Joe Starkey of the Trib had a column that piqued my mundane curiosity a few days ago. Essentially, the gist of the article is that the only model of success for new head coach Todd Graham in his first season is a Big East championship.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I disagreed with Starkey.
The last two years? No doubt - Pitt needed to win the conference in each season. And when you look back at the debacle that was the Cincinnati game two years ago and the conference lead they held last year, it makes it even worse that Pitt didn't come away with the BCS berth in each season. The biggest problem, of course, was that Pitt didn't even win the title in one of those years. Had the Panthers done that, I don't think we'd have a new coach.
But that was then - this year is an entirely different situation.
Cliched as it may be, Todd Graham deserves time - certainly more than a year. Now, I realize the argument put forth by Starkey isn't that Graham should be let go after a season if he fails to win the nation's weakest BCS conference. But if Graham fails to win the conference, it doesn't mean the season was a failure.For starters, I think West Virginia may be better than expected. What if the Mountaineers go 10-2 and win the conference while Pitt wins nine games? Or even if both teams win ten regular season games (admittedly, probably a stretch for Pitt), but WVU wins the Backyard Brawl? If Todd Graham wins ten games in 2011, does that equal failure? Not in my eyes.
And it's not if it was possible to forget, what, with all the talk about high-octane offenses and all. But Graham is not only a new coach, but he's implementing an entirely different system. Despite what he says, he doesn't have the ideal personnel for running the system and it's going to be a work-in-progress.
In addition, Pitt lost more talent than many teams in the nation. Losing five NFL Draft picks and a few other key free agents is a big blow. And when you look at the fact that most of those guys were all-Big East performers, you get a pretty good idea of just how much Pitt lost.
Lastly, there's the talk about TCU (not by Starkey) joining the league next year and it's 'Now or Never.' Sorry, but the league, while better, shouldn't by any means be considered unwinnable in the future. TCU coming into the Big East in 2012 should have no bearing whatsoever on what is considered a successful season for Pitt in '11.
Look, I don't care how weak the league might be - the Big East is still a BCS conference. I won't be measuring Graham's success so much on if the team wins the conference - rather, on how Pitt looks on the field and how many games they win. I'm with Graham in the thought that he needs to win a minimum of nine games this season. Eight would be a disappointment and seven would have people rethinking his hiring.
But the bottom line is that if Pitt doesn't win the Big East, it's not necessarily a disappointing season - this year, anyway.