Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com graded the Panthers' first season under head coach Paul Chryst and gave them a B-.
With the 2012 campaign fully wrapped up and national signing day still a couple weeks away, things are pretty slow on the football front. To stay busy during the winter doldrums, the bloggers over at ESPN.com have been looking back at the season for each Big East team and assigning a grade. How did they assess Pitt?
Starting with the offense, Fortuna gave Pitt a B-.
OFFENSE: Another new coach and another new scheme figured to present its challenges for an offense that had been through seemingly everything the previous two years. And while Paul Chryst's simplified, pro-style attack better suited fifth-year quarterback Tino Sunseri, there were still some loose ends, especially early in the season. The passing offense improved, from 77th nationally to 46th. Pitt went from No. 88 to No. 71 in total offense, and from No. 83 to No. 74 in scoring offense.
The rankings are always interesting to look at and a good way to get some perspective on where your team falls in the big picture. And as the rankings show, Pitt did improve offensively in 2012 going from 88th to 71st in total offense. Sunseri had a banner year (at least statistically), Ray Graham rushed for over 1,000 yards, and receivers Mike Shanahan & Devin Street amassed 983 and 975 yards receiving, respectively. Lots of good numbers, but at the end of the day, not much to show for it. And as Fortuna points out, the offensive line still struggled, ranking 102nd in sacks allowed. I'd say a B- or maybe a C+ is fair for the offense.
Moving to the defense, Fortuna bumped the grade up a bit, giving Dave Huxtable's unit a B+.
DEFENSE: Pitt went from 35th to 17th nationally in total defense, from 38th to 23rd nationally in scoring D, and from 72nd to 20th nationally in passing D. Pitt made a very nice turnaround after a terrible start to the season, when it gave up 31 points to FCS Youngstown State and 34 to rival Cincinnati. In winning three of their next five games, the Panthers surrendered 17 or fewer points four times, and they had Notre Dame in a 20-6 fourth-quarter hole before a late collapse. Holding Rutgers and South Florida to nine combined points put a nice bow on a regular season that started off on the wrong foot, as the two wins made Pitt bowl-eligible.
Aside from the two-game blip to start the year, the numbers speak for themselves here. Pitt's defense was pretty darn good in 2012. Aaron Donald had a monster year - making an appearance on nearly every play, it seemed - racking up 64 tackles and 5.5 sacks. The secondary was also noticeably stingy. The disappointing factor here is that Huxtable quit at the end of the season and Chryst has yet to hire a replacement. Now there are plenty of qualified coaches out there and by no means was Huxtable indispensable, but he proved to be a great coach over the course of the season. I'd be comfortable bumping up ESPN's grade a bit further and giving the defense an A- for 2012.
Overall, Fortuna had this to say:
OVERALL: The usual growing pains ultimately left the Panthers with the same 6-7 record in their final Big East season as they had one year earlier, with both campaigns ending with losses in Birmingham, Ala.
They failed to close out a number of games -- including second-half leads against BCS-bowl teams Louisville and Notre Dame -- but the team's response after an awful start to the era speaks highly of their belief in Chryst, who will enter Year 2 as an ACC coach.
Given that the Panthers finished with a losing record, I can't bring myself to give them anything higher than a C+ overall. However, that C+ comes with a lot of positive footnotes and a good deal of excitement heading into the ACC.