don't think the running game is important, we just mentioned three critical reasons why in this ball game it is. We've got to find a way to block these guys and make some yards running the ball.
[Emphasis added.]

For the record, because Louisville scores so quickly, they are at the bottom of the BE in terms of time of possession. So keeping Louisville off the field sounds good, but is not enough. The coaches will have to score points, and really, really will have to use the passing game.

Now on defense, Pitt will be facing the dreaded spread offense. Something I believe many Pitt fans have been cursing for the last 4 years. It's the one offense, that has become the bane of DC Paul Rhoads. So how does Coach Wannstedt approach it?
On handling a spread-out offense like Louisville's:

We have to tackle good, and you're always talking about not giving up the big play. And that's what our guys have done the last two weeks on defense, and I think that's why we've had some success.
Now to be fair, the defense tended not to give up the big play -- at least not intentionally. It's been the lack of the former where the problems and the big plays have been. Pitt will have to tackle. Not hit -- and all eyes are on you, Tez Morris -- tackle. The defense has to get both arms around them and drag them down. No arm tackling or diving at the guy with the ball. Fundamentals.

Now what is going on at Louisville? You can listen to the press conference with Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino (about 13 minutes), along with comments from Junior RB Kolby Smith -- Bush's back-up (3 minutes) and Senior WR Joshua Tinch -- leads the team in receptions (4 1/2 minutes).

Bobby Petrino: He emphasized that the game is considered big to them because it is their chance to get back in the national spotlight and get higher in the polls. He had no explanation for the Louisville road/home split other than vague mentions of crowd noise and getting turnovers.

He sees Pitt as a better team than when they started. The team has improved in all facets in the last month.

Mentioned that he beat Palko's father when they both QBs in college. He kept referring to LaRod Stephens-Howling as "the little guy," in talking about the Pitt running backs.

Nothing too interesting beyond normal coachspeak for the most part.

Kolby Smith: Eager to get back out and help the team (he's been out with an injury).

Joshua Tinch: Thursday night games are big games for Louisville. It is the game everyone is watching that night. All year, this game was circled, and even now it will make the difference for the teams this season.

And finally, the game notes from Louisville are available (PDF).

BlogPoll, Week 10 -- Obligatory Spookiness 

With the short week and probably a decent amount of news coming quickly, I figured to get this done a little earlier than usual. Here was my ballot from last week. 2 of the 3 teams I had on "stand-by" went down so it was a little weird at the bottom. It finally happened. The made the list. I'm truly terrified.
  1. Southern Cal -- Win, win, win...
  2. Texas -- 1st half flat, 2nd half blowout. I didn't ding USC when they did it, I won't do it to the Longhorns
  3. Virginia Tech -- Other than the style I'd say BC = Tx Tech
  4. Alabama -- A bye week in all but name with Utah State
  5. Miami -- This is starting to feel very shaky
  6. Notre Dame -- DNP
  7. UCLA -- I was almost certain that Walt Harris had found his VT-bitch in the PAC 10 until that comeback
  8. Louisiana State -- See 'Bama and just substitute North Texas
  9. Florida State -- Almost lost doesn't count
  10. Ohio State -- Disappointing from the defense
  11. Penn State -- Struggled more than expected at home against a bad Purdue team
  12. Wisconsin -- Can Calhoun run on Penn State?
  13. West Virginia -- DNP
  14. Florida -- Defense, defense...
  15. Georgia -- At the start of the season Shockley was the big question for Georgia, now he's the answer
  16. Auburn -- Shame they haven't actually beaten anyone
  17. Texas Tech -- Looked like something of a hangover game against Baylor
  18. Boston College -- Probably a top-20 or -25 team. Definitely not top-15
  19. TCU -- Struggled
  20. Michigan -- The only team that makes less sense is Tennessee. That's not a compliment.
  21. Fresno State --
  22. Oregon -- Nearly gave it all away
  23. Colorado -- Nice lack of effort
  24. Georgia Tech -- Probably the kiss of death to actually rank them
  25. Rutgers -- I keep looking for a lightning bolt
Out: Stanford, Northwestern
In: Rutgers, Georgia Tech

Games seen in whole or part: OSU-Minn., Purdue-PSU, Clemson-GT, BC-VT, Fla-Ga, Mich-N'Western; Tx-OkSt., Toledo-Central Michigan

Who Goes Where 

An article handicapping each BCS conference bid.
Big East
In control:
West Virginia. The Backyard Brawl with Pitt is in Morgantown, but that Dec. 3 game at South Florida, rescheduled because of Hurricane Wilma, could be a trap.
Ready to pounce: The critics who question why this motley crew is still worthy of an automatic BCS bid.
Lurking: Pittsburgh. The Big East's worst nightmare: The team that lost to Ohio wins the conference.
Forecast: West Virginia loses at South Florida, but wins the league and tries not to get embarrassed in the BCS.
The piling on the BE should reach screeching levels sometime around Thanksgiving.

Now, yesterday when I was pointing out what BE teams need to do and have happen to win the conference, I mentioned that no matter what, you could count on columnists to rag on the BE.

Today's example:

A deserving team is going to be left out of a BCS game because the champ in the watered-down Big East gets an automatic berth. Leader West Virginia (6-1, 3-0), ranked No. 18, is in firm control, with remaining games against Connecticut, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers have only one win worth noting, and that came against Louisville.

This league is so poor that Rutgers and Pittsburgh are tied for second. Rutgers, which became bowl-eligible by defeating Navy, lost to Big Ten doormat Illinois. One of its wins came against Division I-AA Villanova. Pittsburgh needed a three-game winning streak to get to 4-4.

But those teams would make for a great conference tournament. In basketball.

This will be an ongoing theme from here on out as the BCS bids start looming larger.

Statute of Limitations? 

I wonder what it is for NCAA violations.

Mark Blount, who was a brief (2-year) "star" for Pitt in the mid-90s during the Ralph Willard error, has had his name and college history come up during a nasty little trial (via SportsProf). Seems his legal guardian Maurizio Sanginti, is a star witness and has been detailing his past crimes:
... including (apparently) fraudulently helping Mark Blount obtain the requisite SAT score to play basketball at the University of Pittsburgh.

It should be noted that Sanginti sued Blount back in 2001 for $250,000, claiming that Blount never paid back a loan. Notwithstanding the veracity concerns of such an agenda-driven witness, Sanginti has made other notable revelations (and, importantly, made them under oath). As Blount's "guardian," Sanginti traveled with Blount across the country on recruiting trips and witnessed the following:
  • Blount received $20,000 in cash from an alumnus of the University of Louisville on a recruiting trip;
  • Blount received cash from an alumnus of the University of Cincinnati on a recruiting trip, apparently on instruction from coach Bob Huggins;
  • Blount received periodic cash payments from University of Pittsburgh boosters (Blount played there for two years); and
  • Blount took steroids (with assistance from Sanginti).
It's now 10 years later. Willard was fired from Pitt in early '99 and is now a "respected" coach at Holy Cross while his son is now stitting next to Louisville Coach Rick Pitino as an assistant (the job Ralph had before Pitt hired him). Blount has some absurd $36 million or so 7-year contract from the Celtics (hah!).

I would hope that there will be nothing to come back to Pitt, but with the NCAA you never know.

The Quiet Day 

There isn't a lot for Pitt football today. Pitt's had a bye. The weekly Big East teleconference and Dave Wannstedt press conference is later this morning, so the news is sparse.

A good notebook article observing that this game is not quite of the importance it was expected to have at the beginning of the season.

Coach Wannstedt was actually happy about the timing of the bye, which wasn't too shocking considering the team had played 8 straight games and needed the break. That allowed many of the players to get closer to full health, and recover from the bumps, bruises, strains and sprains. In fact the only questionable player is defensive tackle Thomas Smith.

I have to wonder if Coach Wannstedt said this with a straight face or with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek.

Louisville has had a much more productive offense at home than on the road. The Cardinals are averaging 64 points per game at home but only 29 points per game on the road.

Wannstedt said because the Cardinals offense appears to be virtually unstoppable, the pressure to come up with a winning game plan is not going to be on defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads.

"They average 64 points a game at home," Wannstedt said. "That means we have to score 65 so it is [offensive coordinator] Matt Cavanaugh's problem."

If you take that seriously, then that means Pitt will be throwing the ball -- despite going against their nature. It actually makes some sense since Louisville is only ahead of Rutgers and Cinci in pass defense.

Related to that, Derek Kinder gets a puff piece lauding how far he's come on the field this season.

With 228 yards on 28 catches and two touchdowns, Kinder doesn't exactly have the numbers of a strong No. 2 receiver, but such is exactly what he's become for Pitt.

Kinder, who was recruited as a running back, caught eight passes for 81 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown, in Pitt's win against Syracuse on Oct. 22. Against Rutgers on Sept. 30, he hauled in 10 receptions, a career-high, for 78 yards and a touchdown.

More important, since he took over the starting flanker position the third game into the season, Pitt has gone 4-2 and now stands at 4-4 overall, 3-1 in the Big East headed into its showdown Thursday night in Louisville.

Over the past three games, opponents have failed to hold Pitt to less than 30 points and the Panthers are undefeated in those contests. The rapid development of Kinder, according to coach Dave Wannstedt, has proven a major factor in Pitt's sudden offensive firepower.

"He's a guy who has gotten better every week," Wannstedt said of Kinder. "He's kind of a self-made type of receiver. He was a running back in high school. Nobody works as hard. He never makes a mental mistake. Every long run we have, he's down the field blocking. He's on the punt team and making tackles on the kickoff coverage team. The guy is, probably, one of the unsung positive stories that people don't talk about enough."

Kinder deserves major props for the way he has taken the #2 receiver position. There has been no debate or argument about his performance earning the promotion.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Getting Ready for 'Ville 

LaRod Stephens-Howling gets a puff piece today.

At the start of this season, Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt figured Stephens-Howling was a specialty-play back. He planned on using the rookie just for sweeps and screen passes instead of making him a part of the power running game Wannstedt was installing.

But when burly back Rashad Jennings went down with an injury before the Nebraska game, Wannstedt turned Stephens-Howling loose. And after watching Stephens-Howling burrow through and zip around the Blackshirts, Wannstedt reconsidered his plan.

"He's a tough guy," Wannstedt said. "He really has a God-given ability to not get hit (straight-on) very often. The great (backs) that I've been around do that.

"You could never get a good shot on Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith or Tony Dorsett. They could protect themselves. They had to. When you're (LaRod's) size, you're not going to be playing the game long if you don't. I don't know if it's an instinctive thing or just survival."

They just can't keep running him straight ahead with the offensive line that presently exists. He's got speed and he hits the hole well, but if there's no hole, there's still no gain.

Maybe I'm just feeling burned after all the optimism that started the season, but this article makes it seem as if Coach Wannstedt is a little too satisfied with things to this point.

Wannstedt said his adjustment from life in the NFL, where he spent the past 16 years, to life as a college coach took longer than he expected. Now that he has grown comfortable in his job, he has become a much better and more effective coach.

"I've learned so much, I've grown so much in so many ways as coach and it has been a great experience for me," Wannstedt said. "I think the biggest area is in communicating with my players and understanding. They look to me as more than just their coach. I am also asked to be a mentor and that's something that I really enjoy about this job.

"In the NFL, there would be a rare occasion where you'd have a conversation with a player during the season that went beyond what it would take to win the next game. Here there is a lot more going on with these young kids. When they are in my office, most of the time we aren't talking about football; it is about what is going on in his life, socially, or maybe there's a problem back home or with a girlfriend ...

"I have enjoyed that part of it, but it is a lot more necessary now than I remember. I want to be here for these guys and I want their parents to know I am here, to offer advice, to help them when I can in whatever they need. That's all part of it, and I've grown a lot in that area and it has made me a better coach."

I like a lot of what I read in that article. From the support Coach Wannstedt is receiving, to understanding that winning is what will fill Heinz Field, to the recruiting, and the way he talks about the players and wanting to help them. Hell, a lot of it is just pure gold to send to parents of potential recruits.

It's just that there is almost a sense of relaxing, now that Pitt has gotten to 4-4. And I don't want to read that. Especially as Pitt gets ready for Louisville on the road, on Thursday night, on ESPN, before a sell-out.

Especially, now that the Pizza Place has become something of a good home field advantage for the Cardinals.

Dumervil might be on to something. Over the past two seasons U of L has been nearly unstoppable on its home field.

Papa John's Cardinal Stadium has received rave reviews for its nice chair-back seating, its luxury boxes, the Brown & Williamson Club and other amenities. Being an intimidating place has not been on that list, but that could be changing.

In three home games this season, the Cardinals have averaged 64.3 points and given up an average of 17. Last season the numbers were 50.6 and 10.4.

With Pittsburgh coming to visit Thursday night for an ESPN-televised contest, U of L has won nine straight at home, its longest such streak since an 11-game run from 1992-94 that tied the school record set at Parkway Field from 1946-48.

But the dominant fashion in which the Cards have put together their current streak is worth writing home about. They've won their past four home games by an average of 51.3 points. That includes beating a Cincinnati team that went on to win last season's PlainsCapital Fort Worth Bowl, an Oregon State team that bounced back to upset California and a North Carolina team that went on to knock off Virginia.

"We can get momentum going in a hurry at home," sophomore quarterback Brian Brohm said. "I think it really fires up the defense, because the crowd gets loud and can affect the other team trying to execute on offense."

U of L has given up just 55 rushing yards per game at home this season, and opponents have converted just 37 percent of their third downs. The Cardinals have averaged 537.3 yards per game and 9.1 per play.

There are some absurd splits between Louisville on the road versus at home. It was at home where they completely blew out UNC and Oregon St. Their losses came on the road.

At home they've average 64.3 points/game and allowed opponents only 17.0 points /game. The road has been far unkinder for them.

This has to be a concern for Pitt. Especially when you consider the fact that 3 of the 4 losses came on the road and in 2 of the 3 road games Pitt didn't get an offensive touchdown. I realize that the Nebraska and Ohio games were in the beginning of the season when the team was really struggling, but it isn't that far removed.

What can I say, I'm already very nervous about this game.

Big East and Fan Fest Notes 

So, kind of interesting about the suspensions that UConn handed out for the two point guards.
Connecticut suspended guard A.J. Price for the entire 2005-06 season as a result of his arrest on charges of trying to sell stolen laptops this summer, but has allowed co-defendant Marcus Williams to return to the team in December.
Marcus Williams is arguably the best point guard in the Big East, while A.J. Price has yet to actually play in part because of a brain hemorrhage he suffered prior to the start of last season. Price has not actually been given medical clearance to play as of yet.

Interesting to note that the person who actually (allegedly) stole the laptops was a friend of Marcus Williams (who does not attend UConn), yet Williams got the lighter suspension for the three of them conspiring to sell the stolen goods.

Maybe there is more to it than appears -- and there usually is -- but it still smells a bit.

Then there is some great stuff in this column about Big East Media Day (via College Basketball Blog). From people lining up for the Seton Hall job before the first game has been played, to insulting Memphis Coach John Calipari.

... Maybe the Big East should've found a way to bring John Calipari into its league. Calhoun and Pitino sure do disdain Calipari - and the feeling is mutual, rest assured - but this league blocked Coach Life Skills at every turn.

Pittsburgh and St. John's rejected Calipari's embarrassingly eager overtures to get those openings, and the Big East presidents chose sad-sack South Florida over Memphis for the 16th and final spot. Calipari has a better chance getting on the Jayson Williams defense team than he does one of these tables at Big East media day.
As Huggins so eloquently declared, John Calipari is now the highest-paid mid-major coach in the country, left behind in the charred remains of Conference USA.

Then there were the statements from Jim Calhoun about the future.

"So many schools, with so many different agendas," one high-ranking conference official would say, surveying the room.

What's sparing the Seton Halls and Providences in the short-term has to be the miserable state of Syracuse and Pittsburgh football, the fact Big East football can't break away with so little BCS cachet. Calhoun has never done well with company lines, "Hypothetically, if Notre Dame and Penn State want to come East, I think you'd see some dancing very quickly with football schools," Calhoun said. "If this did happen, it would be a heck of a football league with those two joining. And a heck of a basketball league. That would be a perfect storm where you would see the structure we have now would no longer be the structure.

"It could happen while I'm still coaching. I think there's jockeying going on, even at 16 [members]. I don't think it's settled yet.

He thought for a moment. Yes, he was sure.

"It's not settled."

His hypothetical is unlikely, but he is right that "it's not settled."

Then there is this story on the Big East and Mike Tranghese, and what nearly happened after the ACC raid.

With the football membership in disarray, it seemed the Big East was ready to ditch that sport and focus on basketball.

Tranghese, who acted as the league's midwife in 1979 and has served as its commissioner since 1990, has always been a hoops guy at heart. But when faced with the possibility of leading the breakaway basketball group, Tranghese balked.

"It wasn't a personal thing," Tranghese said. "You can't dissolve a league and then, as the commissioner, say, 'I'm going to work for one of these entities.' It just wasn't gonna work."

The second meeting broke up without a final decision being made. About a month later, the presidents told Tranghese they had changed their minds. They wanted to keep the league together.

I find it surprising that the basketball schools were the ones so eager to break away. Given the poor state most of the programs were in at that time (heck, still are, mostly). All the b-ball juice in the BE was with the football schools -- Syracuse, UConn, Pitt and even BC still.

I am not surprised about this, though.

But the biggest prize -- the thing Tranghese lobbied for with all his might, calling in all his markers -- was the BCS bid.

The BCS and the Big East were ridiculed last season after Pitt finished in a four-way tie for first place, got a Fiesta Bowl berth with an 8-3 overall record, then was whipped by Utah, a team from a non-BCS league. Meanwhile, California and Boise State, which both went unbeaten in the regular season, wound up in second-tier bowls.

One bowl official confided that the Big East, despite being a founding member of the BCS, had all but lost its automatic berth until Tranghese began his full-court press.

"For a year, I virtually did nothing else," Tranghese said. "We had earned the right to be given a chance. That was my message."

And somehow it got through. That was why I thought the Big East stayed together, because of the football schools needing Tranghese. He had all the personal contacts, connections and favors owed. He really was the only one at that point who could keep the Big East in the BCS. Read the whole thing.

Moving to the Fan Fest, Carl Krauser was in a good mood.

The Pitt senior point guard, who decided to return to the Panthers for his final season after exploring the possibility of entering the NBA draft this year, signed autographs with a smile, played basketball with a smile and greeted reporters afterwards with a smile.

Indeed, it was a big smile all day long.

"Just being back here makes me appreciate the game more," Krauser said at the end of a day at Petersen Events Center that was designed for Pitt fans and dubbed "Pitt Fan Fest."

But Krauser savored the day perhaps more than any fan.

"It's a great feeling to be back in Pittsburgh," he said. "Today, seeing all the kids and all the families makes it all worthwhile to be back here. In the NBA, it's a business. But in college, it's about one thing, and that's to win a championship."

Also at the event was Brandin Knight and a couple possible future Pitt players: Aliquippa High School Junior Herb Pope and JUCO Gjio Bain.

Freshman forward Sam Young put on a little show during the scrimmage.

Two dunks and a 3-pointer.

And that was just in the first few minutes.

Sam Young, who wears No. 23 in honor of his basketball hero, Michael Jordan, gave Pitt fans something to think about Saturday at Petersen Events Center.
Young capped the men's scrimmage last evening in the closing seconds with his final dunk -- a thunderous jam off a teammate's missed shot -- that drew a collective gasp from the sparse crowd that remained.

"It's not surprising. We see him do it all the time," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We saw it when we were recruiting him. He's getting better and better every day. He works hard. He's hungry. He's a good kid. He loves being here."

Defense will be the thing the entire team needs to work on in the weeks leading up to the season.

Some More College Football Notes 

A weekend full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing. UCLA and Texas both gave hope for some utter BCS chaos, but at the end they won.

Florida wins and actually wore uniforms that were aesthetically worse than the Virginia Tech unis.

The Nike experiments keep getting scarier

I mean, at least the VT unis seemed to have some style and flow to the sleeve thing by comparison. The Florida offering was just blocklike and awkward. The Florida unis actually reminded me of those ugly split color home/road unis you can now get on clearance.

Actually, now I'm scared that will be the next offering.

Is there anything more disconcerting then the phrase, "bowl eligible Rutgers"? Well, I guess Temple, but this is still pretty high on the list.

I guess the Bowden/Clemson coaching deathwatch is back on the clock.

Steve Spurrier's South Carolina team beats Tennessee in Knoxville on the night they retire Peyton Manning's jersey. I've seen more believable plot lines in a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. That's it, unless Tom Brady breaks his arm tonight, I don't care what the spread is, I'm betting on New England next week against the Colts.

How To Win The Big East 

The stories started this past Monday about Pitt having a shot at winning the Big East. This despite their well documented 1-4 start, and only being 4-4 at this point. The meme has continued into the weekend. Such talk has of course offended non-Big East college football columnists who can't stand seeing the, uh, sanctity of the BCS denigrated by the continued presence of the Big East. In a fit of originality he takes to calling the conference the "Big Deceased." Whatever. (I'm guessing, though, this columnist for the Orlando Sentinel wasn't quite so offended at a 4-loss Florida St. team in the BCS in 2002)

At this point, there are 3 teams with legitimate shots at winning the Big East: WVU, Pitt and Rutgers. Louisville is pretty much out of it, but I'll throw them in for fun. Best record is the winner. If the records are tied between 2 teams it is how they did in head-to-head as the tie-breaker. If 3 (or more, god forbid) teams are tied with the same records and same head-to-head records then it is BCS ranking to decide.

Pitt has lost to Rutgers already this season, so RU has the tie-breaker if they finish with the same record. WVU has beaten both RU and Louisville to hold the tie-breaker over each of them.

Big East Games Remaining
WVU (3-0): UConn, @ Cinci, Pitt, @ USF
Pitt (3-1): @ Louisville, UConn, @ WVU
Rutgers (3-1): USF, @ Louisville, Cinci
Louisville (1-2): Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse, @ UConn

Scenarios for Winning the Big East

WVU: Win out; win 3 of 4 including the Backyard Brawl; lose to Pitt, but win other 3, and Pitt loses one more game; lose to Pitt, but win other 3, Pitt wins other 2 and Rutgers wins out -- WVU would win BCS tie-breaker based on BCS rankings (beating Maryland and losing to VT would almost assuredly trump Pitt and RU); or win 2 of 4 including the Backyard Brawl and Rutgers loses 1 more game.

(Potentially bizarre scenarios for WVU winning would also include: losing 2 of last 4, including the Backyard Brawl, but RU losing 1 more and Pitt losing twice or losing 3 of last 4, but winning the Backyard Brawl, Pitt losing 1 additional game, Rutgers losing twice and Louisville losing 1 more game.)

Pitt: Win out and Rutgers losing 1 more game; or winning 2 of 3 including the Backyard Brawl and Louisville, WVU losing 1 additional game, and Rutgers losing 2 of last 3.

Rutgers: Win out and WVU loses 2 of last 4; win 2 of 3 including Louisville while WVU loses 3 of 4 and Pitt loses at least 1 more game.

Louisville: Win final 4 games (which would include beating Pitt and RU) and WVU loses 3 of last 4.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Blue-Gold Scrimmage 

Well, so far none of the estimated 2615 who attended Fan Fest have e-mailed me about it. It would appear that the scrimmage was entertaining.
Several Panthers stood out in the scrimmage. Junior center Aaron Gray finished with 17 points on 8-13 shooting and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds in 34 minutes. Senior John DeGroat concluded the contest with 13 points on 6-9 shooting and finished off a spectacular offensive rebound dunk. Junior Antonio Graves finished the day with 17 points and hit 3-6 3-point field goals and junior Levon Kendall scored 16 points on 7-13 shooting.

Pitt's five newcomers also made their first public appearance on the Petersen Events Center floor. Freshman Sam Young's athleticism was on display in the first half as he finished off three acrobatic dunks and registered 12 points. He finished the game with 18 points on 6-12 shooting. Freshman Levance Fields scored 11 points and dished out a game-high six assists. Freshman Tyrell Biggs (five points), junior Doyle Hudson (two points) and junior Mike Cook (seven points) all saw their first action at Pitt.
Sure, it's relatively meaningless, but it has to help get you somewhat interested in the upcoming season.

Which brings me to some previews. I've been meaning to link these. The Big East Basketball Report Blog has been doing team previews. The Report picked Pitt 7th in the conference. Here is Pitt's.
However, that is not to indicate that the sun is setting on the Pittsburgh program and Jamie Dixon. If you look back historically at programs that rose to power in the Big East, there is no straight shot to the top. At this time, everyone strives to be like Syracuse and Connecticut, but there have been many early NCAA exits and trips to the NIT for these programs even after raising their national reputation to the status of the nation's best. Traditional powers have seen tough times ensue when replacing coaches. Pitt is bringing in a talented group of newcomers and have some holdovers that might be getitng overlooked a little, but have shown the ability to compete at high levels. All this with a sterling on-campus arena, the Peterson Events Center, and the Pitt program, although in a criticial stage, still has plenty of upside left, in our opinion.

Through much of last spring and into this summer, it looked like a definite rebuilding season for the Panthers with the loss of Taft, McCarroll and Troutman and the anticipated loss of PG Carl Krauser to the professional ranks. However, Pitt coach Jamie Dixon got some good news when Krauser decided to pass on professional opportunities and return to run the show for the Panthers. Krauser is a tough and physical point guard that rebounds, gets assists and can score. He comes from the playgrounds of NYC and certainly has the flair of the streets in his game and his passion for the game is obvious. Finding a balance of where the streets meet the college game is also very important, because, on occassion, Krauser can be careless with the ball and get into a habit of over-dribbling. Last year, in wins over Notre Dame and Syracuse in a 3-day span, he showed how clutch he could be with key shots. He is a player that has been through the battles in this conference and will likely lead the way again for the Panthers, his late game experience should be very valuable for a team that will likely be in many close contests, but, in the same sense, he needs to cut his turnovers significantly, or they will hurt him in those same close games!
Go and read the whole thing.

For another BE preview, Draft Express puts Pitt at #8 in the new BE.
Pittsburgh’s biggest question marks come in the frontcourt, where the presence of Chevon Troutman, and to a lesser extent Chris Taft, will be sorely missed. Two juniors that are ready to try their hand at starting are PF Levon Kendall (3.5 ppg) and C Aaron Gray (4.3 ppg). Kendall shocked the world when he shot 16-22 from the floor in Canada’s upset win over the US U-21 team this past summer, but it appears that the huge game might have been more of an aberration than a sign of a player ready for stardom. Nonetheless, Kendall is skilled enough to be a major factor for this team. Gray is a true 7-footer with a good feel for the game and nice touch on his back to the basket post moves. While neither player is a guaranteed starting caliber player, they provide the keys for Dixon in the task of rebuilding the frontcourt. Thick freshman Tyrell Biggs, junior college transfer Doyle Hudson, and Young will provide the backup minutes.

Jamie Dixon has done quite well for himself in his first years as a head coach, but Ben Howland’s influence on this program is fading further and further into the past. Last season was a step away from what this Panther program used to do best, and Dixon must find his program’s identity. Having Krauser for an extra season helps, and players like Ramon, Kendall, and Gray are talented enough to emerge. A slip back into the middle of the pack is certainly a possibility, but there is enough talent here to stay in the upper half of the conference and potentially make up for last season’s early tourney exit.
So many, many questions.

Getting An Education 

A couple player puff pieces today about learning.

Punter Adam Graessle gets a piece talking about learning to be a smarter punter, not just booming it.

"They don't just want me to try and kick the air out of it every time," Graessle said. "Obviously, that's what I'd prefer -- just boom it every time. I'm being asked to do some more directional kicking and I've also had to work on my hang time, getting the ball up in the air high enough that there isn't a return.

"That's the NFL mentality -- a shorter kick that is high and placed is better than a long kick that is in the middle of the field and returned. I know I am becoming a better player because of it and I know that I should be quicker to adjust, but it right now is just a consistency thing.

"My best days are ahead of me. I just need to work through some things. I haven't had the kind of season I would have liked this far, but there are still three games and I'll get it together."

Wannstedt said he knows that Graessle, who also kicks off, has had to adjust and has been somewhat inconsistent, but he believes Graessle is an NFL prospect.

"Adam is doing fine. I have no problem with how he's played and what he's done. There is always a comfort level and a period of adjustment and he just had to fight through some things," Wannstedt said. "The thing we want to work on next is getting the ball inside the 10-yard line when we're close to the 50. But I have no problems with how Adam has come along."

Graessle's punting average isn't much different from last year. The issue is net yards after the return. Pitt is middle of the pack in punting because the punting unit allows a second worst 7.2 yards/return in the conference. Some of that, obviously is on the punt coverage, which hasn't been much more than average.

Freshman Left Tackle John Bachman also gets a piece about getting playing time this season. It's impressive that he was actually hesitant to let the coaches play him and burn his redshirt year by starting to give him time in the Cinci game.

"The coaches discussed how they wanted to get me in to get some experience," Bachman said. "It was kind of up to me ... well, I'm not sure how much it was up to me. I always told the coaches, if they call my number, I'm not going to say no."

Still, before he gave Wannstedt a final answer, Bachman called his parents.

"I told them they needed to get some tickets for the away games now, too," he said, laughing.

Mostly, Bachman wanted to get some advice from his father, David, who played football at Colgate in the late 1970s. Bachman did not want to burn his redshirt year if it meant getting minuscule playing time in the final half of the season.

"At the same time, if I get 20 or so plays a game, that's 100 plays I wouldn't have had," Bachman said. "It's a risk I'm taking. But I'm not thinking about anything negative right now. It's all positive, all (about) how can I get better and how this can help me."

Bachman's dad gave his OK, and the new plan went ahead.

"Without him supporting it, I wouldn't have felt right about it," Bachman said. "I know the coaches are supportive, but I needed some ... I mean, he's my dad. That's another level of trust. So, his support put me over the edge."
If he needed any more proof he made the right choice by opting to play, Bachman got it by looking at his dad after the Cincinnati game.

"He had a smile that he couldn't get off his face," Bachman said. "He loved it, seeing me out there."

Then there is the Paul Zeise Q&A. He warns us that there will be none next week because of the Thursday game.

Q: Why does Pitt always seem to come out flat? Who is to blame - coaches or players?

ZEISE: I don't think a lack of emotion or intensity - or being flat - has been the problem at all. I think a lack of focus seems to be the issue - as they have made blunder after blunder in the first quarter of the past few games. And I think that the team is prepared and ready to play, so I blame the players. Coaches spent all week preparing to block Syracuse's all-world safety in punt protection and he goes out and blocks a punt. Erik Gill catches a pass and doesn't cover up the ball and fumbles, Tyler Palko overthrows Gill in the endzone and it is picked off - these are all mistakes made by players. Intensity, however, has not been the problem. They've come out and played hard, they've just made too many mistakes for their own good.

Q: Why was a small back like LaRod Stephens-Howling in the game down in the goal line situation on a wet field?

ZEISE: Good question and we haven't really gotten a good answer for it. To me, it made no sense. The coaches felt with his speed teams would have to respect - and worry about - an outside run and that in itself would loosen some things up in the middle. I'd rather see them put Jennings in there and let him move the pile. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future in goal-to-go situations with the running backs because Stephens-Howling and Jennings could provide an effective one-two punch if used correctly. And I think it is safe to say Jennings' talents dictate that he should be the tailback in the goal line offense.

Pitt can't afford to come out flat against Louisville, and Coaches Wannstedt and Cavanaugh have to show more logic in how to best use their players.

Fan Fest  

It is this afternoon. If anyone is going, send me a report and I'll post it. The doors open at 3:45, and there is supposed to be a live broadcast from there if you want to listen. I know most attending will be going to see the women scrimmage first, then if anyone is still hanging around the men play at 6:20.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Variety Pack 

A few things to post.

In the alumni notes, I see that Toree Morris was cut by the Toronto Raptors. Never a good thing for your future to be cut from one of the worst teams in the NBA.

That same article says that the NCAA is looking at financial incentives to encourage better collegiate athletic graduation rates -- for the schools. Wouldn't want to actually reward the student-athletes or anything.

A nice article on Rod Rutherford now with the Steeler practice squad.

A rant about the return of fair-weather PSU fans to the 'Burgh (hat tip to jman).

I will completely concur with Lee's comments regarding the Virginia Tech, Orange sleeve look.
... last night, our old buddies down in Virginia Tech almost, but not quite, unseated Oregon in having the ugliest freakin' uniforms in college football.

What the f#ck was up with that single-orange-sleeve crap. Is Marcus Vick going to come out next week in a Florence Griffith Joyner one-legged unitard? Puh-lease.

Thank you Nike, for once more lowering the bar.

Finally a fantastic story about how Notre Dame football is now seeking to improve it's past.

"Although we have great hopes for the future of our football program, Notre Dame has greater hopes for a facet of that program that is far more important to our university: our past," Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White said in a press conference Monday. "With that in mind, we will be making improvements, additions, and revisions that, like our history itself, have been 118 years in the making."

Notre Dame's history, perhaps the most storied in sports, already includes such legends as Knute Rockne, George Gipp, and Joe Theismann. However, once the program's history has been revised, it will also include Hall of Famers such as Bo Jackson, formerly of Auburn; Archie Griffin, formerly of Ohio State; and Red Grange, formerly of Illinois.

"All these Hall of Fame players are definitely worthy of going down as the greatest in history," Notre Dame coach Charles Weis said. "And since the College Football Hall of Fame is right down the road from us here in South Bend, we can easily make sure that the history they go down in is Notre Dame's."

You knew it was only a matter of time.

Player Issues 

Definitely a light day for news.

Joe Clermond gets a piece about his rise, fall and rise again in the depth chart.
Pitt defensive end Joe Clermond was one of the most impressive players in the spring, so good that he had nailed down a starting job before spring drills wrapped up.

As the season began, however, Clermond, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound redshirt sophomore from Tampa, Fla., found himself in a spot he never imagined he would be in -- looking like he would be Pitt's best defensive lineman.

"I was on the scout team when the season began," said Clermond, who recently has worked his way back into the Panthers' pass rush with a bit of a spark off the bench. "I had some injuries and things, and I didn't play as well at training camp as coaches know I can so it was sort of a setback when I fell out of the starting job then fell down to the point where I wasn't even playing."

Pitt defensive ends coach Charlie Partridge said that Clermond's injuries, most of which were minor in nature, slowed his progress some but weren't the only things holding him back. He said Clermond also never seemed to reach the same level of focus and intensity he had in the spring, and as a result he wasn't very productive during the summer.

That changed, however, once coaches got his attention by demoting him and making him work his way back into the lineup. Partridge said the way Clermond has handled the situation and worked his way off the scout team is impressive because he could have quit along the way.

Clermond is now in the defensive end rotation, and has moved ahead of Gus Mustakas on the depth chart so he is now the back-up to Charles Sallet.

Coach Wannstedt hasn't officially named a starting tailback for the game. In fact, he held Kirkley, Jennings and Stephens-Howling out of practice yesterday to give them more recovery from injuries that have kept them out of games at times during the season.

Punter Adam Graessle has a sore quadriceps from an injury in practice last week. He'll still be in to punt against Louisville but Josh Cummings will handle the kickoffs.

Over on the Louisville side, their big play receiver Mario Urrutia will likely miss the game with a knee injury. He only has 25 catches but has averaged over 96 yards per game. Louisville has one of the best offenses in the country, but this will slow their ability to stretch the field. It may let Pitt play closer to the line to help try and contain tailback Michael Bush (I hope).

The sack leader in the country, Louisville DE Elvis Dumervil gets a story.
Dumervil has a Big East-record 19 sacks this season, which puts him just six shy of breaking the NCAA mark set in 2002 by Terrell Suggs of Arizona State. Dumervil is riding a nine-game sack streak, the longest in NCAA history.
When told that Pitt has allowed more sacks this year than any other team in the Big East, Dumervil laughed again.

"I didn't know that. Thanks."

Pitt (4-4, 3-1) has given up 25 sacks, which is only four fewer than Louisville, Rutgers and South Florida -- combined. The Panthers yield an average of 3.13 sacks per game, which ranks 97th among the 117 Division I-A teams.

Louisville (5-2, 1-2) ranks second in the country with 33 sacks, positioned between Nebraska (38) and Ohio State (31).

Eighteen of Dumervil's meet-and-greets with opposing quarterbacks have been solo acts. It's safe to say he will be the 2005 college sack champ; his closest competitor, Willie Evans of Mississippi State, has 8 1/2 sacks.
Dumervil (6-feet, 251 pounds) beats linemen with his great leverage and freakishly long arms. With an uncanny knack for timing the snap, he almost always gets the first-step advantage.

"It starts with the get-off," Dumervil said. "You've got to be able to come off the ball fast. When you can do that, a lot of things can happen. I just try to speed rush to the outside, and then counter (the blocker's moves) from there."

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said Dumervil will be the best defensive end the Panthers will face this year.

"He gets a great jump off the ball," said Wannstedt. "Half the time, it looks like he's offsides. But that's what all the great pass rushers have, and I've been around some of the greatest ones who've ever played the game -- Too Tall Jones, Richard Dent, Jason Taylor."


Hopefully a copy of this article has been placed in every Pitt offensive lineman's locker.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Early Game Notes and Attendance Issues 

Pitt already has its Game Notes for Louisville (PDF). The depth chart is of questionable value, when it's a week in advance.

Something else to read. This story on the struggles of Cinci to get people to care about their football team. And if you think Pitt's basketball season ticket policy pissed people off, imagine this one.

Roger Hamilton of Greenhills has had University of Cincinnati football season tickets since the early '90s. He hasn't been to a game at Nippert Stadium since 1985.

Hamilton buys his tickets through UC's UCATS program so he can buy basketball season tickets. Hamilton gives his four football tickets to people in his office or his neighbors. Hamilton is a UC basketball fan, not a football fan, so he doesn't go to the football games.

He's not alone - there are a lot of people in Cincinnati not coming to Bearcat football games.

With its entrance into the Big East, UC claims to be in the "Big Time" now, and technically it is as a member of a Bowl Championship Series conference. You couldn't tell it by looking around last Saturday at Nippert Stadium.

With a classic rival in town on a beautiful day, just 21,086 people showed up to watch the Bearcats play Louisville.

Among BCS conference schools, UC is next-to-last in average attendance, averaging just 21,555 fans per home game. That's 87th in Division I-A. Only Duke, of the Atlantic Coast Conference, has a lower average attendance among BCS schools with 17,914 per game at Wallace Wade Stadium.

I remember reading a story a number of years ago about the day before and of Cinci's first appearance on ESPN for a Thursday night game. The AD was literally out on the campus giving tickets away just to make the school look good and like people actually cared about the team.

Actually, for schools in Ohio not named Ohio State, attendance is a problem.

Ohio State is averaging 105,028 fans per game at Ohio Stadium. Of the other seven Division I-A schools in the state, none has had more than 105,028 fans combined at their home games this season. The combined average of the other seven schools in the state is just 116,581.

It's not just a UC problem. Miami University is 100th in Division I-A in attendance, averaging 16,810 fans per game, which is an increase over last season.

This isn't a surprise, but of the top-25 schools in attendance, none are located in a city with a NFL franchise.

More Media Day Stuff 

Mike Tranghese's opening statements at Big East Media Day surprised many by the defiance and defensiveness of them.

"Everybody keeps telling me we're too big," Tranghese said before a hushed group of coaches, players, administrators and reporters. "Let's understand this. Everybody in America is too big, because basketball was intended to be played in double round-robin format. The ACC doesn't do it. The SEC doesn't do it. The Big 12 doesn't do it. The Big Ten doesn't do it, and we haven't done it since the early '90s. So we're all too big. We just happen to be a little bigger than others.

"We're not going to fail," Tranghese said. "But we're not going to simply succeed because we're 16. Sixteen presents a number of problems, and we're going to be aggressive in dealing with them. But this whole notion that we're too big is nonsense, because three years ago we were 14 and I didn't hear anyone saying we were too big."
Then the commissioner took on the most passionate issue of the day: The potentially divisive effect of the schools' conflicting football priorities. Some play Division I-A football, some Division I-AA and some no football at all.

"I keep hearing the question, 'Are we going to survive?' " Tranghese said. "Let me tell you the people who don't think we're going to survive. One, those that don't understand what this is all about. ... And secondly, people who don't want it to survive. And there are a lot of them out there.

"The only way this thing won't survive," Tranghese said, "is if these coaches can't coach and recruit, and if I screw up. They ain't going to screw up, because this league has always been successful because of our basketball coaches."

I guess he's sick of answering the questions. The problem for Tranghese is that they aren't going to go away. The conference exists because of basketball, but every move to add programs was driven by a defensive reaction regarding football.

Another article asks a bunch of questions, including who the sleeper team in the Big East is.

There is one every year. Look at West Virginia last season. Providence two years ago. Syracuse, which won the national championship, three seasons ago after beginning the year unranked.

So who will it be this year?

Let's look at the middle of the Big East pack. Pittsburgh. Notre Dame. Cincinnati. Georgetown. St. John's.

It'll probably come from one of those five teams.

"Of course St. John's, of course," Red Storm junior forward Lamont Hamilton said. "We're hoping to leave the past."

Two years ago, the Johnnies practically blew up their program, went 1-15 in the Big East and was mired in scandal.

Pitt is another team that could surprise. The Panthers lose inside presences Chevon Troutman and Chris Taft, but return all-conference guard Carl Krauser.

"Pittsburgh," junior center Aaron Gray chimed in when another player was asked about potential surprising teams.

We can hope.

One article makes an interesting point. There is no longer a true "Big East style of play."

But it doesn't have a style. And if one were to uncover some obscure common thread among the likes of Syracuse and Connecticut, Louisville and Cincinnati, Georgetown and St. John's, West Virginia and Pitt, it certainly wouldn't be what is commonly perceived as the traditional Big East style of play.

"No. Not at all," said Rick Pitino, a Big East coach nearly 20 years ago at Providence who is now back in the league with Louisville. "I don't think when you have 16 teams there is a style. West Virginia has their style, Pitt has theirs, St. John's has theirs. Cincinnati has their style, Connecticut. The league is not like it was where it was a very physical league and Georgetown came in and threw people around. It's not that way anymore."

Indeed, if this were still a league dominated by physical inside presence and almost a football-like mentality, Villanova would not have edged out Connecticut and been chosen as the preseason favorite at Wednesday's Big East media day at Madison Square Garden. That's a team that, thanks to last week's knee injury suffered by Curtis Sumpter, could start four guards.

In fact, take a look at the top five teams in the preseason poll. From among Villanova, Connecticut, Louisville, Syracuse and West Virginia, only Connecticut returns anything resembling a true post player from last season in 6-foot-10, 237-pound junior Josh Boone. And even he plays much of his time on the wing.

No, the Big East style is now a menagerie of offenses and defenses and tempos.
"From a coaching and scouting standpoint, how many different styles can you prepare for?" [Notre Dame Coach Mike] Brey said. "For example, we play West Virginia on the road on a Wednesday and Louisville on the road on [the following] Saturday. Now those are two different preparations in four days.

"But as a fan, you've got to check it out. It's going to be [a matter of] what style wins out."

The influx of Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, DePaul and South Florida will only accentuate the differences among the league's teams.

Very true, yet look at the conference the last few years. Leaving aside the NCAA Tournament, the teams that have been dominate have been in the traditional inside physical BE teams -- Pitt, UConn, Syracuse and BC.

New Versus Old Bias 

Louisville columnist agrees with my take that the new members are facing a bit of bias.
Never mind football. Basketball is where the Big East will make fireworks crackle and the ground shake. In basketball, love for U of L and its four fellow newcomers from Conference USA is tougher to find than a midtown Manhattan parking place.

"It's fair," Villanova guard Allan Ray said. "They're the new kids on the block. When you're new, you need to come in and earn your respect. That's just life."

"It's like being a freshman player coming into this league," said Syracuse senior Gerry McNamara. "You have to prove what you can do. It's not given to you."

Actually, what was given to U of L, Cincinnati, DePaul, Marquette and South Florida was a hard time, powerful incentive to legitimately play the "no respect" hymn from now until the league reassembles in Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament on March 8.

Preseason predictions are risky business. But if you can learn one thing from the predictions filed at Big East basketball media day yesterday, it is this:

The five newcomers from C-USA will have to take a number before they are given much love from the 11 Big East holdovers.
At the end, though, he hedges that maybe the BE coaches know more about the league than he and the new teams.

I guess the way I look at it, is that in predicting the team ranks there are 3 groupings of teams. Top (1-4), Middle (5-12), and Low(13-16). In roughly each grouping, what you see are the old C-USA teams in the bottom portion of each group.

Love on the D 

Some credit to the Defense for the way it's been playing.
Despite concerns about the unit coming into the season, the Panthers' defense ranks 20th nationally. Pitt is giving up only 307.5 yard-per-game. Coach Dave Wannstedt said Wednesday after practice that the defense has been key to Pitt turning around its season and evening its record at 4-4.

"Our defense has played very consistent from the standpoint that we're improving against the run, for sure, and we're improving on the big plays," Wannstedt said. "When you don't give up the big plays and make teams drive the length of the field -- well, they're going to have a tough time doing it."

That's great. Of course consider that the last 3 games have come against the 76th, 77th and 113th ranked offenses (Cinci, USF and Syracuse) and that Ohio and Nebraska are 101st and 91st. Rutgers is 44th and they piled up the yardage. Just keep things reasonable about what the D is doing against what kind of competition.

Also note, that Wannstedt still feels that Pitt isn't running the ball well enough. He's happy to keep the passing to under 30 attempts, though.

As Joe Starkey notes in his ESPN.com Big East notebook (Insider subs.) the next game will be the test to see whether the defense really has improved from the shellacking it took in week 1 against ND.

A big key against Louisville will be the defensive line, which must help control Cardinals running back Michael Bush and generate pressure on quarterback Brian Brohm.

Brohm, the highest-rated passer in the country, hasn't seen a set of cornerbacks as good as Darrelle Revis and Josh Lay. But without pressure on the quarterback, Revis and Lay will be in trouble.

Senior Linebacker J.J. Horne gets a little love.

The coaching staff named Horne its defensive player of the game after he had six hits and a pass breakup against Cincinnati. A week later against South Florida, Horne again had six stops and also forced a fumble.

Horne is in his first season as the full-time starter at weak-side linebacker. His presence took on increased importance when Brian Bennett went down with a season-ending knee injury a month ago.

Since Horne's backup, Adam Gunn, is just a redshirt freshman, Horne rarely gets a breather on game days.

"Here's a kid who, even though he's a fifth-year senior, he's probably never achieved the credit that maybe was deserved," defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads said. "He's been a split-role player. Now, he's having to play the position all on his own.

"We're asking him to do a number of things in the nickel and dime packages. And he's doing all that with a physical ailment that he's playing through, and we're always proud of our kids when that kind of physical toughness shows."

Horne has also been playing with a hurt shoulder.

Coming Back To Practice 

Practice resumed yesterday, as the team starts preparing for Louisville.

Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt took it a step further and said his biggest challenge in the next week may not be getting the Panthers prepared to play the game. Instead, it will be to get them to concentrate on football and not the many distractions that come with a big game.

"We have to be careful we don't look at all that extra stuff and let it cloud what we're trying to do," Wannstedt said. "There will be enough said about Louisville -- they have one of the best offenses in the country -- they have a lot of talent, they were ranked and we are playing on the road -- but we can't get caught up in all of that and [have to] approach it like we've approached the games the last few weeks. We've had success by taking it one at a time and making sure we take care of our business."

Derek Kinder has become Pitt's reliable #2 receiver and gets some love from Coach Wannstedt.

Kinder has 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns.

"Derek has been a real positive," Wannstedt said. "He has gotten better every week. He is kind of a self-made type of receiver. Nobody works as hard, he never makes a mental mistake and he is always in the right place. Every long run we have or pass, Derek Kinder is usually in the middle of it blocking somewhere.

"Plus, he is on the punt team and he's making tackles on the kickoff coverage team. He is one of the unsung stories that people haven't talked about enough."

Of course, during the first part of the week, the coaches were out recruiting. Apparently some are still out there.

Assistant coaches Aubrey Hill, Curtis Bray and Charlie Partridge were not at practice because they were still traveling as part of their recruiting duties, and offensive line coach Paul Dunn arrived just as practice ended.
Hill and Partridge were probably down in Florida. Dunn works the Eastern part of Pennsylvania. Bray could have been in Maryland/Virginia or Michigan. TE Coach and recruiting coordinator Greg Gattuso may be working to reel in another important recruit.

In search of several blue-chip offensive lineman, coach Dave Wannstedt and the Panthers were the latest to offer highly touted tackle Lee Tilley. The distance from home has peaked Tilley's interest as well as playing time.

However, Tilley has already visited South Carolina, Arizona State, LSU, and Oklahoma. With one official visit remaining, the Panthers look to be a possibility should Tilley take his final visit.
Tilley is a 4-star recruit out of Columbus, Ohio with offers from all of those schools along with Florida and Virginia Tech. Scout.com has him ranked as the 16th highest OL. Rivals.com has him ranked #20, and is the 13th best prospect from Ohio. ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. lists him at #23 for OL (Insider subs.).

Media Day Shallowness 

Most media days are rather substance free, as there are lots of media trying to hit as many coaches and players as possible and vice versa. The Big East Media Day, even more so. 16 teams each with their head coach and 2 players plus the Big East Commissioner and various Conference underlings. That's easily more than 50 people to try and get to. Add in the pre-arranged media appearances for coaches and players to work around, and it is not only a logistics nightmare, but completely exhausting for everyone.

This leads to crankiness, including from the media.

Here's the thing about the Big East: It's too damn big. The marquee outside Madison Square Garden said, "Big East, 2005-06, A Sweet 16." That's right, 16 teams. Louisville, Marquette, DePaul, now in the Big East.

The commissioner spent his opening remarks in an oddly defensive (for a season-opening speech, at least) stance. It will work, he insists. It's not too many teams. He admitted the schedule was "dysfunctional." Actually, he admitted it was even more dysfunctional than it had already been. He admitted that some people were unhappy that only 12 of the 16 teams would make it to the conference tournament at the end of the season. He talked about the league's great coaches then later one of the legends, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, downplayed the conference expansion and noted that the reason was, of course, football. No move in the Big East, he said, was ever done because of basketball.

No, it's all about money.
Not exactly a revelation. Nothing that hasn't been written here before. She definitely paints broadly and without context. The schedule is the way it is because the TV contract demands so. That will change when the contract ends. The reason for the dissatisfaction with the 12 teams only is it creates more pressure on the coaches to make the BET for job security (i.e., self interest). She also has it wrong about doing it for the money. It was for survival.

The big star at the media day was not Calhoun or Boeheim, but Pitino. Not a shock. He's new/old to the league. A outsized personality and good with the one-liners, and his team is coming off a Final Four appearance. Plus, he gets a reaction (as Chris demonstrated).

As for the preseason poll by the coaches, I don't think anyone is really sweating it.

"We were picked fourth and won it two years ago. Boston College wasn't picked to win it last year," Dixon said. "The health of guys, when you play teams, when teams get hot at certain times ... there's too many things that come into play and things can change.

"We're going to have some guys surprise some people and be good players for us."

Dixon is expected to regularly mix-in his four incoming players -- guard Levance Fields, swingman Sam Young and post players Tyrell Biggs and Doyle Hudson -- with his veterans.
"It's so hard to tell," junior forward Levon Kendall said. "You try not to worry too much about the preseason polls. Nobody has played yet. It's really wide-open."

Junior center Aaron Gray isn't guaranteeing anything more than the best effort the Panthers can offer, especially knowing that the league has been fortified with several more heavyweight programs.

"We knew it wasn't going to get any easier with teams like Louisville and Cincinnati coming in our league," he said. "It's something we've been preparing for all year."

I'd say one of the more difficult things was picking the All-Big East Team with 16 teams. That's probably why they ducked naming a 1st and 2nd team and made it a 10-man squad.

Naturally, if Pitt is in NYC, then there needs to be some recruiting work going on.

In addition to appearing on two ESPN2 television shows yesterday, Dixon did some recruiting on the trip to New York. He was at a local high school at 6:30 a.m. yesterday to see a player. After taping of the ESPN2 show "Quite Frankly" yesterday afternoon he was going to go watch another recruit play and then hop on the last flight back to Pittsburgh.
And Aaron Gray keeps talking with Chris Taft.

"He was telling me I have to hold down that center position," Gray said yesterday. "He told me not to worry about people on the outside, listen to the people who matter. He was just saying, 'stay positive.' "

Taft, Pitt's center the past two years, left school early to play in the NBA. He is in training camp with the Golden State Warriors.

Gray and Taft came to Pitt at the same time and remain close friends. Gray said he speaks with Taft every few days and hopes to follow in his footsteps to the NBA.

Gray will be coach Jamie Dixon's starting center this season. He has dropped 15 pounds and is looking forward to the opportunity of finally escaping from Taft's shadow.

"One of my big concentrations during the offseason was conditioning," Gray said. "For our team to be successful, I'm going to have to play at a high level. And I'm going to have to be out there on the floor a lot. I'm going to have to stay out of foul trouble."

Lots and lots of questions for 2005-06.

Basketball Notes -- Mostly Media Day 

Here's the Pitt press release on BE Media day. It includes the total votes for each team in the coaches poll. It was just bunched up something tight in the middle.
6. Georgetown - 152

7. PITT -------- 130

8. Notre Dame - 128

9. Cincinnati ---- 127

10. St. John's ---- 79
Honestly, that seems just about right to me. Pitt could be anywhere from 4 to 12 this season. I think the conference and the team is that unknown.

Carl Krauser was named to the All-Big East Preseason Team.

Freshman Sam Young along with Marquette's Dominic Jones got 3 votes each for Pre-Season BE Rookie of the year, behind Syracuse's Eric Devendorf who got 6.

Mike DeCourcy at the Sporting News notes this.
Freshman PG Levance Fields is quick, strong and an accurate shooter, and Pittsburgh likely will pair him frequently with senior PG Carl Krauser. There is no set plan for which player will control the ball, but having Fields in the game could free Krauser to focus on scoring.
That could also be a good way for Fields to get some experience running things like Krauser did with Knight.

Andy Katz on ESPN.com blogs about Pitt and Levon Kendall (Insider Subs.).
Levon Kendall isn't going to put up 40 points in a game again any time soon, but Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon said his Canadian forward is brimming with confidence in practice.

And why not? Kendall lit up the U.S. for 40 in a quarterfinal win in Argentina at the FIBA U-21 World Championships.

Kendall will start for the Panthers and the expectation is that he'll produce. Maybe he won't go for 40, but he certainly will score more than the 3.5 he averaged a year ago. Kendall and freshman forward Sam Young will make up for the departure of Chevon Troutman (15 ppg).

The Panthers should be an NCAA Tournament team, although the Sporting News picked them surprisingly 10th in the Big East, behind Providence (?). Along with Kendall, Pittsburgh returns one of the toughest guards in the country in Carl Krauser. He's been banged up and not practicing as much lately but he'll be game ready, according to Dixon.

Sophomore guard Ronald Ramon is a solid compliment and then, along with Kendall, senior forward John DeGroat, who according to Dixon has made marked improvement, anchors the inside with 7-footer Aaron Gray and junior wing Antonio Graves.

Young, freshman point guard Levance Fields and freshman forward Tyrell Biggs all will be major contributors, according to Dixon. All three freshman apparently have exceeded early expectations in practice, giving the Panthers a chance to ultimately finish higher in the Big East.

The Panthers have their customary softish non-conference slate, with nine home games and two road games -- and one of those is "at" city rival Duquesne (does that count?). Going to South Carolina and hosting Wisconsin are legit, but Penn State and Auburn come to town in rebuilding mode (did Dixon and Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie talk about ensuring you get bottom-dwellers in the Big Ten and SEC to come in?). The Panthers could be 9-2 heading into the Big East.

Pitt actually upgraded their non-con compared to recent years.

Final note, the City Game with Duquesne on December 7, will be at 8 pm so FSN-Pittsburgh can show it.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

JUCO Recruit 

Just got an e-mail from the invaluable Pittsburgh Sports Report:
The University of Pittsburgh received a verbal commitment last night from Lowell Robinson, a 6'0" 190 pound defensive back currently playing at Erie Community College in Erie County, NY. Robinson is the Panthers' first commitment since the 2005 season started and their 18th in the 2006 class.

Robinson, originally from Mt. Vernon, NY, plays free safety in Erie's 4-4 defensive scheme. He is also an electrifying return-man and has played outside linebacker for head coach Dennis Greene.

"He can play all over the field - he returns kicks and I've had him at outside linebacker at times," Greene told Keystone Recruiting. "You can put him at wide receiver and send him out on a post route to clear things out underneath. We have him at free safety because we play a 4-4 and he really flies to the football. But he can play corner as well. He runs a legit 4.4."

Pitt running backs coach David Walker, who is friendly with Greene and the ECC staff, recruited Robinson for Pitt. His recruitment has been picking up more and more lately, and several Big East schools have been in touch, but Pitt was the first major program to show interest. South Carolina has also shown a lot of interest lately, according to Greene. He'll graduate from Erie Community College in May and should join the Panthers next summer.
I believe this is Pitt's first JUCO commitment. Looks like the bye and time to go recruiting came at the right time. There isn't a lot on Robinson. He appeared to also have interest from NC St. and Boise St.

Steven Walker, Convicted 

Apparently the jury didn't take too long.

Moments after being found guilty of murder, a former All-Ohio quarterback who starred at Buchtel High School passed on his last chance to speak before he was sentenced Tuesday in Stark County Common Pleas Court.

That didn't sit well with the teenage victim's parents when they got the opportunity to address the court.

"You just killed a man; you can't say nothing?" challenged Michael Cheek, father of 17-year-old Michael Cheek, who was gunned down July 29 outside a convenience store. "I hope the judge don't care about nothing when he sentences you."

That's when Steven J. Walker, 20, who had opted not to testify in his defense, broke his silence.

"I ain't the one who killed Michael Cheek,"he said when permitted to make a statement. "I never shot Michael Cheek. I'm very sorry."

After a two-day trial, the 12-member jury found Walker guilty of murder, with a firearm specification, as well as carrying a concealed weapon. Judge John G. Haas sentenced him immediately to 15 years to life for the murder, another three years for using a firearm and six months for the concealed weapon.

According to testimony, the shooting was gang related.

Walker, a Canton resident, was upset when Cheek and two other friends walked into the Hall of Fame Fuel Mart on Sherrick Road because they were part of a rival gang and had ventured into hostile territory. Walker, who was in the store, complained openly, and Cheek punched Walker when he wouldn't shut up, according to testimony.

The kid killed clearly wasn't the "innocent" initially portrayed when this happened, but that doesn't change things.

Coaches Rankings 

The preseason coaches poll for the Big East looks like this:
  1. Villanova
  2. UConn
  3. Louisville
  4. Syracuse
  5. WVU
  6. Georgetown
  7. Pitt
  8. ND
  9. Cinci
  10. St. John's
  11. DePaul
  12. Marquette
  13. Providence
  14. Rutgers
  15. Seton Hall
  16. USF
Looks to me like a little bias by the BE coaches towards the older teams, i.e., the devils they know.

Media Slam -- Live Blog 

I did not get a chance to watch "Cold Pizza" so I missed Jamie Dixon's early appearance. If anyone caught it, please leave a comment with your impressions. I need to know what to expect.

As much as possible, I'll be trying to liveblog the Big East Basketball Media Slam, via the Internet feed. We'll see how it goes.

11:02: Adam Zucker (Syracuse) in studio. Seth Davis at MSG. Tranghese already spoke to coaches, players and media.

11:03 Coaches poll: Villanova #1, UConn #2, and Pitt #7. Taken before Curtis Sumpter went down. Didn't have time to catch the complete list.

11:05 First team and coach they will talk to is Cinci.

11:09 Andy Kennedy is still effusive in praise and stressing Huggins' friendship. My impression: -- he doesn't expect to get the Cinci job, so it is more important to seem loyal and good. Better for possible next head coach job or hook up with Huggins at his next destination or another top coach. Cinci picked to finish #9.

11:15 Providence preview/interview. Doesn't look good for this season. Tim Welsh and Don McGrath (with hair). Welsh really slicked back the hair to show just how much it is thinning. Providence picked 13th in BE. That seems about right.

11:20 Pitt coming up.

11:24 Graphic showing incoming players includes Trevor Ferguson?? Dixon and Aaron Gray. Krauser didn't come, because of classes -- English class. Instead Gray and Levon Kendall at media day.

Talked about Krauser first, about nearly going. Dixon almost seems relaxed, still in cliches and coach speak, but a little easier mood.

3-guard will be used, but there are big guys and others who may surprise -- Hudson, Biggs and Young.

Aaron Gray: "a great opportunity," just want to help team. On the new players, he just ducks it and says they are all good and ready to help.

11:28 Pitt ad followed. Hmm. CSTV has a lot of PSA and ads for themselves. Not making a lot of ad sales at this time.

11:30 Marquette. Davis made fun of the mascot flap.

11:35 Georgetown. All 5 starters return. JTIII and Brandon Bowman.

Most of the interviews are kind of bland, unless it's your team. UConn is next.

11:43 Jim Calhoun and Rudy Gay. AJ Price and Marcus Williams issues will probably be resolved next week. Definitely won't be playing in the first semester, though.

Why does the BE Basketball PSA still have the old logo?

11:50 Villanova. Jay Wright with Randy Foye. Sumpter ACL injury first issue. Wright thinks there's a 40% chance he might come back this year. Jason Fraser looks like he will play this year, despite 2 knee surgeries over summer.

12:00 St. John's. All 5 starters return including Daryl Hill. Norm Roberts and Hill. Hill wearing a sweater vest with a tie underneath? Wow. Not exactly looking street. St. John's has Anthony Mason, Jr. -- bloodlines. St. John's has a new practice facility -- gym, lockers, lounge for players and coaches offices.

At this rate, for each team they should have about 20 minutes left at the end to talk about the Big East overall. Probably see the Tranghese comments.

12:06 USF. Go Bulls! Zucker appears to be openly mocking the Bulls as he sends it back to Davis. Picked for #16. Coach Robert McCullum and Solomon Jones.

12:11 DePaul. Jerry Wainwright, new coach hired from Richmond, and Marlon Brumfield. Wainwright looks like some "that guy" actor, but I can't say who. Brumfield is incredibly uncomfortable sitting there and keeps giving short, mumbled answers that are flustering Seth Davis for some reason.

12:18 Seton Hall. Louis Orr and Kelly Whitney. 3 years ago the coach of the year, now on the hot seat and likely gone after this season. If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything. Let's move on.

12:23 Rutgers. Speaking of coaches in NJ trying to keep their jobs. Coach Gary Waters and Marquis Webb.

A step forward if they can just make the BE Tournament

12:31 ND. Mike Brey and Chris Quinn. Davis makes Duke references -- shut the f**k up -- have to make those ties don't you, Seth? Davis is totally slurping Brey and ND newcomers. I love how they describe what ND did on the graphic -- 1st round NIT. Translation: they lost to Holy Cross at home to complete the bad season.

12:36 WVU. John Beilein and Kevin Pittsnogle. High expectations are a concern. Beilein almost sounds like he'd settle for being middle of the BE pack. Pittsnogle said NBA wants to see more of him on the inside. Beilein happy about a veteran team to run the offense he has.

12:42 Syracuse. Jim Boeheim and Gerry McNamara. Brings up the Vermont game, but Boeheim deflects. Usual poor-mouthing concerns about what the new kids will bring and how soon. McNamara looks like he's going to swallow the mic. McNamara showed up wearing a sweat suit. Keep talking about Scranton population traveling to Syracuse.

12:48 Louisville ends the team interviews. Rick Pitino and Taquan Dean. Early injuries, but Pitino downplays it -- gives the freshmen a chance to really learn. Dean moving on without Garcia taking the pressure off of him. Pitino is effusive in praise for Dean -- especially in how hard he works in practice and his defense.

12:56 Mike Tranghese interview with Seth Davis.

Tranghese admits that the football schools were going to leave, but the presidents "changed their minds."

Regarding the 12 team BE Tournament and leaving out 4, will be revisited in a couple years; but unlikely to change.

TV contracts run for 2 more years -- which will dictate the schedules and missing some teams. That will likely change given the schools all want to play everyone.

Seth Davis slurps Tranghese by saying he thinks he's the best commish in the NCAA as he kicks it back to Zucker.

1:00 Final thoughts from Davis. Davis picks UConn for BE.

Individual Line Play 

From the start of the season, there has been no question who is the leader of the Pitt defense -- H.B. Blades. Blades is the team's and the Big East's leading tackler without it being close, as Coach Wannstedt expects and wants from his middle linebacker. Even before the move to Middle Linebacker there wasn't much doubt, as Blades can't stop talking during a game. Today he gets a puff piece on his still improving play in the middle.

Blades said the improvement has been a product of a lot of things, but no defense can be strong if the middle linebacker isn't playing at a high level.

"That's the thing about being the middle linebacker that I love," Blades said. "You are expected to be the leader. You are expected to perform every week, every play and the guys look up to you. I think early there were some things I was trying to figure out but I'm very comfortable now in what I am trying to do and I feel like I can be an even more effective leader because of it."

Blades was a first-team All-Big East performer last season and seems likely to repeat the honor this season. He leads the Big East in tackles per game (11) and total tackles (88). He has 25 more total tackles than Rutgers safety Courtney Greene, who is second with 63.
"Individual stats don't really mean much to me or any of us," Blades said. "We all want to win and that means making the plays to win. I know as a leader I'm expected to make plays, but so are the other 10 guys on the field. And one reason we've played so well recently is we have had 11 guys playing as one and everybody is stepping up and making plays."

Blades said the team has regained its swagger and with it comes the ability to talk trash and celebrate big plays and big hits together.

"I always talk trash but that's just a part of my game and who I am," Blades said. "It is all in good fun though. Part of it is trying to get into the other guy's head, but mostly it is just an outlet to have fun. And football is a lot more fun when you are winning and having success. Sometimes people forget the fun part of it. We're having fun again and that's a good thing."

On the other side of the ball, Charles Spencer and Mike McGlynn are the primary focus of a piece on the much-maligned (and not totally undeservedly so) offensive line. They did do a very good job against Syracuse. Actually allowing only 1 sack in the game early.

"I think I did a pretty good job," Spencer said. "Those are some real good d-ends. I don't take anything from them, but I thought I did a pretty good job against them."

Pitt amassed 177 rushing yards against Syracuse. Tailback LaRod Stephens-Howling had 101 yards, the second time this season the Panthers had a runner reach the century mark.

With time to sit in the pocket, Palko completed 18-of-28 passes for 201 yards and one touchdown. He also followed his blockers for two short TD runs in the second half.

Palko was pleased with the job his linemen did.

"Those guys have been looked down upon," Palko said. "It's been, 'offensive line this' and 'offensive line that.' They don't like being talked about like that.

"The last two weeks, everyone's been saying how the (opposing) defensive ends were so fast and how are we going to protect. I think those guys had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and that's good. That's the way it should be."

McGlynn and Spencer picked the right time -- the heart of the Big East schedule -- to pick up their play. They will face another challenge in their next game. Louisville defensive end Elvis Dumervil leads the league with 19 sacks and 21 1/2 tackles for loss.

Spencer, a fifth-year senior, also is helping solidify Pitt's line of the future. He is a tutor for left guard C.J. Davis, a true freshman.

The last 3 games will be the toughest for Pitt's O-line and the offense. UConn and WVU are 1 and 2 in the Big East in Total Defense. Louisville is 5th, but leads the conference in sacks with 31, as they prefer a lot of blitzing.

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