Since last season, we've seen the timely exit of a snake oil salesman, a disappointing basketball season, and a training camp under the new man in town. Now, after all the speculating, another football season is finally upon us.
First up, the Penguins of Youngstown State.
I'm not going to sugar coat this or play Joe Paterno or Dave Wannstedt here. Pitt should win this game. It might not be a blowout, but I'd even go as far as to say Pitt should win fairly comfortably. Youngstown State has been routed in the two times they've played the Panthers - they were blanked 41-0 in 2005 to a pretty bad 5-6 Pitt team and 38-3 to Pitt's 10-win 2009 program. This Pitt team is probably in the middle of those two squads and while we can't really use those two contests as a barometer when determining what Pitt will do to the Penguins, there's nothing to make me believe Pitt shouldn't win fairly comfortably.
That said, Youngstown State is far from being without weapons. In the backfield, there's All-Conference running back Jamaine Cook, who racked up approximately 1,400 yards last season on more than five per carry. Rant Sports recently called him a small school prospect to watch for the 2013 NFL Draft. And under center, Kurt Hess was All-Conference even as only a sophomore in 2011. Both are co-captains and helped the Penguins to 77 (no, really ... 77) points against Valparaiso, 56 against Western Illinois, and 49 against St. Francis. With the two main cogs from that offense back, the Penguins will score points this season. A lot of them. They were picked to finish third in the conference's preseason poll.
Sure, those games were against weaker programs, but they did play someone last year in the FBS that might be a decent benchmark.Last year, the Penguins took on Michigan State. While this year's Panthers probably won't be as good as that 11-win Spartan team, at least it's an opportunity to see how Youngstown State fared against a quality opponent. The answer? Not all that badly, losing 28-6 on the road. Sure, they had trouble putting points on the board in that game, but that's not all that shameful of a result against a ranked team on the road.
Now, with Cook and Hess a year older, I'm not all that convinced Pitt wins big as is probably expected. I do think they'll win by a couple of touchdowns, but 41-0 or 38-3? I'm not all that sure.
One encouraging thing was that the Penguins defense wasn't all that great last season (though they seem to be making strides this season so far). They gave up 35 points or more to Missouri State, Indiana State, and South Dakota State (a combined 13-20). Even with an offense with lots of question marks, it's hard to imagine they can't score some points against Youngstown State with some talented skill guys.
We'll have much more in the week on Youngstown State, so check back. But at first glance, this is a game Pitt should win. If not, it will be a long season.