Big East

2010 NCAA Football Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

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Between now and the September 2nd season kick-off, Danny Hobrock will be previewing all the major college football teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, conference): 10-3, 5-2
Bowl Game: Meineke Car Care Bowl (W 19-17 vs. North Carolina)
Final Ranking (AP, Coaches'): 15, 15
Conference finish: 2nd Big East
Offensive rank:
52
Defensive rank: 23

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Dion Lewis, 1,799 yards, 17 TD
Passing: Bill Stull, 2,633 yards, 21 TD, 8 INT
Receiving: Jonathan Baldwin, 1,111 yards, 8 TD
Tackles: Max Gruder, 91 total tackles; Dom DiCicco, 88 total tackles
Sacks: Greg Romeus, 8 sacks (6 solo, 4 assisted)
Interceptions: Jarred Holley, 3 interceptions; Elijah Fields, 3 interceptions

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes conference game)

Key Matchups

September 2 @ Utah: A Thursday night matchup in Salt Lake City is a hell of a way to open what a lot expect to be a very successful season. This marks the first meeting between the Panthers and Utes since Utah's 35-7 Fiesta Bowl win in 2004.

September 23 vs. Miami: Another major non-conference matchup. Their second big Thursday night matchup pits them against Jacory Harris and the Miami Hurricanes. The two have not met since Miami left the Big East Conference after the 2003 season. This will be an early test for the Panthers against what many expect to once again be a topflight program. If Miami manages a win over Ohio State in Week 2, Pitt could be facing a top ten team here.

November 26 vs. West Virginia: The Backyard Brawl could have a great deal of relevance in terms of the Big East title. With Pitt expected to compete for the title and West Virginia looking to grab the title for themselves, this year's rivalry matchup holds a lot of importance on both sides.

December 4 @ Cincinnati: Pitt and Cincy are thought to be primary candidates to take the 2010 Big East title. Although not officially, this regular season finale could prove to be the Big East championship game.

Preseason Rankings (will not officially be released until August)

AP: N/A

Coaches': N/A

Key Losses

Bill Stull, QB; Dorin Dickerson, TE; Nate Byham, TE; Mick Williams, DT; Adam Gunn, LB; Aaron Berry, CB; Elijah Fields, S

Key Returning Players

Dion Lewis, RB; Jonathan Baldwin, WR; Mike Shanahan, WR; Jason Pinkston, OT; Greg Romeus, DE; Jabaal Sheard, DE; Dan Mason, LB; Max Gruder, LB; Dom DeCicco, S

 

Offensive Overview

Pittsburgh's offense holds some pretty high expectations entering the season with playmakers abound. Dion Lewis was the recipient of several postseason awards including the National Freshman of the Year, Offensive Freshman of the Year, second team All-American, freshman All-American, Big East Rookie of the Year and Big East Offensive Player of the Year. Lewis' 1,799 yards were third in the nation behind Toby Gerhart and Ryan Mathews-both draft picks this past April.

Lewis will be a major player in this year's offense, but Ray Graham who, like Lewis, is entering his sophomore season could see an increased workload after playing very well this spring. Then there's Jonathan Baldwin and Mike Shanahan, a junior and sophomore this season, respectively. The young running backs and receivers will be staples on the offense not only this season, but for the next couple at least. Former quarterback Greg Cross is also expected to contribute after switching to wide receiver.

On the offensive line, the Panthers look strong, but there are a couple of question marks on the interior of the line. Tackles Jason Pinkston and Lucas Nix are solid, while Chris Jacobson should be solid at the left guard position. After that, things get a little dicey. Unless a few players step up, Pitt's interior O-Line may prove problematic for a team that expects to run the ball a lot this season and will put a new face under center. Losing tight end Nate Byham, a superb blocker, doesn't help.

Speaking of the new face under center, Tino Sunseri takes over for Bill Stull, who led the Panthers to their best record since Dan Marino led the Panthers to three consecutive 11-1 seasons from 1979 to 1981. Sunseri saw limited action last season as Stull's backup, but Pitt reportedly feels confident with him leading their offense. There's a bit of turnover at the quarterback position in the Big East, but most projected starters have some degree of starting experience. Sunseri has none, but backup Pat Bostick, who will be a senior this season, has a good deal of experience from the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Defensive Overview

The Pitt defense ranked 23rd nationally in 2009, but lost a few key pegs. Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas are gone at defensive tackle, but some talented individuals are expected to step into the vacant starting roles. Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein recorded 4 and 5 sacks in 2009, respectively, and should start the season at the tackle positions. Defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard constitute one of the most talented pass rushing duos in the entire country and return hoping to repeat as team quarterback sack champions (47 sacks in 2009).

Greg Williams, a starter at the linebacker position for the past two seasons, was challenged by junior Tristan Roberts this spring. Roberts, while he didn't take the job from Williams in the spring, will add depth this season if he cannot successfully challenge Williams for the starting job in the fall. Max Gruder returns at the other outside position, while the loss of All-Big East first teamer Adam Gunn leaves a hole in the middle. Dan Mason saw action in all but one game last season, recording 26 tackles, two sacks and an interception. He is expected to take over at middle linebacker-a position that has seen several talented players recently.

The secondary is led by safety Dom DeCicco, who finished last season as the team's second leading tackler. Andrew Taglianetti missed most of last season with a knee injury, allowing Jared Holley to assert himself in the starting lineup. Taglianetti will be ready to go for fall camp. At cornerback, Antwuan Reed performed well this spring and is expected to assume one of the starting spots. Saheed Imoru, Buddy Jackson and Ricky Gary will compete for the other position as the offseason continues.

Special Teams Overview

Dan Hutchins was the Panthers' place kicker and punter last season and returns to those roles in 2010. He hit 23 of his 29 field goal attempts last season, and was 46 for 48 on extra point attempts. Hutchins hit two game winning field goals in 2009, the first in an October 10 matchup with UConn and the second in the Meineke Car Care Bowl against North Carolina. If only the Pitt offense could have moved into field goal range on that final drive against Cincinnati. Oh, how interesting things could have been...

Ray Graham and Cameron Saddler were the team's primary kick returners a year ago, averaging 22.47 and 25.32 yards per kick return, respectively, and are expected to return to the same roles in 2010. Last year's punt returner, Aaron Smith, also returns.

   

  

Head Coach: Dave Wannsteadt

 

 

Dave Wannstedt was an offensive tackle at Pitt in the early seventies, blocking for running back, and future Heisman winner, Tony Dorsett in 1973. After a brief one-year stint on injured reserve with the Green Bay Packers, Wannstedt returned to Pitt as a GA, helping the team to their 1976 National Championship. Wannstedt wears the ring he earned that season to this day. "Our players
and prospects should know that I was part of the greatest team Pitt ever had," he was quoted as saying in Pitt's Spring Prospectus that was released before spring practice this year. "I take pride in that."

Wannstedt coached the Chicago Bears in the mid-nineties before serving one season as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach for the Miami Dolphins under Jimmy Johnson. He was named as Johnson's successor upon his retirement in early 2000 and resigned head coaching duties midway through the 2004 season with the Dolphins struggling. Wannstedt returned to coach at his alma mater shortly after and hasn't looked back.

After three sub-par seasons, Wannstache, as he is affectionately known by some (there is even a Facebook group dedicated to 'The Fighting Wannstaches'), has taken Pitt to two consecutive bowl games and is expected to compete with Cincinnati for Big East supremacy this season. He has recently received a two year contract extension through the 2014 season, which should help him pull in recruits in the coming seasons.

Top 2011 Draft Prospects

Jason Pinkston, OT; Greg Romeus, DE; Jabaal Sheard, DE; Dom DeCicco, S; Dan Hutchins, K

Season Prediction

Big East Champions

The Panthers enter 2010 with loads of expectations. Dion Lewis is a Heisman candidate and several players are expected to produce All-American caliber seasons including those at key positions (Lewis, Jonathan Baldwin, Jason Pinkston, Greg Romeus, Dom DeCicco, etc.). The defense led the nation in sacks a season ago and returns what could be the nation's top pass rushing duo in Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. Both starting cornerbacks are gone, but a talented secondary will be expected to contain the Big East's more talented quarterbacks.

The offense will run the football with Lewis and Ray Graham in their backfield, but Tino Sunseri won't get the 'yeah, but he's new' treatment with Jonathan Baldwin and Mike Shanahan as targets. Sunseri's development will be eased a bit, as the duo of Lewis and Graham can carry the load quite effectively. However, he'll be sink or swim early on with matchups against Utah and Miami in September and senior Pat Bostick on the sidelines ready to take over.

The Panthers had the opportunity to take the conference with a win over Cincinnati in the regular season finale, but saw their chances at a BCS bowl game evaporate when Tony Pike hit Armon Binns for a late touchdown with under a minute remaining. The December 4 rematch may again prove the de facto Big East championship game. - Danny Hobrock

Danny is a sports journalist primarily covering college football and professional baseball. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. Danny is the former editor of a political and current events website and the editor of our college football content.

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