Pittsburgh Panthers: 5 Reasons for a Successful 2012 College Football Season

Jeff BenderContributor IIJuly 3, 2012

Pittsburgh Panthers: 5 Reasons for a Successful 2012 College Football Season

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    Coming into the 2012 season, the Pitt Panthers college football team has a lot of questions to answer.

    Is Pitt’s head coach Paul Chryst finally going to bring stability to the program?

    Will the defense be able to replace the six starters that they lost?

    Will the running game be able to carry the team once again?

    These are just a few of the answers the team needs to come up with.

    Even with the bizarre departure of head coach Todd Graham last season, the Pitt Panthers should bounce back for a highly successful football season in 2012.

    Here are five reasons why Pitt will contend for a Big East Conference championship. 

1. Paul Chryst

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    The one phrase to that has been used to describe Pitt football coach Paul Chryst by players is “a football guy.”

    Chryst was hired in the offseason after Todd Graham ditched the team after one season for sunny Arizona State.

    Previously the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, Chryst brings a down-to-earth approach to football. He will make his team work harder than any other, praise them when there is a job well down and ultimately teach his players about the game of football.

    He will run a less complex style of offense than Pitt did the previous year and will focus on being tough and winning battles at the line of scrimmage.

    Maybe one of the most important aspects Chryst brings to the Pitt Panther football team is the confidence he will give senior quarterback Tino Sunseri.

    Although Sunseri threw for over 2,600 yards last season, he also threw 11 interceptions and only 10 touchdowns.

    Chryst will give Sunseri the best opportunity to win and let the senior showcase skills Pitt fans have not seen.

    There is no doubt Chryst makes this team a contender for a Big East Conference championship. 

2. Running Game

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    The running game will be a key component to the success of the 2012 football season for the Pitt Panthers, and it may be one of the best ground attacks in the country.

    Senior running back Ray Graham suffered a season-ending knee injury in the eighth game of the season, but a CBS Sports story in May reports that Graham will be ready for fall camp. 

    Graham was averaging 130 yards per game before tearing ligaments in his knee and was on pace to rush for nearly 1,500 yards on the season.

    With Graham back in the lineup for 2012, anything is possible for this Pitt team.

    The running game will be flanked with two stars in the making.

    Sophomore Isaac Bennett filled in nicely for Graham last season, and incoming freshman Russell Shell is considered to be the next Tony Dorsett.

    If the running game gets rolling, so do the Panthers. 

3. Schedule

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    No component plays a bigger factor into the success of the Pitt Panthers 2012 season than their soft schedule.

    Once West Virginia fled the Big East for the Big 12, Pitt lost a very good opponent and needed to fill their schedule quickly.

    In comes Gardner-Webb. 

    The Panthers will only be tested twice this year: once against Virginia Tech at home and another time against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.

    Neither of those games have an impact on the Big East Conference championship.

    Louisville and Rutgers will contend for the preseason No. 1 ranking in the conference, but Pitt will play both of them at home this season.

    Cincinnati could be an early conference test, but the Bearcats lost all of their major weapons on offense.

    The Big East title may come down to Pitt’s final two games against Rutgers and South Florida.

    Rutgers could have a successful year, but a conference championship with a first-year coach at the helm is unlikely.

    South Florida is usually playing its worst football late in the season. 

    If the Panthers can win their first three Big East Conference games (Syracuse, Cincinnati and Louisville), watch out sports fans. 

4. Defensive Backs

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    If you have been watching Pitt football for last decade, the defense may seem backwards to you in the 2012 season.

    Pitt has traditionally had strong defense ends and linebackers supported by a weaker defensive backfield.

    In 2012, the defensive backs will reign.

    Senior defensive back Jarred Holley is a shut-down corner at the Big East level of competition and probably has a chance to play in the NFL .

    Senior Andrew Taglianetti is a hard-hitting safety that has a nose for the ball and extremely high football intelligence.

    Seniors Jeremiah Davis and Marco Pecora will see an increasing amount of playing time and Ray Vinopal, a junior transfer from Michigan, likes to knock people out of the game.

    Sophomore Lafayette Pitts is a lightening rod and could return the ball for a touchdown any time he gets his hands on it.

    Enough said. 

5. Dan Mason

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    Sophomore Dan Mason will lift this Pitt Panther’s team on his shoulders and carry them every yard of every game, if necessary.

    Two years ago, Mason dislocated his knee so bad that most of the players on the field could not even look at him lying on the ground.

    Doctors told Mason that he would never play the game again, and yet, here he is trying to make a comeback.

    The ligaments are so stretched out in his leg that he has to wear a special brace to keep his foot from flopping around when he runs.

    No one knows if Mason will be able to return to a starting spot on the field, but Mason will be such a vocal leader and motivator that he alone will push this team to two additional victories.