2017’s WRs; Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw

This is the seventh of a longer POV series looking at the individual positions which need to be re-filled in 2017 and whether we will meet the PRODUCTION we had in those positions in ’16. We will not factor in true freshman at this point.

Wide Receiver will be a position of strength for us in this coming season almost surely.  I say that because as we wrote about the QB position early in this series I think we’ll have a downgrade there – so the ripple effect may impact the overall production of our WR corps for ’17.

To start let’s look at who departed Pitt over the off-season.  rsSR Dontez Ford and rsJR Zach Challingsworth.  Well, that was pretty simple wasn’t it? 

Of course our main WR coming back is the exciting and inconsistent – which is part of the excitement because we hold our breath hoping he’ll come down with the ball – rsSR Jester Weah.

Weah is a great example of kids who are just average in their recruiting rating (3*, 5.5) and don’t burst right out of the gate in college… but learn the new game and flourish in their upperclassmen years.  And yes, that is what a good player will do. 

Great players usually do make an impact earlier and Weah may have also if he hadn’t been stuck behind Tyler Boyd and Dontez Ford for his first few years.  But for now he’s pretty darn good and may just be great this season.

Weah has had the catching yips and was publicly open and refreshingly honest about that which I like him even more for.  He has great downfield speed and good moves – but his hands used to let him down when it came to gameday.  More on that later…

Here is our roster of returning WRs and we hope, and there probably are, some good ones in the pipeline:

2 Maurice Ffrench 5-11/185 DB/WR SO
5 Tre Tipton 6-0/190 WR RS SO
6 Aaron Mathews 6-4/205 WR SO
10 Quadree Henderson 5-8/190 WR JR
11 Ruben Flowers III 6-3/200 WR RS FR
34 Mark Bernsdorff 5-11/185 WR SR
46 Michael Vardzel 5-10/180 WR RS FR
48 Kellen McAlone 6-2/205 WR RS JR
82 Rafael Araujo-Lopes 5-9/185 WR RS JR
85 Jester Weah 6-3/210 WR RS SR

You can see that Ffrench is now officially both a WR and a DB (thank god). 

But let’s not disparage old Dontez Ford, after all he was hurt for a large part of the season and produced well enough as our 2nd leading WR in his eight games played; he had  17 receptions for 288 yards and 2 TDs with a 16.9 ypc average.

His absence will allow our younger guys to step into his Pitt cleats, most probably 6’0″ (pushing it!) rsSO Tre Tipton (12 for 142, 11.8 ypc & 1 TD) and SO Aaron Mathews, who is a tall drink of 3.2 beer at 6’4″.  He was 6 for 51 at 8.5 ypc.

Tipton is the speedier of the two players but got less playing time last season; nine games played with one start, although he did more with that than Mathews did – at least as a WR.  Mathews was very good as the Gunner on our coverage teams so that is where he got his 12 starts last year.  But I feel Mathews upside may be the best of all the WRs.

Then again check out Tipton’s ‘success rate‘ in the chart below – it was an excellent 60% which means when he touched the ball he was very productive.  So maybe he’ll be the secondary receiver.  Either way those two players are going to see a lot of playing time along with Weah.

That’s who I think will split time with ATH Quadree Henderson who was our all-around offensive weapon in running, catching (not so much) and returns.  I have a feeling that our new OC Watson will keep Henderson in this spread out & multiple role and let the other, more adept WRs stay on the receiving end of most of Browne’s passes.

After all – Henderson was #11 nationally in All-Purpose yardage and as such is a great offensive tool you can surprise defenses with.  The thing with Henderson though is that he also was used as a short yardage receiver only when wrapped into the passing game and when he did catch the ball he fumbled a few times.

Below is a great chart from footballstudyhall.com showing how ‘successful’ our WRs were last season. Below is the definition of that next to right hand column titled Success Rate”:

Success Rate

A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.

Notice Tipton’s good hands numbers – the ability to catch 12 passes out of 15 attempts will make up for a lot of inaccurate throws by our QBs – a valuable skill to have.

WR Study Hall

Sad to say our other younger WRs didn’t fare all that well in the completion department either but that may be accounted for by the lack of steady and constant playing time. That will change this season.

Interestingly enough our primary WR Weah was really not overly  ‘successful’ in some ways when it comes to his overall performance as a JR.  His yardage and average per reception was outstanding at 24.2 ypc and 10 TDs (!!) – way better than Boyd’s 2015 season of 10.2 ypc and 6 TDs – which is why I had written many time during last year’s preseason that we wouldn’t miss Boyd at all… and we didn’t.

But he has to get that “Catch Rate” up into the 60% and 70% range and stardom will follow… and then even more TDs.  That said – he’s a good one and will be very exciting to watch play this year.

Here is the same chart for 2015’s top two Pitt receivers – look how lopsided our passing game was then with 54% of our receptions going to only two players.  Whereas in ’16 it took Weah, Orndoff and Henderson to reach that percentage.

2015 success.png

In 2015 Boyd and Ford were targeted 175 times with 117 catches for 1,444 yards at 12.2 ypc and 8 TDs.  Not so good really.

In 2016 Weah and Orndoff  were targeted 124 times with 71 catches for 1,449 yards – almost exactly the same yardage-  -but with 20.4 ypc and 15 TDsThat 8.2 more ypc and seven more TDs ain’t chopped liver.

You know what – Boyd was a good one – but I’m glad he was gone. We were way more productive and thus helped our run game to combine and get to our great 40.5 ppg last season without him.

This last year’s, and this coming year’s, ability to spread the ball around to different receivers works extremely well for us in a more balanced passing attack.

FB George Aston excelled as a receiver last year as did James Conner – both had over 80% catch rates and good yardage out of the backfield, especially Conner’s 14.4 ypc.  That will be hard for any of our current RBs to replicate because, well – they are not James Conner.  So I think we’ll see our WRs used more than last year in the passing game.

Aston will get his share this year also as will Henderson but we’ll see more of the younger guys get more playing time this year.  Whether that translates into more actual yardage, 1st downs, TDs and wins is a different story – 50% of that burden lies on the QB shoulders and more specifically his passing arm.

All in all, and given the extra year experience these kids will have, I think our ’17 WRs are a  definite:

UPGRADE

Note:  Someone commented with a question regarding how many starters the ACC had when I wrote that article yesterday about the polls so here it is:

ACC Returning

BTW – everyone should copy this ACC 2017 Preseason Prospectus and keep it handy for reference – tons of great info in it.

77 thoughts on “2017’s WRs; Upgrade, Downgrade or Draw

  1. I agree upgrade and upgrade last year. Boyd was overused and that hurt the offense by chubbs.

    Weah has a lot of Jekyhell and Hyde. He needs to start strong.

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  2. As far as Louisville. Who cares.

    Stallings is such a jerk he would throw the Hookers under the bus and blame them.

    Lousiville’s Hookers would beat Stallings Misfits by 35.

    Glad we have compliance Heather to make sure we are by the book.

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  3. I’m looking (hoping) for Tipton, Mathews and Flowers to step up. Both Tipton and Mathews showed promise.

    This may only be the only position Upgrade this year …. unless you deem that LB and/ur DB can only get better.

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  4. Upgrade vote for me also. I like the talent returning and I really like that freshman out of Florida(Smith). The only question is whether we will be playing any QB that can make the plays. Five star QB’s playing for their first extended period of time in their 5th year wear the “prove it to me” label in my book.

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  5. Definite up-grade due to experience alone if OL can protect and we have a credible running game..hopefully, we have more downfield threats in “17,,,in the last thread I saw the stats regarding # of pass attempts in the 1st 3 games last year and I must say I was surprised but we definitely did not have a significant passing game past 10 yards early in the season-that improved as the season progressed. Don’t remember seeing much from Matthews last year-tall body who I hope develops into solid route runner and pass catcher. Tre is a good ball player but is light and injury prone- hope he check in with more muscle on his frame and would love to see QH develop route running skills. He would be terrifying in the open field catching the pigskin behind the linebackers. Jet sweeps were nice last year but might have lost some of their potency. We shall see.

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  6. A definite upgrade. The quality of the receivers does not depend on the quarterback. It is production that is affected by the QB. They actually may help the QB who at this point is Browne.
    Once again I eat crow on Weah; I didn’t think he would ever catch a pass. Even more concentration Jester and you could be a superstar. QH, JW, AT are good. I am very excited about Matthews athleticism. Group as a whole is fffantastic.
    It was not Boyd’s fault he was overused. The fault lied squarely on Chubbs who sucked as an OC. The stats show what we all knew. It remains to be seen what Watson will do, I suspect somewhere between Chubbs and Oh Canada.
    Great article and stats. Gosh we are even more inexperienced than what I felt. This is a growing year for experience. Next year and the year after should be big, I hope.
    Rockports anyone?
    HAIL TO PITT

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  7. I’d like to see the side note to our WR production being Canada’s use of Henderson in the jet sweep. I seem to remember that being an explosive play for us early isn’t the season last year.

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  8. Reed.. I believe that was me that who commented about returning starters. I felt it might help add more context about the team. Thanks for the great info.

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  9. So, is James Conner practicing with the Steelers or still sidelined by the hamstring?

    I say Upgrade, too, on the WRs. Thanks for the writeup Reed.

    H2P

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  10. The quality of the receivers may not depend on the QB I agree. But all fails if the QB can’t deliver the ball on a consistent basis.

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  11. Hoping the WR’s are an upgrade, Browne will need all the help he can get.

    Peterman was a very good QB. Statistically speaking, take away his extended hand offs (shovel passes) and see how that affects his passing TD stats and completion rate. That bit of trickeration was very helpful.

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  12. Good news about Louisville BB. I’ve said it all along that Petino is a snake, and now his reputation will be permanently stained (no pun intended).

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  13. Jay Bilas, the guy who wrote War and Peace about Pitt not granting Cam his release tweets this:

    Jay Bilas‏ Verified account @JayBilas

    Typical mixed bag from NCAA’s kangaroo court. Unduly harsh on vacating wins and money. Odd to suspend Pitino starting with ACC games

    Just like all national media — they worship at the throne of the elite. If Eastern Kentucky comitted the same crimes, he would have have said the NCAA was too lenient and the head coach should have resigned

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  14. I agree that Mathews has big-time potential. For whatever reason, Nate P. had a hard time making an accurate pass when AM was the target – though he wasn’t the target very often.

    Looking at his video, the frosh WR from Florida may be an impact guy as the season progresses.

    Hopefully the new QB gets in sync with these guys…

    Go Pitt.

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  15. Lousiville and Petino got off with nothing. We should employ hookers instead of support staff and tutors. No penalty.

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  16. Love the optimism you guys have for the WR crew. I hope yinz are right. J.Weah will be auditioning for the NFL. Q.Henderson is an All-American ST player – needs to show improvement as a wide-out catching the ball. Those two are probably the starters.

    A.Mathews could be the next breakout player on offense and R.Flowers has the size and star rating to be real good. Both will be needed to beat psu and osu early in the season.

    T.Tipton and RLArroyo add really good depth.

    The key as many have pointed out, will be two things – 1. Does Pitt have a QB to get these playmakers the ball? and 2. Can OC Watson call a good game?

    HTP!

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  17. I commented on Lewyville on the last thread. In essence, don’t get too excited about the penalties. They are all under Appeal, or will be in short order. The NCAA blew it. They should have bracketed the penalties. As an example Pitino suspension 0-35 games. Current recommendation is 5 games, subject to further review under appeal. That would shut down the crying that is about to occur from Lewy and a reduction. The Asst Coach will keep the 10 year show cause. The NCAA is picking on the weakest link and Lewy is hanging the kid out to dry because he’s not their employee any more. Real tough NCAA.

    I have said this for years and that is that the NCAA has no teeth in the current set-up. If you are going to break or bend rules, now is the time to do it. NCAA will not be around in its current state in 10 years.

    Asfar as WR’s, an easy upgrade depending on qb play and ol play. At Reed – Dontez Ford was our worst statistical receiver in several key areas. Stats are funny that way. Many here wouldn’t have thought that.

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  18. Aesthetically it is an upgrade for the sheer fact of limited turnover and the addition of general experience. What’s interesting is the running back group which will go a long way into determining the use of the wide receivers in accordance with Browne and his effectiveness.

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  19. Ford who finished second in receptions tells us all a lot about how poor the receivers were last year. I had to go back and look to make sure I read it right that he played in eight games last year. It seemed to me he missed more games than that. I always liked him and PITT did miss him on the field last year.

    I think as a whole PITT’s wide receiver group can be summed up in one word, deep!

    Weah should no longer be labeled as a player with problems catching the football as last year he was fairly rock steady and made many tuft catches in the clutch. I’m letting that one go.

    A little off topic here but when looking at all these numbers I pause and second guess just how effective Peterman was in throwing the ball downfield. To blame receivers for a poor catch rate leaves out one important “stat”, passer accuracy. Important to note here. A poorly thrown ball can and is a good pass when the receiver is well defended to avoid an interception. These are the types of flaws in stats that do not show up on the sheet.

    The good news is that PITT has a great young stable of slot receivers and a few big secondary wide-outs in Flowers and my man Matthews.

    Face the facts here that Peterman had quite a few passes that he threw 3 yards in the air last year. Check out Georgie’s catch rate.

    Browne will decide how good this unit is this year. You can’t have one without the other and since backups Dinucci and McVittie are considered non D-1 Qb’s by some PITT will need Browne to come through big time.

    Narduzzi has expressed PITT wants to throw the ball more this coming season.

    This group has the potential to be a very big upgrade this year! Weah has 1st round written all over him!

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  20. and just a btw guys. PITT is sneaking up on cleaning up on the WPIAL top recruits. Jurkovic was and always was a ND fan so let that one pass. If the chips fall the way it seems they are in line to have a real banner year in WPIAL recruiting.

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  21. The barn is loaded with stallions!!!! WR is a definite UPGRADE.
    (Now, can Browne get the feed to the horses mouth? Time will tell!)

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  22. OT: I’m quite sure Upitt will be one of the first on this board to congratulate Stallings on recruiting 4 STAR Bryce Golden from Maryland for the 2018 class.

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    1. This is a verbal. I think the earliest he can sign is November 2017. If he’s smart he’ll wait until April 2018.

      “The Hagerstown, Md., native is rated as a three-star prospect by scout.com and rivals.com, the latter of which ranks him as the 124th-best recruit nationally in his class, while ESPN.com gives him a four-star rating. In addition to Pitt, he had scholarship offers from Maryland, N.C. State and Penn State, among others.”

      To put that in perspective Damon Wilson was a consensus 4 star with offers from several ACC and SEC schools. I believe it was a total of 9. Stallings marginalized Wilson for his sophomore season (i.e. cut his minutes in half over FR season) and encouraged him to seek other interests.

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  23. Stallings finally gets a supposed decent player supposedly after 146 attempts. He is a joke and this kid will never play for that bum. He will be gone next season after winning 11 games.

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  24. Kid had 2 good offers if younconsider Maryland and NC St good programs. They were 20’years ago. Stallings is garbage.

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  25. I’ll give credit when it’s due and Golden appears to be a pretty good pick-up …. as confirmed by UPitt (if you know what I mean).

    One thing about the upcoming year is that KS can’t possibly blame all the losses on the players, since almost all of them are freshmen. This is the main thing that turned me against him this past season — he continually blamed everyone but himself.

    If the guys play hard this season and progress as the year goes on, I may again become a Pitt BB fan … at least until KS starts with the ‘don’t blame me’ rhetoric.

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  26. NP had an amazing yards per completion rate of 15.4 ypc. I believe that is a Pitt record… and he did it with a lot of completions at 185.

    You don’t have that with dinks and dunks only.

    His career ypc is 13.1 and if you look at other Pitt QBs that is up among the best also.

    Palko’s was 12.9 and his best season ypc was 13.0.

    Rutherford’s best was season was 14.8.

    NP threw a lot of intermediate – deep passes last year.

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    1. you do it with speed – Weah, Henderson and Orndoff (fast for a TE) ….
      you do it great pass protection giving the QB plenty of time for the long passes ..
      and you do it with design – there were a handful of times when after a series of play action, Connor would turn a fake handoff into a wheel route and become wide open … (one of the early TDs come to mind)

      This is not to say that NP wasn’t instrumental (he certainly was) .. but he had more assets going for him than any other QB in memory (including those from the 70s/80s)

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    2. Yuck. Stats.

      Peterman’s Y/A was 9.3. That ranked him #7 nationally right behind Trace McSorley. My point-proving bias tells me that means he was throwing downfield and doing so reasonably accurately (60.5%). So does my eye test.

      For the record only Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons came within a whiff of that last season in the NFL at 9.26. Big Ben was #11 at 7.5.

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  27. Hopefully Stallings is just getting started for 2018. While I don’t think much of him, I am not going to root against him, while he is at Pitt.

    Yesterday I mistakenly said that Pitt didn’t throw much in the first three games, and Reed showed the error of my statement with stats. I guess what I should have said was that they didn’t let Peterman throw down field much in the fourth quarter of the PSU, OKST and UNC games. This almost cost the PSU game and could have won the other two with a couple first downs.

    Certainly we have a much deeper roster of WR’s this year. But you have to have pass protection and a guy that can read defenses and make accurate throws to get results. Last year we had both, time will tell if we have either this year. The most important thing is pass protection, it makes all QB’s better when they have it.

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  28. Funny listening to Louisville’s protests. Sgt. Schultz (Pitino) “I knew nothing”

    What a complete jerk. Louisville without the decency to fire him. Basketball more important than

    their schools dignity and decency. Total scumbags, should be kicked out of the ACC.

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  29. Absolutely right, gc. The guy is a scum bag who couldn’t make it in the NBA, and thought he could cheat his way to a national championship to improve his coaching reputation. By the way, I’ve said this over and over: Stallings had no bench last year, and the starters knew it. It was evident that they got lazy in the 2nd half of games with big leads. And Stallings had no serious threat to bench people. This was most obvious with Artis who had two disciplines during the year. The biggest mistake was putting Artis at the point which made him irreplaceable and failed to use the non- con to develop a real point guard. So Stalling’s biggest mistake was in misreading Artis’ character traits.

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  30. The ACC prostituted itself by accepting Louisville. Yes, they do have a very good sports program but …

    both Pitino and Petrino had well publicized embarrassing extra marital affairs
    both Pitino and Petrino had a sketchy past in the way they abruptly quit their jobs multiple times, not to mention other improprieties. Face it, neither is a role model
    Louisville is not a member of the AAU (Association of American Universities) as are all other ACC schools. BTW, check out the site https://www.aau.edu/ and see a cover story about Pitt research study
    Louisville is not even close to being a Top 100 Academic University by any rating rating system you choose (Forbes, US News & World Reports, etc)

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    1. Just checked latest US News rankings …. all ACC schools were ranked in Top 100 except Louisville at 171. At least they beat out WVU (183)

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  31. wbb – the way the NCAA rules are written, the NCAA cannot investigate university courses. That was decided on by the NCAA member institution school Presidents long ago. In fact, it was a deal breaker for the NCAA to even exist. They could not meddle with university academics. Only the Department of Education can investigate accreditation issues.

    The NCAA has never been a fair organization. Blue blood schools have always had an advantage. The entire construct promotes this type of behavior. You rail against Bilas but, in the end, your issues are the same as his.

    His entire argument is that the NCAA is a sham organization designed to protect and shield it’s members under the guise of amateurism but that it is counterintuitive to the best interest of the student athletes.

    Regarding Louisville, Bilas says it’s conceivable that Pitino did not know what was going on because Pitino structured his program in a way to be shielded from being in the know. Hardly an endorsement of Pitino. He just puts the blame on the NCAA and Louisville for creating the environment where Pitino was able to, or even had to, create plausible deniability.

    Bilas is very anti-NCAA and pro-player. He could probably be harsher on the coaches but he feels the parties really at fault are the actual schools and NCAA. That’s where he directs his energy. At the schools and NCAA. They’re the ones who dictate policy.

    If you notice, it was always Pitt and the NCAA, never Stallings. Stallings’ name was only in context to what was happening but never any direct criticism with his decision since his decision was dictated by rules in place by Pitt and the NCAA.

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  32. Great post, Tossing. You’re right on all counts, but it seems to me that Jim Boeheim at Syracuse was given a stiffer sentence because they concluded he should have known more about the state of affairs there. This thing called institutional accountability is supposed to cover the administration at the top, the AD department and the coaches- everyone associated with the program. They are also supposed to control what the boosters do (in theory). Clearly, the blue bloods get special treatment, and Syracuse is still looked at as an outsider.

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  33. VoR – Boeheim wasn’t just one thing. He was suspended for “The sanctions were imposed in March after a long-term investigation of the athletic department found violations of academic misconduct, extra benefits and the university’s drug testing policy.” He couldn’t separate himself from the charges like Pitino did.

    Pitino only got failure to monitor, in large part because he had created his program to shield him. He had plausible deniability. Thus, the light sentence since he wasn’t directly tied to the scandal.

    UNC’s case is that is an academic issue, not NCAA, especially since the course was offered to everyone.

    It’s all BS but the NCAA and the schools have created this environment. I know Bilas isn’t very popular with Pitt fans right now, but it’s for these reasons he attacks the schools and NCAA instead of the coaches. Coaching behavior won’t change until policy changes. The schools and NCAA dictate policy.

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  34. Is it just me I suppose but I’m starting to get a good vibe about the 2018 class and it’s potential to finish fairly strong. No it’s nothing exceptional right now but very solid as a small group. There are still 3 or 4 WPIAL players that have PITT as one of their final choices.

    No they are not the Sanders/Wades of the world as tremendously skilled players but they are the 3 year starting kind at positions to fill out the roster. With Raines being the exception. He’s very skilled. Make no mistake though, TJ Banks, Devin Danielson, Marcus Hooker and my favorite player, David Green. < He reminds me a little of A Donald, who all could and will help PITT out for years… along with possible players, Bleich and or Bradley. If they commit..

    This group expected to be small but could pack a real punch… ike

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  35. Ike – I think they’ve put together a really good class. Very consistent in the type of player (star-wise) that they’re getting. Duzz is getting closer to cracking that 4-star nut. I know Reed says a 3 star is a 3 star is a 3 star but Pitt is now getting kids in the 250-300 range instead of 500-750 range. That’s huge. Plus, as you said, there are few others still out there … and most of Duzz’s 4 stars have come late in the process. That, however, may be more difficult now with the moved up LOI day.

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  36. I am in Oakland today. Havinga. Great day. Shadyside more but having fun. It is a shame Stallings is employed at a great university. Wwb. I would prefer winning over ranking as a top educational University. We can be good in both but AD and BOT prove they just want to be okay.

    Stallings wont last till 2019 which is the embarrassing part and then all the kids will leave and we will be in the same spot in 3 years. Should of given him 4m and toldhim to f off and go live in his floirda home.

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  37. Peterman had a great year, a plain simple fact. I do not suggest otherwise. He looked and played like he was in complete command of the offense to a point I could hardly believe my eyes at times. So much fun to watch.

    That’s all….

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  38. Upitt, do yourself a favor while in town and stop in to see Kevin Stallings and get a load off your back. Heck, you might find him out to be an actual human with feelings?

    What brings you to town? You’re a real mover and shaker you are. 🙂

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  39. Come on, UPitt, cut Stallings some slack. Maybe like ike says, you should go on up there and have a come to Jesus meeting with him. Tell him that after only one year you have completely given up on him and he is a total pile of s—. Then maybe you can move on…

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  40. He is a complete moron. He doesnt care about winning over fans. Valuing players and is collecting a check. Lifetime underachiever.

    Like

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