So, pretty much the unthinkable happened that Robert Foster picked Alabama right?
Foster's decision was a surprise for sure. There weren't many credible reports out there with definitive statements on where he was leaning, but the consensus was that he would end up at Pitt. That was largely due to the local tie and that they had outlasted every other major program to this point bidding for his services.
But when it comes right down to it, Pitt is simply no Alabama. Sure, the Panthers have a nice little program. Every now and then they win a big game to give the fan base hope that they've turned the corner. And historically, Pitt matches up against nearly any program in the country when you look at the multiple national championships before most of us were born, the number of players in the NFL, and the number of Hall of Famers that have been churned out. There really are few programs that can match up with Pitt in all of those categories, but when we're talking the here and now, Bama is the nation's top program ... and it ain't even all that close.
Alabama is the proverbial richest man living in the biggest house on the biggest hill in the biggest part of town as Jeff in Richmond used to say on the Jim Rome show. Even though they compete in the difficult SEC, they've not only thrived, but utterly dominated the competition. Over the last four years, they've won at least 12 games every season except one when they went 9-3. They've also got two of the past three national championships and could add a third this year. The Crimson Tide are looking like a program that can't be stopped.
Pitt has O fries.
Okay, so that's not exactly fair. The university has a ton going for it, is a great educational institution, and is in a neighborhood of a pretty nice urban city. But on the football field, the success Pitt had under Dave Wannstedt's last three years is incredibly modest compared to what Alabama's been able to achieve. And in case you forgot, that was the Panthers' most success in 30 years. The program has since had two .500 seasons and has really struggled as a whole. It's not that Pitt can't compete, but they've got a long way to go.
So for Foster, while the actual decision wasn't easy, the difference in the two programs was really quite simple. Does he stick with the hometown, become a local hero, and try to help Pitt back to prominence, or does he go somewhere that he could not only be on the national stage, but also wind up with a few national championships? Really, the decision really came down to the local benefits vs. the football benefits. No matter how well Pitt turns it around under Chryst, the chance of playing for a national championship isn't even really on the radar at this point.
In the end, Foster went with the winner. I don't fault him for it and neither should anybody. It was a tough call and while we all wanted him to be the local hero, he didn't want to go that route. The move is unfortunate because the Panthers are really in need of a star receiver over the next few seasons to pair with young quarterbacks Tra'Von Chapman and Chad Voytik. Devin Street could be back for his senior season next year, but the Panthers lose their other top three receivers in Mike Shanahan, Cam Saddler, and running back Ray Graham. A good quarterback can make up for a deficiency at wide receiver (see John Elway), but it's always better to have talent at that position ... and not to mention we have no real idea what to expect from the quarterback position next year, anyway.
Lastly, there's the talk that Foster could change his mind. That's entirely possible, but I don't think it happens without a Nick Saban departure to the NFL. Foster may wake up a few times before he signs his name on the dotted line and wonder if he made the right decision, but I don't know that anything so drastic occurs that he reverses field (side note: How great of a face turn would it be if Foster totally set this up only to sign with Pitt?). You'll hear it a ton over the next few weeks, but the best the Panthers can probably hope for at this point is a Saban jump to the NFL.
The important thing to remember is that while this wasn't ideal for the program, it's hardly the end of the world. Pitt has one of the most talented young running backs in the country, two good candidates at quarterback to lead the program over the next four years, a historically good defense, and what should be an improved offensive line down the road with Dorian Johnson and Paul Chryst with his run-oriented offenses. The future is still looking up for the Panthers so if Foster doesn't pull a 180, it won't be catastrophic. And in the category of 'painfully obvious', Chryst now needs to try even harder to find a way to get Tyler Boyd to commit to the program.