Friday, August 15, 2008

5 Big Questions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers

The follow up portion of my article from a few days back "5 Bold Predictions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers." No sense wasting time on a drawn-out intro, I think you get the idea.

1. Quarterback?
I think every true Panther fan fully understands this question with just the one word mentioned above. I originally had a question just about Bill Stull above, then thought about putting a question about Greg Cross and the Wildcat, and THEN I thought about putting a question about Pat Bostick and Kevan Smith, so I figured that just having a QB question in general was the best way of tackling this puppy.
The only thing that kept this team from 8 wins last season and a bowl berth was the quarterback position. However, last season wasn't a total loss, as it did gives serious seasoning to Pat Bostick, irrevocably proved that Kevan Smith should transfer to a D-II school and that the offense needed a quarterback who is a running threat to execute the Wildcat package. Fast forward to the present, with a healthy Bill Stull, a more mature and fit Bostick, a still terrible Smith, an athletic and versatile Greg Cross, and an undersized Tino Sunseri and suddenly things are very interesting at the quarterback position this season.
The questions, though, are still prevalent despite all of this. Who will start? Can they stay healthy? How will Cross be used? Why is Smith still allowed to practice with a D-I football team? Will Bostick and Sunseri take redshirts this year? Will Cross take a redshirt if he can't get it done? Who's the backup? Did last season's offense set the game of football back 30 years or 40? All of these are pertinent as we approach the season, but the bigest one of all is: Just how good is Billy Stull? A lot of fans seem to forget this, but people were very skeptical going into last season about Stull being good enough to lead this team. He played well in the opener, got hurt, missed the rest of the year and is now thought of as a sure thing to be a competent major college quarterback. What am I missing here? Don't get me wrong, I like Billy and think that he will be good and maybe even very good this year but by no means do I consider that to be a slam dunk.

2. Has Dorin found a home?
For the past two seasons, one of the most maddening things for Pitt fans to witness has been the constant shuffling of Dorin Dickerson among several different positions. It was especially perplexing to see him making efforts at linebacker a year ago when he obviously should have been playing a skill position. For the third time in as many seasons, though, Dickerson and the coaching staff are claiming they have found a permanent home for their Jack-Of-All-Trades-Master-Of-None talent, and this year it is tight end. Dickerson is instantly probably the fastest and most athletic tight end in college football, but it seems likely that he will be more of an ofensive playmaker then your traditional tight end. Expect to see him in the backfield, the slot, the tight end spot, and maybe even split out wide this season as the Panthers try to find a way to get Dickerson on the field. But after being mostlyunremarkable in first two years, can Dickerson finally find a home and stay there long enough to establish himself?

3. Seriously, how good is the offensive line?
Perhaps the most important question for the Panthers in the coming season. If Stull plays well and McCoy plays great, but the offensive line struggles, will we even be able to tell if the first two things are happening? That's the conundrum for any offensive players. They appear to have the talent, as detailed in my 5 Bold Predictions column, but boy are they green. Joe Thomas looks like a below average tackle, but he could maybe turn out to be better then we think. Jason Pinkston has all the talent in the world, but he's had attitude issues and is raw. The guards are more solid though, and Rob Houser appears to be a good anchor, so the question mostly comes to the men on the outside. Should be interesting.

4. Which incoming freshman will sit? Which will play?
Jonathan Baldwin will likely play, maybe even as the third receiver (and a potential starter if Derek Kinder is unable to go in the opener), and the same could be for defensive back Jarred Holley who appears to have done quite well thus far and may be the third corner (meaning a spot in the dime or even nickel) when the season opens. There are also talks that Lucas Nix may be forced into action because of a lack of depth at the tackle position, but this seems like a horrific idea to me to waste a redshirt year on a tackle who may not play a meaningful snap all season. I would rather keep him fresh on the scout team, and if someone underachieves or gets hurt, then remove the redshirt and let him try to earn PT, but to have him as your 3rd/4th tackle seems asinine. Chris Burns is another interesting debate. The Panthers are deep at tailback, but by all accounts, Burns has been excellent, and likely has earned the right to play. However, he likely would do nothing more then take meaningless snaps, and I think he will end up redshirting, with Kevin Collier, Shariff Harris, and even LaRod Stephens-Howling as the mopup guys. I think Shayne Hale is a virtual lock to be redshirted. Of course, Cam Saddler will take a medical redshirt. Other then that, I don't think anyone is worth mentioning as a potential player this season. Baldwin is almost certainly going to be an impact player from day one.

5. Can Wanny learn to coach on Game Day?
Dave Wannstedt has proven to be an excellent face for the university, a great recruiter, and a superb model for his players, but on Saturdays, there is no denying that the 'Stache has struggled. He has been developing as a collegiate coach over the last few seasons, and he outcoached Rich Rodriguez up and down the field in the Backyard Brawl. The Wildcat formation proved that he can adapt and is willing to deviate from his power pro style offense. It will be intersting to see if he can utilize that offense a little better with Greg Cross at the helm and maybe using Dorin Dickerson as well. Having Phil Bennett on the defensive side of the ball will also bring questions, as he is a new face, and while Paul Rhoads had issues at times during his tenure, he had a lot of good results, and certainly his unit often fared better then Matt Cavanaugh's. Many have said this is a make or break year for the coach, and while I don't necessarily agree, I do wonder how much longer he will be able to land elite recruits while putting up mediocre records as a coach. Anything less then 8 wins will be something of a disappointment for many Pitt fans, but any bowl game would at least be a step in the right direction.

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