5. Offensive line will once again be a concern.
It would not be Pitt football season without worries about the offensive line. Once again in 2008, Wannstedt and new offensive line coach Tony Wise will be tasked with finding five trees that are capable of anchoring the trenches.
It will start with JUCO transfer Robb Houser, as his development into a D-I quality lineman will be a big part of the offense's success or failure. Outside of Houser, not too many starters are known right now, and summer drills will provide the missing pieces.
With blue-chip recruits like Chris Jacobsen recovering from injury and Luke Nix still a year off from challenging for a job, the patch-work line will have to hold at least one more season until this area will be on stable ground.
Look for Jason Pinkston, coming off of shoulder surgery, to be the man to replace Jeff Otah at the left tackle spot.
4. The Panther defensive line will be one of the best units in the nation.
Don’t let anyone tell you the 2007 Backyard “Maul” was won because of Pat White’s injury or some wack-o conspiracy that Rich-Rod threw the game so he could jet for Big Blue — it was won by the Pitt defensive line.
The six-man rotation dominated the line of scrimmage every play in that game and featured several young stars. Mick Williams and Rashadd Duncan anchored the middle, and the emergence of Greg Romeus on the outside made the Panthers' defensive line difficult to deal with.
They are quick off the ball and get into the backfield almost at will, forcing opposing offenses to play with hungry defenders on their side of the ball. If you need more evidence: Pitt finished the season in the top 10 in several defensive categories and Scott McKillop led the nation in tackles per game (12.5) because of the defensive line stopping linemen from getting to the second level.
The return of Gus Mustakus from an ACL injury should bolster the line even more, giving Pitt seven starter-quality linemen to rotate all game long, keeping players fresh and pressure constant.
3. “Shady” McCoy will be the focus of the Pitt offense.
Maybe the biggest no-brainer heading into 2008. McCoy was arguably the best freshman running back in the nation last season but failed to get the publicity and attention due to the lackluster season that Pitt endured last year.
That being said, even with the stellar numbers he put up in 2007 — breaking Tony Dorsett’s freshman records at Pitt with 1,328 yards and 14 TDs — this season could be the coming out party for “Shady.” He won’t sneak up on anyone this year, but with a stable QB and better talent across the board on offense, McCoy will be the focus but won’t have to carry the team on his back.
The best thing for McCoy is that he put up great numbers without too much physical demand. He averaged 23 touches a game last season and if they can keep him at that level again this season, McCoy will be fresh all season and avoid the fatigue and hits that usually slow down running backs.
2. Bill Stull will enter 2008 as the starting quarterback.
And by all accounts, it’s the right call. Stull was far and away the most talented out of the bunch in last summer’s quarterback battle. Unfortunately for Pitt, the 2007 season became a game of “Who’s Start is It Anyway?” as Stull went down with a season-ending thumb injury against Eastern Michigan.
Kevin Smith and Pat Bostick each suffered as freshmen behind center and neither should start this season pending another injury. Stull was named the starter for 2008 by Wannstedt during spring drills, and it should give the team time to build continuity with their QB once more. Here’s hoping this season doesn’t become Groundhog’s Day.
1. Just or unjust, the 2008 season will make or break the Dave Wannstedt era of Pitt football.
Not many coaches would have the opportunity that Wannstedt has right now at Pitt. In most cases, after taking over a rising program and running it back into the ground with three straight losing and generally non-competitive seasons, he would have been on the chopping block after last year and looking for a job.
Instead, he was granted a contract extension before the WVU game last season and now has a second chance to rectify his Alma mater. What could save Wannstedt is his tireless recruiting — players gravitate to him because of his personality and belief in what he tells recruits.
So far, it’s paying off. Pitt has landed more blue-chip recruits and top-25 classes than they totaled in a decade before Wanny arrived.
But, now, it’s time to put up or shut up. The talent is there, the plan is there, it just has to be put into effective practice. Fans and the administration alike have been waiting a long time for Pitt to rise from the ashes and become a power again, and that goal is well within reach. It’s time for Wannstedt to prove his mettle and take Pitt back to a bowl (at the very least) and move forward to better things.
When he came to the school, Wannstedt preached that 2008 was the target season for the true arrival of the program and his plan — he now has less than two months to show what progress has been made.
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