2010 Record: (8-5, 5-2 in Big East)
Head Coach: Todd Graham (1st yr at Pitt, 43-23 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2010/2011 BBVA Compass Bowl (beat Kentucky 27-10)
CFBZ Pitt Links
9/3: Buffalo (2009 result: won 54-27)
9/17: at Iowa
9/24: Notre Dame (2010 result: lost 23-17)
9/29: USF (2010 result: won 17-10)
10/8: at Rutgers (2010 result: won 41-21)
10/15: Utah (2010 result: lost 27-24 OT)
10/26: UConn (2010 result: lost 30-28)
11/5: Cincinnati (2010 result: won 28-10)
11/12: at Louisville (2010 result: won 20-3)
11/25: at West Virginia (2010 result: lost 35-10)
12/3: Syracuse (2010 result: won 45-14)
2010 Offensive Statistics:
Scoring: 26.3 ppg (4th in Big East, 66th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 165.69 yds/game (3rd in Big East, 45th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 200.1 yds/game (3rd in Big East, 74th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 365.8 yds/game (4th in Big East, 73rd in Nation)
2010 Defensive Statistics:
Scoring: 19.0 ppg (2nd in Big East, 15th in Nation)
Rushing Yds/Game: 120.0 yds/game (2nd in Big East, 16th in Nation)
Passing Yds/Game: 185.1 yds/game (4th in Big East, 19th in Nation)
Total Yds/Game: 305.1 yds/game (3rd in Big East, 8th in Nation)
2010 Misc Stats:
Turnover Margin: +0.08 per game (4th in Big East, 50th in Nation)
Penalties: 54.8 yds/game (5th in Big East, 72nd in Nation)
Top Returning Statistical Leaders:
Passing: QB Tino Sunseri, Jr (223 of 346 for 2557 yds, 16 TD, 9 INT)
Rushing: RB Ray Graham, Jr (148 for 922 yds, 6.2 ypc, 8 TD)
Receiving: WR Mike Shanahan, Jr (43 rec for 589 yds, 1 TD)
Tackles: LB Max Gruder, Sr (84)
Sacks: DE Brandon Lindsey, Sr (10)
Interceptions: S Jared Holley, Jr (5)
Athlon Sports: Belk (vs NC State)
Phil Steele: Orange (vs Virginia Tech)
Pitt was a pre-season favorite by a lot of people to take the Big East Championship last year. In conference they went 5-2 and statistically tied for 1st place but they lost to the other two teams who had the same conference record. Pitt finished the year 8-5 as they dropped out of conference contests to Utah, Miami (Fl) and Notre Dame. Dave Wannstedt was shown the door after taking a step back from 2009's 10-3 finish. It was a rocky off-season for the Panthers as WR Jonathan Baldwin, FB Henry Hynoski and RB Dion Lewis all entered the NFL Draft early. Oh yeah, and there was that whole issue with the hiring and firing of Mike Haywood without him coaching a single game for the Panthers. Exit Wannstedt and Haywood and enter Todd Graham. In January, the Panthers picked Todd Graham as their new Head Coach and despite how they came to have him as a coach I think everything turned out well and expect him to be a good choice. Graham was the head coach at Tulsa for four seasons and in three of those seasons he won double digit games. The Big East appears wide open this year and I like Pitt's chances but I'm a little nervous about their out of conference schedule that will pit them against Iowa, Notre Dame and Utah. To get the inside scoop on the 2011 version of the Pittsburgh Panthers we caught up with Bryan from the Pitt Script Blog.
After a bizarre set of circumstances Pittsburgh has named Todd Graham their coach. What does he bring to the table and how can he improve Pitt football?
It was certainly an odd off-season for Pitt, but I think they ended up with the right guy for the job. Once Dave Wannstedt "resigned," a short-list of candidates emerged. It was reported that AD Steve Pederson had Tulsa head coach Todd Graham and Oklahoma State Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgerson on his short list. Both candidates had their issues, however; Todd Graham was initially an issue of money while Dana Holgorsen was reportedly nixed by Chancellor Mark Nordenberg due to his wild reputation. Pitt settled with Miami-Ohio Head Coach Mike Haywood.
Fast forward through the fiasco that was Pitt's January and suddenly the money appeared to get Todd Graham from Tulsa. Graham was a defensive assistant before becoming a head coach, but he's most known for his "High Octane" offense. He's had a marvelous record of taking chances on offensive assistants and his gambles paying off. In 2011, men who called plays under Graham will be the offensive coordinators at Auburn, Texas and Clemson. His offensive staff at Pitt will include Rich Rod's play-caller Calvin Magee and quarterback guru Todd Dodge who coached Alabama's Greg McElroy and Missouri's Chase Daniel.
In what areas does Pitt most need to make improvements in order to contend for a Big East Championship this season?
Pitt will need a center to master shotgun snapping as opposed to the pro-style taught under Wannstedt. After several failed combinations, the coaching staff seemed to settle on All-Big East guard Chris Jacobson as their solution at center. I have mixed emotions about moving Jacobson from his natural (and finally productive) spot on the offensive line, but it seems like that's what needed to happen.
Defensively, Pitt finally looks to have the secondary they've lacked for the past few years, but linebacker will once again be an issue. The move from 4-3 to 3-4 hasn't seemed as tough as I thought it might, mainly because Graham is basically just using the weakside DE as a pass-rushing LB. But other than the "Panther linebacker" position, Pitt's linebackers look to be their weakness yet again this season.
Three underclassmen for Pitt declared for the NFL draft (WR Jon Baldwin, RB Dion Lewis and FB Henry Hynoski)? Who does Pitt have to step up and take their place?
Receiver seems to be an area of concern right now. Wannstedt recruited a stable of big strong receivers, but Graham's offense seems to be better suited for quick, speedy guys. It remains to be seen how a guy like Mike Shanahan will be utilized in this new offense, although senior Cam Saddler figures to be used prominently. Behind those two is Devin Street, who was productive last year as the third WR.
As for running backs, Pitt is in a bit of a bind there. The pain of losing Lewis is dampened a bit with Ray Graham - arguably an even better all-purpose back - waiting in the wings, but without Lewis and Hynoski, Graham is the only scholarship RB on the roster right now. Todd Graham went out and did a pretty good job grabbing four running backs in his rushed 2011 class, but none of them were particularly heavily recruited. Although known more for its passing than rushing, Pitt will need at least two of those four to step up and be ready to play in the fall.
Who are some newcomers that could make an impact this year?
In addition to running backs, Pitt may need a freshman to play some at receiver with the new spread offense. Incoming freshman Darius Patton seems like he could be a candidate for early playing time, as could any number of the wide receivers recruited by Wannstedt, including RS sophomore Ed Tinker, who had a good summer last year before injuring his hand.
On defense, Todd Thomas might be a guy to watch out for at the LB/S hybrid position. Thomas was one for the biggest recruits of the class of 2009, but failed to qualify and ended up being a standout safety in prep school that year. He arrived at Pitt last fall and seems to have the size and athleticism to play the hybrid linebacker / safety spot.
Looking at the schedule, what are the most important games this year?
Pitt will get their first BCS opponent week 3 at Iowa. Even though Iowa is expected to take a step back this season, it would be a great win for Pitt and gives the Panthers a great opportunity to start 3-0 and generate some excitement. Notre Dame would be a huge game for Pitt even if the Irish were 0-11 and it would be nice to finally beat Utah this season.
In conference, Pitt will get their first test against a South Florida team that many are predicting to be in the top-tier of the Big East. Of course, the Backyard Brawl will be a huge game for both teams and will feature two coaches who don't particularly care for each other already.
What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2011 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
I'm on the fence about this season right now. On one hand, the cupboard is certainly not bare and Todd Graham should benefit from Wannstedt's above-par recruiting. On the other hand, the players will be learning a system that's completely different from what they had under the previous staff. With the Big East seemingly mediocre again this season, however, "competent" should keep Pitt in contention for the BCS bid. I'd be content if Pitt could start out 3-0 (Buffalo, Maine, @Iowa), split home games against Utah and Notre Dame and go 5-2 in conference for a 9-3 record and a trip to Charlotte and the Belk Bowl.
Coming In August: Big East Preview
Next Preview: Maryland
2011 Team Previews