Todd Graham talks a big game. High-octane, explosive, innovative, integrity, and championships are a few of the words that immediately come to mind. Every member of the Pitt staff is "the best in the country" according to Graham. Ambitious, indeed. And I like this. It's a welcome change from the Wannstedt and Harris regimes, where confidence and self-efficacy sorely lacked. Ultimately, however, as a fan, you have to come back to reality and ask the tough question: How far can Graham -- and his successors for that matter --- take Pitt as a program?
Final Verdict: Former coach Dave Wannstedt proved that you can attract talent to play at Pittsburgh. But it’s a school with a ceiling. The Panthers should be a consistent winner in the Big East, but can you win a national title? Not likely.
A little harsh? Probably not what Panther fans want to hear, but frankly, I think it's pretty accurate. Pitt should regularly be able to compete for and win Big East Championships. The program has the history, tradition, and athletic support that many of our conference brethren lack. We also have arguably the best players. Year after year, Pitt players fill the all-conference rosters, and we have an established pipeline to the NFL. All the ingredients are there for success in a weak conference like the Big East. Pitt should be able to capitalize on that attractive position, win the conference regularly, and play in BCS bowls. The fact that we can claim only two shared Big East titles and one BCS berth since 1998 is outright embarrasing, and I believe, a strong testament to the lack of preparation and discipline in the past. After this off-season overhaul, I think the mindset of the program has shifted dramatically and it's in a stronger position to live up to its potential. And that potential is winning Big East Championships and playing in BCS bowls -- maybe even winning a BCS game or two. But in all honestly, I just can't see this program, under Todd Graham or anybody, going any further than that. The 12-0 Cincinnati team in 2009 is likely the closest a Big East squad will get to playing in a National Championship and we all know how that turned out. We also saw what happened to Pitt when they were matched up against the southern big boys from Miami.
The way I see it, this program, in this conference, with these resources, just isn't equipped to play for all the marbles. Pitt Football, whether you care to admit it or not, has a ceiling. Conference titles? Definitely. BCS victories? Possible. National Championship? Probably not. This might rub some the wrong way, but I don't see it as a negative.
Todd Graham and the Panthers begin their quest to hit their ceiling on September 3. I can't wait.