The Pitt Panthers faced a rebuilding year in 2007 , losing seven games, but at season’s end defeated the No. 1 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers ruining their arch-rivals chances of winning a national championship. Head coach Dave Wannstedt should have a much better team in 2008 and should be a bowl participant. While not considered of national championship quality, oddmakers at Sportsbook.com list the Panthers at +400 odds chance to win the BIG EAST conference, third best in the league behind West Virginia (-110) and South Florida +250.
The Panthers still have a few questions for 2008 , but they seem to be the type of questions a head coach Dave Wannstedt would want to ask. Instead of wondering which untested quarterback could win the starting job, it’s now a question of which of the four quarterbacks who have started a collegiate game will emerge as the everyday player. Or how the return of an All-BIG EAST First Team wide receiver who missed the entire 2007 season will make the offense that much more potent.
The quarterback and middle linebacker positions , areas of concern a year ago, are relative strengths heading into 2008, as are running back and wide receiver. Overall, Wannstedt might find that, in the coming season, he’s armed with more answers than questions.
Junior Bill Stull emerged as the starter last summer and took the ball on Opening Day, but suffered a thumb injury in that contest and missed the remainder of the season. That opened the door for Kevan Smith, who made three starts as a redshirt freshman, and Pat Bostick, who started the last eight games as a true freshman. Bostick saw the most action, completing 155 of 252 passes for 1,500 yards and eight touchdowns.
Those three players all will have a chance to win the starting job through spring practice and the summer preseason. Sophomore running back LeSean McCoy established himself as one of the top young backs in the nation as a freshman. McCoy set a BIG EAST freshman record by rushing for 1,328 yards last season while setting school records for points (90) and rushing touchdowns (14).
Pitt returns all of its major contributors at wideout from last year and has the added bonus with the return of fifth-year senior Derek Kinder. In 2006, Kinder earned All-BIG EAST First Team accolades in 2006 after he had 57 catches for 847 yards. He missed all of 2007 with a knee injury. Junior T.J. Porter took over as the primary flanker and finished with a team-high 37 receptions. Junior Oderick Turner is a third-year starter at split end who had team-highs of 496 receiving yards and five touchdown catches last season.
If Pitt has an achilles heel offensively it will be the offensive line. The Panthers look to replace three starters from last year, including All-BIG EAST First Team tackle Jeff Otah.
On defense, the line appears to be in good shape with tackles, senior Rashaad Duncan and junior Mick Williams back to anchor the defensive line. Sophomore Greg Romeus enjoyed an excellent freshman year with four sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss from the defensive end spot. Unfortunatly, junior defensive end Doug Fulmer will miss 2008 after injuring his knee in August drills. Fulmer has been injury plagued most of his career with the team.
The Panthers should boast one of the best groups of linebackers in the BIG EAST. Unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team selection Scott McKilllop established himself as one of the nation’s best middle linebackers last season and a bona fide Butkus Award candidate in 2008. The senior led the nation in tackles (12.6 per game), registering 151 stops on the year on his way to third team Associated Press All-America status. Junior Shane Murray is back on the weak side after making 60 tackles last year, while senior Adam Gunn mans the strong side following a 59-tackle season.
Pitt brings two starters back from its defensive backfield. Junior cornerback Aaron Berry had two interceptions last year, while senior Eric Thatcher started all 12 games at free safety. Junior Jovani Chappel is the leading candidate to start opposite Berry at cornerback, while sophomore Dom DeCicco projects as the starter at strong safety.
For Pitt to live up to its pre-season expectations, it must avoid some land-mines through its 12 game schedule. Aside from their usual battles with BIG EAST powerhouses West Virginia, South Florida, the Panthers must also travel to play Notre Dame at South Bend. and Rutgers
Aug 30 Bowling Green
Sep 06 Buffalo
Sep 20 Iowa
Sep 27 @Syracuse
Oct 02 @South Florida
Oct 18 @Navy
Oct 25 Rutgers
Nov 01 @Notre Dame
Nov 08 Louisville
Nov 22 @Cincinnati
Nov 28 West Virginia
Dec 06 @UConn