With spring practice upon us, there's been a lot of talk about the upcoming football season. So with that, I offer you five bold (and far too early) predictions for this year:
5. Pitt knocks off at least one heavyweight: The big three on the schedule for Pitt are Florida State, Notre Dame, and Miami. If the season started right now, all three would likely be favored ahead of the Panthers. But the bet here is that Pitt gets at least one win out of that group. I'm not dumb enough to predict which one, but with the way the Panthers play against top opponents, it's easy to see at least one win there.
4. The secondary will be not only good, but exceptional: Even though the team lost Jarred Holley and backup Andrew Taglianetti, I expect the secondary to have a huge season. They ranked 20th in the nation in pass defense last year and I think they can do even better in 2013. The team returns starters K'Waun Williams and Lafayette Pitts. Ray Vinopal will jump into Holley's spot, I imagine, and also returning is Big East interceptions leader in 2012 Jason Hendricks. With three returnees and some depth behind them, I can see this unit being otherworldly. For my money, this is the best unit on the team - and it's not even close.
3. Rushel Shell won't break out ... yet: Let's get this out of the way - I'm a huge fan of Rushel Shell. To me, he's the perfect blend of speed and power, and eventually, he will break out.. He's uber hard to bring down and there were several times last season when he only needed to break one more tackle before turning a modest gain into a big one. That said, look for defenses to key on the run to start the season (at least until they figure out if Pitt has a passing game). I think Shell will have a good season, but he could find yards tough at times. The other factor is that Isaac Bennett will be hungry for carries. He put up a monster spring last year before settling for a bench role. As the presumed backup, Bennett will push Shell hard for playing time and could take some of his carries.
2. The offensive line will be solid: To say that Pitt's offensive line hasn't been real strong in the past few years would be kind. Despite producing some decent individual players, the unit as a whole has struggled mightily. But I think we see things start to turn around in 2013. As I commented in a recent post, Cory King and Matt Rotheram were both starters last year and should be better. Juantez Hollins, a projected starter last season, is back from suspension. Gabe Roberts is young at center if he's the projected starter, but Adam Bisnowaty was a big-time recruit and is expected to be pretty good. They may not be great, but I think we'll see the unit start to improve this year. And when you factor in Dorian Johnson and all of the other young linemen in this year's recruiting class, it should be a position of strength in the next few years.
1. At some point in the year, we'll be calling for Tino: That's right, I'm back with more love for Tino Sunseri ... go figure. But with the big year he had this season, I don't think Pitt fans understood how well he played. He had flaws, but all quarterbacks do. And while this is no knock on Tom Savage, the guy I expect will walk away with the starting job, by the time the season rolls around, he won't have played in an actual game in close to three years. Don't forget - the last time we saw Savage he was being beaten out by freshman Chas Dodd at Rutgers (who turned out to be not all that good). I hope Savage is great, but chances are he'll have some stumbles along the way.