The 2010 season is a big one for the Panthers, and especially for head coach Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt has finally got the program back to a point where they mean something nationally.
Wannstedt is recruiting well and bringing quality football talent back to the city of Pittsburgh. Gone are the days where anyone with a pulse could play for the Panthers. There is as much talent currently sitting in the Pitt locker room as there has been at any point in the last decade. Now all that’s left to do is for Wannstedt and his players to get it done on the field.
The problem is that, at a school like Pitt, there is a ceiling to how good your going to be. The talent isn’t likely to ever get much better than it is now, so there has to be some pressure to win this season. Excuses won’t work for the Panthers this season. This should be the season Pitt captures the Big East crown and heads to a BCS Bowl Game.
The one problem is that, somewhere along the line, Wannstedt is going to have to win a big game somewhere down the road, and his track record isn’t exactly that good when it’s all on the line. With a well-earned reputation for choking in big games, Wannstedt is going to have to win a game that matters before anyone can take the Panthers seriously.
The Panthers begin the season ranked 15th, but will be tested right out of the gate. Wannstedt will be facing his toughest non-conference schedule possibly in the last 20 years at Pitt. The Panthers open the season by traveling to Utah (Sept. 2), and also will see tough non-conference games against Miami (Sept. 23) and at Notre Dame (Oct. 9).
Winning the conference could come down to being road warriors. Three of the Panthers final four conference games are on the road at tough places to play. Pitt concludes the season at Connecticut (Nov. 11), at South Florida (Nov. 20), and a revenge game at Cincinnati (Dec. 4). Mixed in there is the Backyard Brawl, where anything can, and usually does happen. Fortunately, they get West Virginia (Nov. 26) at home this season, a game that could ultimately decide the Big East Champion.
The Panthers have weapons. Sophomore running back Dion Lewis could contend for the Heisman Trophy in 2010. After finishing third in the nation in rushing as a freshman with 1,799 yards, Lewis could have an even bigger season this year. One thing is for sure, Wannstedt will give him the rock. It’s not a stretch to see Lewis average close to 35 carries a game this season.
That actually might be a low number considering he had that many last year against Cincinnati—in the first half. They have to be careful not to wear the kid down throughout the season, but Lewis showed that he can be the workhorse that the Pitt offense needs him to be.
As good as Lewis is, he may not be the best player on the offensive side of the ball. That distinction goes to Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin has everything you want in a number one receiver. He’s 6'5" with sprinter's-type speed and has velcro for hands. He continuously beat double and triple teams all last season to have an 1,111 yard season with eight touchdowns.
The Panthers do have a couple holes to fill though. They will miss the production that they got from tight ends Dorin Dickerson and Nate Byham. That duo will be replaced by Mike Cruz and Andrew Devlin, both have a ton of potential, but are unproven. There will also be three new starters on the offensive line, but Wannstedt always seems to find capable linemen.
The biggest concern is under center though. Tino Sunseri gets the first crack at replacing Bill Stull as the Panthers quarterback. Sunseri is unproven and was the best quarterback coming out of camp last season, but didn’t get the job, due to a lack of experience. They can’t use that as an excuse this season, as Sunseri will be thrown into the fire and must perform well.
He can make every throw in the playbook and benefits from an offense that will rely heavily on Lewis. Sunseri is also in the position of not having to win games for the Panthers, he just can’t lose them. If Sunseri struggles, Wannstedt could turn to 2007 starter Pat Bostick.
All of the talk on the defensive side of the ball is focused on the nation’s best pass rushing one-two punch, in 2009 Big East Defensive Player of the Year Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard. You can’t double team both guys, and the one who doesn’t get doubled usually ends up hitting the quarterback. The Panthers applied a ton of pressure a season ago when they led the nation in sacks and could do the same this season.
In between the two are new starters Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih. They are new to the starting lineup, but not new to applying pressure, as they combined for nine sacks a season ago in part time roles.
The linebacking core should be just as good. The Panthers return two starters on the outside in Greg Williams and Max Gruder. On the inside is a new starter, in sophomore Dan Mason, who left a big impression last season. He was forced into a start against Navy last season and responded with an 11 tackle, two sack game which earned him Big East Player of the Week honors. Mason is a big time hitter who should excel stopping the run.
The secondary is the main question for the Panthers. Both starting corners from a season ago were replaced. Junior Antwuan Reed will start on one side and the other could be JC transfer Saheed Imoru, but that position is still up for grabs. Having a strong pass rush should help out the new corners a great deal, but they can’t rely on that all of the time. The safeties are solid, with All-Big East performer Dom DeCicco at strong safety and Jarred Holley at free safety.
All-Big East pick Dan Hutchins returns to perform a dual role of both kicker and punter. Hutchins converted on 23-29 attempts a season ago. Cameron Sadler will be the main kick returner and Aaron Smith will likely handle punt return duties.
|Quarterback||Tino Sunseri (SO)||Pat Bostick (JR)|
|Running Back (FB)||Dion Lewis (SO)||Ray Graham (SO)|
|Henry Hinoski (FB) (JR)|
|Wide Receiver||Jonathan Baldwin (JR)||Cameron Sadler (SO)|
|Wide Receiver||Mike Shanahan (SO)||Greg Cross (SR)|
|Tight End||Mike Cruz (SO)||Andrew Devlin (JR)|
|Right Tackle||Lucas Nix (JR)||Cory King (FR)|
|Right Guard||Greg Gaskins (JR)||Ryan Turnley (SO)|
|Center||Alex Karabin (SR)||Jack Lippert (FR)|
|Left Tackle||Jason Pinkston (SR)||Jordon Gibbs (JR)|
|Left Guard||Chris Jacobsen (JR)||Fernando Diaz (FR)|
|Defensive End||Jabaal Sheard (SR)||Shayne Hale (SO)|
|Defensive End||Greg Romeus (SR)||Brandon Lindsey (JR)|
|Defensive Tackle||Myles Caragein (JR)||Justin Hargrove (JR)|
|Chas Aleczih (JR)||Tyler Tkach (SR)|
|Outside Linebacker||Max Gruder (JR)||Manny Williams (SO)|
|Middle Linebacker||Dan Mason (SO)||Shane Gordon (FR)|
|Outside Linebacker||Greg Williams (JR)||Tristan Roberts (JR)|
|Cornerback||Antwuan Reed (JR)||Buddy Jackson (JR)|
|Cornerback||Saheed Imoru (JR)||Ricky Gary (SR)|
|Free Safety||Jarred Holley (SO)||Jason Hendricks (FR)|
|Strong Safety||Dom DeCicco (SR)|
|Punter||Dan Hutchins (SR)|
|Kicker||Dan Hutchins (SR)|
|Sep 11||New Hampshire||1:00pm|
|Sep 23||Miami (Fla.)||7:30pm|
|Oct 9||@Notre Dame||3:30pm|
|Nov 20||@South Florida|
|Nov 26||West Virginia|