>> Monday, July 6, 2009
When the Pittsburgh Panthers hired former NFL coach Dave Wannstedt the fan base expected him to take them to the highest level, and do so immediately. Wannstedt was unable to live up to the expectations and failed miserably, failing to win more than 6 games in his first 3 seasons. The fans began to wonder aloud if Wannstedet was the man for the job and suddenly Wannstedt's job security began to become a question mark. Pittsburgh came into last season with mild expecations following their last three seasons, but Wannstedt pushed the right buttons, and led the Panthers to nine wins and saved his job in the process.
While last season's team became a force to be reckoned with as the season progressed, Wannstedt believes he has the talent in place to make an even better run this season. However, the Panther's must replace their most talented players on either side of the ball. Stud running back LaSean McCoy opted for the NFL and linebacker Scott McKillop was lost due to graduation and replacing that kind of talent will not be an easy task.
McCoy's loss on offense will be a hurdle that must be overcome in order for the Panthers to have a successful season. McCoy accounted for the majority of the red-zone scoring and was an invaluable asset to this team. In order to combat the loss of McCoy, Bill Stull, the incumbent at quarterback must improve his overall efficiency and, in general, just become a better quarterback. Stull was shaky at best all last season, including throwing more interceptions (10) than touhdowns(9). If Stull's inconsistency remains a problem, Wannestedt will not be afraid to replace him with junior Pat Bostick. The Panthers also lost their top receiver Derek Kinder and they will attempt to replace him with a trio of wide receivers and a solid pass-catching tight end. Sophomore Jonathan Baldwin had a stellar freshman campaign and has the ability to throughly improve on that total this season. He will be joined by Oderick Turner on the outside and Nate Byham at tight end. Byham is an All-Big East caliber talent and will provide a nice check-down target for the quarterback.
The loss of McCoy, as we mentioned before, will be a very difficult position to fill. However, freshman running back Dion Lewis impressed the coaches throughout the spring, after an early enrollment, and looks to be the early favorite as the heir apparent. If Lewis earns the starting nod he'll have his path paved by a strong and formidable line. Jason Pinkston will anchor the line from his left tackle position and will have senior Joe Thomas his opposite. Center Robb Houser and guards John Malecki and Lucas Nix will help stabilize the line from the guard positions.
Pitt's defensive unit is lead by a pair of strong defensive ends, including All-Big East selection Greg Romeus. Romeus will be joined by Jabaal Sheard, Myles Carnagin, and Mick Williams on the defensive front. The Panther's need their defensive line to continue to be a formidable unit, because the linebacker position appears to be a weak unit. Greg Williams is the only returning starter and the defense will rely on seniors Steve Dell and Shane Murray to pick up the slack. However, the linebacking core appears to be the only weak unit on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive backfield returns nearly all the talent from a ball-hawking unit that intercepted 16 passes last season and was consistently making plays, including All-Big east performer Aaron Berry. Berry will be joined by Jovani Chappel at cornerback and Elijah Fields and Don DeCicco will be patrolling from the safety positions.
Wannestedt has been fairly successful on the recruiting trail, but this season his unit appears a bit weaker than normal. The Panthers class is ranked 47th in the country according to rivals.com and is headlined by running back Raymond Graham. Graham is believed to be the next star among a great lineage of running backs for the Panthers. Jack Lippert, a four star defensive end headlines the unit and is joined by another four-star talent in linebacker Dan Mason.
September 5th-Youngstown State-Win
September 26th-@N.C. State-Loss
October 24th-South Florida-Win
November 14th-Notre Dame-Loss
November 27th-West Virginia-Loss
Season Projection: 9-3 (6-1 Big East)