It's finally here.
This is without a doubt the most excited I've been for a football season. Not to say that this will be Pitt's best team over the past 15 years that I've been watching the team, but I'm extremely excited to see what Todd Graham can do. Can't catch the game at Heinz Field? ESPN3's got you covered.
For starters, if you want some good position-by-position background info on Pitt's first opponent, check out Greg's preview on Buffalo here.
That said, onto the preview.
Pitt comes into the game very healthy. Sure it's the first game of the season, but Pitt has escaped training camp injuries and that's a good thing. As of now, the only player deemed out for the game is linebacker Dan Mason. I've been through Mason's struggles throughout the offseason, but the bottom line is that he's probably still a while from returning.
The Bulls aren't taking on a cupcake non-conference schedule. In addition to facing Pitt, they've got contests against Tennessee and UConn. Head coach Jeff Quinn (only in his second season) probably wasn't around when it was put together doesn't sound all that pleased with it:
"The schedule is what it is," Quinn said.
"These are tougher games because No. 1, you have to look for the personnel, and No. 2, schematics," Quinn said. "Are there any weaknesses to their defensive personnel, offensive personnel? And typically you don't find them very often when you're playing against a Big East or SEC team."
The big story for Buffalo is the transfer of Cincinnati quarterback Chazz Anderson. Anderson is in a similar situation as Pitt running back Zach Brown. Because he graduated, he didn't need to sit out a year and is eligible immediately. You'd expect that a quarterback the caliber of Anderson would immediately be anointed as the starter, but that wasn't the case:
Anderson failed to seize UB's starting quarterback job as quickly as expected. Part of that might be owed to time needed to acclimate; the no-huddle spread run by the Bulls differs in some aspects from the one he was part of at Cincinnati. And part of the delay in naming him starter had to do with the play of sophomore Alex Zordich and his unwillingness to concede Anderson anything.
Anderson's now been named the starter ... at least we think so according to this somewhat cryptic quote:
"Chazz Anderson has been taking all the first-team reps as you saw today," Quinn said. "I would fully anticipate Chazz being our starting quarterback when we begin against Pitt. ... Chazz has really stepped up his game and brought a level of consistency to our offense. He can escape the pass rush, which is very important if we need him to. He can make plays down field. You saw a couple of explosive plays today which really made me feel like we found the guy that should be the guy taking the first snap against Pitt.
So why did the former Bearcat choose Buffalo? Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn was an assistant at Cincy under then coach Brian Kelly. Really, the Bulls were more fortunate to have Anderson than you can imagine. The team ranked near the bottom of I-A in passing last season and in offense in general, finishing dead last in scoring, averaging a meager 14 points per game.
That's likely to change with the addition of Anderson ... and with a wide receiving corps, which looks to be a pretty strong group:
"Our best position has been our wide receiver corps," said coach Quinn. "This is an outstanding group of young men. Coaching 27 years in college football. I'm as excited about that group as I've been about anybody."
Buffalo may not have a single great receiver, but there's depth there:
"We got great depth in the receiving corps," Neutz said. "I mean, we got to be one of the deepest in the league. Marcus, Terrell, Ed and myself, and we got Fred Lee, Cordero Dixon, Devin Hughes and Saron Hood. We got eight that can play easily and we can probably go even deeper with Rudy Johnson [a converted QB] and stuff like that."
And for good measure, more on that receiving corps.
But the Bulls aren't just hoping for a strong passing attack - they're trying to do more on the ground as well. That ground game was, by the way, pretty bad last year as well, finishing 101st in the nation (I-A) last year. Need more detail about just how bad the ground game was? They didn't have a single back reach even 300 yards rushing and their top two backs failed to tally a single rushing touchdown.
So what can Pitt expect on offense? How about a no-huddle:
Anderson, who played for four years at the University of Cincinnati under second-year Bulls head coach Jeff Quinn, is very familiar with the complicated and tricky no huddle offense.
"That has to be a plus," Neutz said. "He has confidence, and knows where to make the reads and how to throw the ball. It is definitely a plus having him already know the system."
Now, while I'm sure we won't see exactly the same thing from Pitt's offense, it's interesting that the Panthers' first opponent out of the gate is running something similar. The good news for Pitt's defense, obviously, is that they've been looking at a fast-paced offense all Spring/Fall.
Lastly, your strange Pitt-Buffalo link? Former Panther Mark May was the keynote speaker at Buffalo's kickoff luncheon where they unveiled new uniforms.
Just ... weird.
The bottom line is that Pitt should have very little trouble in this game. Worst case scenario that I can see is the Panthers win a shootout fairly comfortably - think 41-28. Buffalo's offense is capable of scoring points, but Pitt's defense is likely the best they'll face all season.
Prediction time: Pitt 38, Buffalo 17