Tuesday, August 12, 2008

5 Bold Predictions for the 2008 Pitt Panthers

5 Bold Predictions

By midseason, the offensive line will be very good.
There is no question that the single most maligned unit on the roster coming in to this season is the Panthers’ offensive line. I am here to tell you, however, that things are not nearly as bleak as they may seem. In fact, when you closely examine things, there is quite a bit of talent here, and after the unit is given a chance to jell (perhaps the most important thing for a line’s effectiveness), this could be the best group we have seen in quite some time. Wanny knows the offensive line game well, and he has recruited some real studs at this position, and it is about time we started seeing the fruits of this labor. The interior line appears mostly set, with center Rob Houser and guards CJ Davis and John Malecki. My anonymous source within the program (that’s right I have a source!) informs me that Houser has been excellent so far in camp, and that the coaches are expecting big things from him this season. Davis is a steady if unspectacular veteran of the line who could be challenged by heralded redshirt freshman Chris Jacobson, and John Malecki, a converted defensive tackle, has a real nasty streak and could be an excellent road grader for the run game. The real questions though, are on the outside. Promising sophomore Jason Pinkston looks like he will be given every opportunity to win a starting tackle spot, and I don’t expect the coaches to keep his talent on the sidelines. Pinkston is also a converted defensive tackle, and if he can stay healthy and remain well-behaved (he has had some off-field issues that have been mostly hushed up) he could be an excellent left tackle. The staff is confident he will grow into that role, and the biggest worry is likely opposite of Pinkston, at the probable right tackle slot. Old hand Joe Thomas is on top of the depth chart now, but he has been nothing special thus far and could definitely lose out to either one of two young guns, Lucas Nix and Jordan Gibbs. I would hazard a guess though that Nix would have to be darn near perfect to win that tackle spot and forfeit his redshirt season, as few things benefit a young lineman more than a year to just sit and learn. All in all, this line has as much talent as any corps in the conference, and the key appears to be the play of Pinkston. If he matures into the force many think he can be, Shady will have holes to drive Mack Trucks through and Bill Stull will have all day to sit back and throw.

The tight ends will be just as important to the passing game as the wide receivers.
I know, I know, on the surface this statements seems crazy for the artist formerly self-proclaimed as Wide Receiver U, but here are some things that we know to be true about the Panthers offense right now: 1) They currently consider Dorin Dickerson to be a tight end, even though he is probably the best all-around athlete on the team and is built like a wide receiver 2) The tight end position received more attention then it had in decades last season 3) Bill Stull is an accurate and smart quarterback but does not have great arm strength and will likely look underneath a lot 4) Nate Byham was a highly recruited tight end coming out of high school and had a very good sophomore season, and 5) The Wide Receiver position is nowhere near as deep as we thought it would be, and could even be called the shallowest it has been since Johnny Majors was running things. So, what do all of these things add up to you ask? I say they add up to Nate Byham getting 35 or so receptions, Dorin Dickerson getting 25-30 (as well as some reverses and handoffs as an H-back), and John Pelusi getting 10-15 receptions. So simple math means… 80 receptions for the tight ends? I know it still seems crazy that the wideouts won’t easily outdo that, but also factor in that LaRod Stephens-Howling could be split out in the slot at times as well, and that the backfield is backed full with talent needing carries, and maybe you are starting to see my point. In fact, I even considered making the statement that the tight ends would catch MORE passes then the wide receivers before I realized that was a little TOO bold. Still not biting? Well I’m sure the big reason behind that is skepticism over my fifth claim above, that the wide receiver position is shallow this year (Indeed, I wasn’t too sure myself when my buddy made this claim last week) but do the math. By all accounts, Derek Kinder is still not 100% and may not be ready to play every down in time for the opener, Maurice Williams is long gone, TJ Porter is also injured (though he is expected to be ready for the opener), Cedric McGee has never been anything more than the third or fourth option, and we likely will see at least one of the true freshman duo of Jonathan Baldwin and Audrey Wright get the redshirt, and the other likely will have only a minimal impact. That leaves Oderick Turner as the only sure bet to snag 30+ passes (although I think that Kinder will get there as long as he’s good for at least 9-10 games).

Shady will improve upon last year’s numbers and make a trip on the award circuit this December.
I know that it certainly isn’t bold to say McCoy will go for 1500+ yards and 15 TD’s this year (both of which I think he will reach and surpass), as those are numbers are probably more expectations then bold predictions, but I’m also going throw these predictions out there for the talented tailback. He goes for more like 1600-1700 yards, wins the Doak Walker Award, is named First Team All-America, gets nominated for at least one national player of the year award (though probably not the Heisman unless Pitt wins the Big East), and is the Big East Offensive Player of the Year. I think that qualifies as bold, no?

The Panther defense will be the best in the Big East and avoid any “Paul Rhoads specials.”
Okay I need to explain this one a bit. First, the “Paul Rhoads Special” is the name myself, some friends, and my Dad developed for those games in years past when Rhoads and his defense would be chugging along through the season just fine, ranking near the best in the conference statistically, and then out of the blue, and usually against an overmatched opponent, they would show completely unprepared absolutely crap the bed (Think the Navy game last year or the UConn game from 2006). Under new coordinator Phil Bennett, we should expect much more consistency from our D. As for being the best in the conference, I think that title is well within their reach. They have the spectacular Scott McKillop returning as the heart and soul of the unit, and I fully expect another monster season from him. The defensive line should also be a major strength again this year, despite the loss of the incredibly unlucky Doug Fulmer for the season. Tommie Duhart, Greg Romeus, Mick Williams, and Gus Mustakas will be the anchors on the line, and all are expected to have big years. The secondary is the big question mark, though, but is also the area with the most total talent, as well as the spot with the most people vying for playing time. I think Aaron Berry will grow into a top-flight college corner this season, Jovanni Chappel will be a sound starter opposite him, and Dom DiCicco and Elijah Fields will both have big years from the safety position.

Pitt will beat WVU. Again.
C’mon, it will be Senior Day, the air of invincibility that surrounded the Mountaineers for a few years is most assuredly gone, and I have the Panthers pegged at 9-2 heading into this game, and they could maybe even have a shot at a Big East Title, or at least a share of one. Do they need any more reasons for confidence? I don’t think so.

No comments: