Friday, September 12, 2008

The perfect storm

If there is one thing Coach Wannstedt would love to do, it is having a winning season, going to a bowl, and not having to fire any of his assistant coaches. After the Bowling Green game, that seemed to be a dream that he would never realize. Despite a victory against Buffalo, our Panthers still showed the same problems that we not only saw one week before, but the same problems we have been seeing for 3 years. It was finally starting to happen that the strong Wannstedt supporters were becoming more in favor of replacing the coach.

Prior to this season the best way to describe our fan base was "half and half". There were those in Group A who felt that Wannstedt would be a good coach at Pitt and that all he needed was more time so that he could get his players in to his system. Group B consisted of members who were tired of 3 straight losing seasons and often cited Wannstedt's struggles at Miami, Chicago, and Pitt to warrant his departure.

Following week 1 of the season, the "half and half" group became more of an 80-20 split, with 80% of Panther fans feeling that it was time for a change. Even the remaining 20%, while still in favor of Wannstedt, were agreeing with the other group that there had to be some change, especially with Matt Cavanaugh.

As we are entering week 3 of the NCAA football season, it is looking more and more like the 80% group may not get their wish, and here is why.

Last night UNC, destroyed Rutgers at home. Last week, ECU manhandled a top 10 WVU team. Pitt lost to a MAC team in the home opener.

It is no secret, the Big East is awful this season. After completing 2 weeks of football, only USF and UConn are the only remaining undefeated teams in the conference. Syracuse and Rutgers still do not have a win. Syracuse lost to Northwestern and Akron, but things don't get any better as they travel to Penn State this weekend. While I predict Syracuse will finish 1-11 (only beating Northeastern) they could easily get 4 wins from their schedule based upon the overall weakness of the teams in the conference.

Rutgers has two cupcakes left on their schedule, but outside of those games, they stand a good chance of losing out the rest of the way. Louisville plays a mediocre schedule, but the rest of the teams they play are all D1 schools. They are just like Pitt this season, they could have any where from 4 to 8 wins. Cincinnati has a few MAC/CUSA games before they enter Big East play, but despite being dominated Oklahoma they may stand a chance to do fairly well. They are a middle of the road Big East team, but that might just be good enough to finish 2nd or 3rd this year. UConn could barely beat Temple, but as we saw last year, they can surprise some people. It will be interesting to see how they perform at North Carolina to compare to Rutgers.

For the South Florida Bulls. They should be the Big East BCS representative this year. Outside of Kansas, they do not have any tough teams on their schedule. 9-3 or 10-2 is a record they should achieve this year which will be good enough to clinch the Big East title.

So what does this mean for our Panthers? Well it's simple. Since everyone is down and every game is winnable, Wannstedt can show progress. People have grown so accustomed to losing that all people are hoping for is a bowl appearance. Our schedule should allow us to win 7 games. They won't be the most fun to watch, they will be tight close games, but they will be victories.

When this team finishes 7-5, we will hear about how we made great strides, and how the team is coming around as expected. I also believe that 7-5 will split the two Panther groups back to "Half and Half". Most importantly though, 7 wins and a bowl appearance in what might be the worst conference in America will allow Matt Cavanaugh to keep his job as well as to encourage Dave Wannstedt to stick with the current design for the offense and defense.

The worst thing Panther fans can hope for is 7 close wins since nothing will change. 8 or more wins will give us hope for the future. 6 or less will require some type of change. My only hope is that we do not remain stagnant.


dugdogmaster said...

PSU is going to Syracuse, not the other way around as you stated :)

coys said...

This is Butch Davis's second year at UNC with similarly raked recruiting classes as Pitt during that time.

and as an unrelated point

No question that Shady, McKillop and Byham are great talents, but I'm starting to think that the local talent pool is totally overrated.

johnny said...


I have to disagree with you on Cincy this year. With Mauk not getting a 6th year after his 1,263rd appeal and Grutza out with a broken leg, they are now starting their 3rd string quarterback for the remainder of the year. They are beatable.

Also, your analysis doesn't consider the outcome of a bowl game should Pitt finish 7-5. In other words, do you think there is any difference in 8 wins and a bowl loss or 7 wins + a bowl win? Will the natives be upset should Pitt play a MAC or C-USA team, or is it simply enough progress to make a bowl game?

johnny said...


Really good point about the local talent pool. I think part of it depends on how we define "local". Do we mean the WPIAL, Western PA as far as Johnstown and as North as Erie, or the entire Commonwealth? Either way, with populations shifting and other parts of the country growing, there's no question the talent is less than 20 years ago.

I do feel that's why Wannstedt decided to try to focus more on VA, MD/DC, and Jersey the last few years, and say what we will about Bossard as a positions coach, he's seemingly getting it done in New Jersey.

That brings the point of the relatively recent debate of Pitt focusing more on the Mid-Atlantic states at the expense of pulling resources from Florida. In my opinion this would be a mistake, since guys like Gus, Romeus, and even Antonio Bryant (who I think only had offers from Pitt and Louisville) show that there is value in going after under-recruited prospects in Florida.

Regardless, when Wannstedt brought coach Bennett aboard, one reason he cited was his ability to recruit Texas, which while great in theory, seems to be an area that would be a relatively ambitious talent pool that may take a few years to mine. Especially since we already have known areas of the country that we are moving away from.

Brian Ising said...

Here's a fun stat: the Big East is 0-11 so far against the spread. To put that in perspective, the odds of a conference losing 11 consecutive games against the spread are 1 in 2048, or about 0.05%. In other words, the Big East has been a colossal disappointment. The conference is horrible, approaching the 2004 Big East in terms in futility.

Anyways, if Pitt cannot win 9+ games against this pathetic schedule with the talent that they have recruited, it is never going to happen for this staff. Wanny supporters can call it progress if we go 7-5 or so, but when will be able to do any better than that? Winning the conference requires some degree of luck. Things have to fall into place like they did for Pitt in 2004. Everything appears to be falling into place in 2008 for Pitt to win the conference. Let's see if they can take advantage of this golden opportunity. I'm not betting on it.

As for recruiting, the local talent may be overrated. But any way you look at, we have still absolutely KILLED the rest of the Big East in recruiting over the last 3 seasons. We have heard the argument that Wanny needed time to bring in talent. That has happened. If that overwhelming talent advantage is not enough to win this terrible conference, what is it going to take for Wanny to win 10 games or win the conference?

DPJ said...

I didn't want to predict anything for a bowl since 1. we don't know if we're going to one and 2. who knows who we will play.

8-5 with a win over a mediocre mac team and I say no progress.

8-5 with a win over a respectable team, then maybe......just maybe.

Brian Ising said...

8-5 under any circumstances is not good enough for this season. We had a coach that could consistently win 8 games a year, and he was run out of town, and deservedly so.

As you said, this season is shaping up to be a perfect storm with the lousy Big East. If 8-5 is all we can put together against this schedule with all of the talent we have assembled, what will it take to win more than 8 games in a season? The answer: a new coaching staff.

Kurt said...

I think that Pitt fans are smart enough to realize 8 wins in regular season against a weak schedule is the bare minimum.
otherwise cav and bennent go under the bus.