Pitt Football: Some Notes From Todd Graham's First Season

Talking to the media has earned Todd Graham some criticism this season. But fans have to be excited for the brand of football he is bringing to Pitt. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

With a bowl game nearly a month away and the season coming to a close, there are a few things that have definitely stuck out to me this season. Some of them are bad as most would expect from a subpar season, but there were actually some positives which are getting me excited about the future.

The Bad:

  • Todd Graham needs some work when it comes to handling questions about player-performance in press conferences.
  • Tino Sunseri is not the option for the future.
  • Ray Graham's injury was a serious one and hopefully he can return to his pre-injury Heisman-like stature.
  • Injuries suck in general. Ray Graham's was just one of many that really hindered this team.

Conclusion:

Coach Graham's first year was plagued with a lot of press-conference miscues when dealing with Tino Sunseri and his performance. He seemed to throw Tino under the bus on multiple occasions, something that a head coach just cannot do. Tino may have deserved that type of criticism outside of the public eye, but most definitely not in front of the camera.

Tino's play was simply horrendous at times. He doesn't look like he fits in the system at all and is going to either get much, much better in the off-season or be replaced. This offense relies heavily on smart and efficient quarterback play, something that Tino just hasn't offered.

With Ray Graham staying healthy all year, this team might have won the Big East. He's that good. One could assume that the games lost by one score would have been wins if Ray was in the game. His injury wasn't the only one, though. Cam Saddler, Jason Hendricks, Todd Thomas (on and off), and the entire offensive line suffered injures this season. All greatly affected the team and probably resulted in some losses. A healthy Pitt team has a good chance to win the Big East and play in the Orange Bowl.

The Good Stuff:

  • In my opinion, Ray Graham's injury probably means he will be back for his senior season
  • The defense often played well, despite forcing few turnovers early in the season
  • The young players on this team look very, very promising
  • The offense can be very fun to watch if it is run correctly

Conclusion:

While injuries are never a good thing, Ray Graham's injury may have been a blessing in disguise for Pitt fans. In the second season of Todd Graham's offensive overhaul, the team should be much more acclimated to this new, up-tempo style. If Ray can return to the same player that he was prior to getting injured, he will benefit from the familiarity of the plays and his offensive line. With his work ethic, he should be able to come back and immediately make a difference.

The defense, at times, was incredible. They held some very dynamic offenses to fractions of their normal totals. Their best games seemingly came against the best offensive teams such as South Florida, West Virginia, and Cincinnati. They also bailed out the offense on various occasions by making big stops and holding teams to relatively low scores. The defense looks as if it is going to be formidable next season.

Several young players that saw the field this season played extremely well. Aaron Donald, Todd Thomas, and Ronald Jones were the three major stand-outs. Donald is a sack machine, Thomas' speed is very valuable on the defensive side of the ball, and Jones not only looked good catching the ball and in the punt return game, but also threw a couple of touchdown passes. Juan Price looked great in spurts and Isaac Bennett did a good job filling in for Zach Brown when he went down. Corey Davis also looked pretty good on special teams.

Although the offense looked as if it was in peril at times due to lack of execution or sketchy play from the quarterback position, there were plenty of glimpses of exciting football. The playcalling wasn't always great, but part of that is probably due to a lack of execution. As we saw in Tino's record-setting game at Heinz Field, this team put up a lot of yards when it clicked. Sit back and imagine if Ray Graham returns and Pitt's quarterback (whoever that may be) can consistently make plays.

Overall:

This season has had its ups and downs but I find myself very excited for next season. With lots of returning talent (not to mention what is shaping up to be a stellar recruiting class) and a year of experience in this offense, the team could flourish. If Ray Graham and some other players hadn't gotten injured, this team could be playing in the Orange Bowl making Todd Graham look like a hero. The players have bought in to the brand of football that he and the rest of the coaching staff is selling and it's time that the fans give this team some time to develop.

The key, obviously, is the quarterback situation. As long as Pitt can find a way to get improved play there, look for this team to contend for a BCS Bowl next season. A national championship? Not yet. But if Pitt's offense scores a bit more and catches up to the defense, that goal could be in reach within the next few years.

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