Any Pittsburgh Panthers fan who looked at the final national rankings of the 2009 collegiate football season had to be excited about the upcoming season.
The Panthers finished ranked No. 15 in both the USA Today coaches poll and the Associated Press rankings following a 10-3 season. Pitt's 2009 season which ended with a 19-17 victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Car Care Bowl marked their first ten-win season since 1981. That level of success which had not been attained in nearly two decades gave Panther fans plenty of hope for the 2010 season.
However, as success in 2009 led to hope in 2010. That hope now turns into great expectations.
With the Panthers returning many of their key players on both sides of the ball; many of the Pitt faithful believe that they can compete for a national championship. Well add this University of Pittsburgh alumnus to list of believers.
My belief in the ability of the Panthers to compete for a national championships stems from what head coach Dave Wannstedt has done in past two years. Wannstedt has produced 19 victories for the Pitt Football program over the last two seasons and has great talent returning in 2010.
Fans of Pitt football should believe in the offense. With star sophomore running back Dion Lewis returning along with junior wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, the Pittsburgh offense easily has two of the best offense weapons in the conference. It is hard for me to believe that Lewis who ran all over the rest of the Big East as a freshman will not at least come close to producing 1,799 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Lewis is truly the key to the Panthers reaching the expectations many fans will have for the team in 2010. Not to be overly cliche but as Lewis goes so will the team. Sure, the team still has some question marks on defense and will have to prove that they can make stops when necessary. However, without Lewis having another stellar season the Panthers simply can't compete for a national championship.
With Lewis emerging as arguably one the best running backs in college football, expectations for his on-field performance have also increased. Pitt fans will expect him to produce again and be the go-to player in the offense. The expectations are out there and now we have to wait and see if the Panthers can rise to those expectations in 2010.
Some may argue that to place these expectations on a team that has not played in a BCS Bowl game may be unfair. That argument only reminds me of the motto of Phillippa Schuyler Middle School which I attended during my years as a pre-teen in Brooklyn, NY: "To Whom Much Is Given; Much Is Required."
The statement which stands as the motto of one of my alma maters assuredly rings true for the football teams of my collegiate alma mater. Pittsburgh football was given a No. 15 ranking at the end of last season where returning players produced. Now the stakes are higher and the team is required to win. An expectation that is not only realistic but indeed reasonable.