It's over-the-top to think Pitt could somehow compete for the BCS this season, but hey, maybe they can win the Big East. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
You read that right. SI's Ben Glicksman picked your Pitt Panthers among five teams that could make a surprise run into the BCS picture.
While Teddy Bridgewater's Louisville team appears to be the heir apparent to fill West Virginia's power void in the Big East, Pitt could be primed to make one final conference statement before leaving for the ACC. The Panthers boast an All-America caliber running back in Ray Graham (he was the nation's second-leading rusher before tearing his ACL last October), an instant-impact freshman in Rushel Shell (he rushed for a state-record 9,078 yards during his career at Hopewell (Pa.) High) and a new coach in Paul Chryst who has a reputation for effectively running the football. After a tumultuous two-year span, Pitt may finally be getting back to the ground-and-pound style that matches the city's blue-collar mentality.
Embattled quarterback Tino Sunseri has to improve his decision-making, the offensive line needs to play up to Chryst's expectations and the defense must rally around sackmaster Aaron Donald as it transitions to a 4-3 scheme. But if Pitt can topple Louisville and Rutgers at home, it could set up a Dec. 1 matchup at South Florida with major postseason implications. With a win in that contest, Chryst could conceivably earn a BCS bowl berth in his first season at the helm.
Despite getting Pitt's 2011 record wrong (6-7), I nodded my head quite a bit reading that. I'm not sure thatLet's get one thing straight. The Big East will probably stink this year. Three schools likely have a ceiling of "average" - Temple, Syracuse, UConn - while five could top out at "pretty good" - Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida, Cincinnati, Pitt. The problem is that even if all five teams are "pretty good," they'll still be playing each other one weekly bases. So unless one team separates from the pack (and if I had to pick one, I'd pick Louisville), then we're probably looking at another year of a 5-2 conference champion.
That being said, there are a lot of reasons to think Pitt could be that 5-2 conference champion. As eluded to above, the whole conference could be just flat-out awful. It's fun to speculate which teams could take off and be really good, but there's also the flip side that everyone could be very, very bad at playing football. Rutgers will be relying on its defense to be the '85 Bears, South Florida is South Florida, Cincinnati has Munchie Legaux under center, etc., etc. The bottom line is that while there could be some decent teams in the conference this season, that's probably not going to happen - at least not for everyone. So why not Pitt pulling ahead as a relatively competent football team? Sure.
Obviously, all of us here at Cardiac Hill want Pitt to go out as Big East Champions for the obvious reasons. But just think about how awesome it'll be to hear Todd Graham take credit for it.