“To Repeat or Not Repeat, That is the Question…”

Editor’s Note: From our newest POV writer, Joe L., we have a great conversation starter on the subject of we readers predicting how our OOC and ACC games will play out. Thanks Joe and keep them coming. Because the original article is over 3500 words Joe and I decided to split the article into out of conference games in the season and then in the second half of the article we will address the conference games.

Enjoy some very nice writing! Please share with us your thoughts and predictions in the comments section below – HTP!

Long time readers of the POV know that one of the rites of mid to late August is the annual prognostication of the Panthers’ football season record by many of our posters.

I normally dodge that exercise like a few others (Huff+III comes to mind) because so much can happen to affect the outcome of games – injuries, bounces, turnovers, inexplicable play calls by coaches, missed calls by refs, injuries (yeah, I said that twice), changes in targeting rules and the weather. Just too many variables.

But I’m going to do an about-face, stick my neck out and make a prediction. Why this year? I’m not totally sure to be honest. Its not the easiest year to jump in this pool. The last twelve months have been the best we’ve seen from Pitt football since my youth. We’ve lost some key guys, the schedule gets a bit harder and yet there is optimism among many in the fan base that coaching stability and patience are starting to pay off.

I’ll go through my thoughts game by game so that you will at least know exactly how I arrived at my guess. Hopefully that provides good fodder for discussion and debate. Its clear from the posts in Richard’s last few analyses that many of you are ready to engage in that discussion. So, without further ado…

Game 1 – The Brawl I’m not a big fan of big opening games. Especially a regional rival like the Hoopies or the Peds.  Win the game and the euphoria that follows can quickly crash with a loss in a dreaded trap game that is sure to follow. Lose and it seems like the world has ended before the season has really begun. Dyspepsia of the soul comes to mind. Its just not healthy.

Be that as it may, the folks who run Division 1 College Football – the TV networks – need good inventory for Labor Day weekend, lest everyone skip the viewing and head to the Ribfest (in the old days it was the Pirates Labor Day doubleheader at Three Rivers). Games that are best played on a weekend before bowl season are now foisted upon us before we’ve even gotten into game-watching shape…. No stretching of emotional muscles, reps at mixing Crown, Ice and Ginger Ale or getting the new routes down to Frisch’s for wings (or Prantl’s for burnt almond tortes) due to the latest road construction. Not to mention the impact of whatever new structure is being raised on the North Shore.

And thus, Pitt opens with a nationally televised, prime time game replete with College GameDay and the attention of the college football world. I guess this is one price of becoming relevant. Mediocre programs need not worry about these things and most years we didn’t. Just had to worry about not soiling the sheets.

Anybody think Narduzzi is gonna play it vanilla so he doesn’t show his hand for the next game? Me neither. If they play it simple, it will because they aren’t ready for anything fancier.

My thoughts on the actual game itself are as follows: On offense, the Hoopies are good at QB (JT Daniels) and RB. The WRs are a question mark. But the OL is really good and perhaps the best in the B12. Pitt’s D matches up well with them against the run, but if Daniels is ready to go and they find someone to catch the ball, we will have a challenge. I see this as a push.

On defense, they are good upfront, but things trail off after that. LBs and DBs are a question mark. If Slovis or Patti gets good protection, I like Pitt’s offense. Is this the coming out party for Pitt’s receivers? I think that’s quite possible.

Both teams are facing change in special teams and both lost really good returners. It’s a toss-up.

On the crowd and vibe thing… this will be the most raucous home atmosphere these Pitt players will have experienced.  As the bus rolls down General Robinson Street, they may believe Kenny Chesney is in town. The noise coming from Red 5A alone…

Neither teams’ players have been through a Brawl before and are too young to really feel for it the way prior generations have. But I could see the students and Panther faithful getting the Hoopies on a couple false starts.

Like most openers, I don’t think either team will come out hitting on all cylinders. It might be a little sloppy in fact. But barring a refereeing crew hired by Mike Tranghese, I like Pitt in this game. I gave the points (-6.5), but was not confident in either offense enough to take the over (54 points).

Game 2 – The Johnny Majors Classic Redux  When was the last time Pitt played in two regular season games with their own commemorative logo in the same season?

I’m going to come right out here and say that while I think it’s a big game for two evenly matched teams, I think Pitt probably loses this one. No Rocky Top every time a Vols player does something positive… no running out of the T… we will have Sweet Caroline with boisterous refrains of “Lets Go Pitt!”… and yet I still think the Vols win.

Josh Heupel has had a year to scheme for this game and some folks see Hendon Hooker as a Heisman candidate. Despite his missed throws in the Pitt game, he hit 68% of his throws and had a 31-3 TD/Int ratio last season. And he gets points from me for having the smarts to get away from Justin Fuente.

Like Pitt, the Vols return a lot of starting offensive linemen and the running backs room is good.  But their wide receivers are what I’m most concerned about. Their #1 from last year will be paired up with USC transfer Bru McCoy, who was #1 rated at WR in the country coming out of HS.

My gut tells me Pitt may get torched by the Vol passing game. Pitt dug itself in a hole last year in Knoxville and was able to come back due to Pickett and Addison (along with a great throw by Jared Wayne on a gadget play). I’ll need to see some evidence that we will have similar abilities before changing my view.

All of that said, Pitt can win if they get to Hooker (who I assume will start) consistently, contain him and force him into rushed throws or throwaways. In other words, what we have done to him the last two times we faced him. But we will need to get a lead and keep the Vols offense off the field with a strong running game. It’s a tall order in this era where no lead is safe.

Game 3 – The Panthers Strike Back?  Our lads head to Kalamazoo with revenge on their minds. Western Michigan lost both its QB Kaleb Eleby and WR Skyy Moore, so we got them, right? Its easy to assume a win, especially if Pitt showed a lot in games 1&2 or lost a tough one versus the Vols.

I’m not pencilling this in as an automatic win for a couple reasons. They have some Pittsburgh area kids on the roster who – like last year – want to have a say in the matter. Former Panther Bricen Garner (1st team MAC last year) returns on defense and is joined by 3 other transfers from St Francis… all three are from Pgh.

Then there is the matter of the QB – Norwin’s Jack Salopek. Those from the Pittsburgh area know the kid is a winner – even if from a lower WPIAL class. If one goes back and looks at his recruiting, it looked like he might have chosen Pitt, but perhaps the offer was soft. So he has zero motivation to play a good game against Pitt, right? As we know, the Broncos have a good coach who has the program running well and I’m sure he’d like to give it to Duzz again.

I think they give Pitt some trouble early, but Pitt’s superior talent rises up and ends up winning the game. No surprise upset here, although I predict some here will be upset that the score isn’t more lopsided.

Game 4 – Narduzzi’s Homecoming I cannot imagine (without LSD) a scenario where the Panthers lose to Rhode Island. The disparity in talent is big and they don’t have a great program. Yes, I know its Pitt. It will be a big, confidence building win.

Folks, if you are keeping score at home, that’s an out of conference record at 3-1. I’m guessing many of you might also have projected this on your own. I believe the likelihood of this is 65%. I also believe the likelihood of going 0-4 in this stretch is zero, 1-3 is 10%, and going undefeated is 25%. Please do not ask me to show my work, as my finger is still wet and the wind could change.

And with that, we will also take a look at the ACC slate which can be found in Joe’s ACC games article which will post up in a day or two.