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Cardiac Hill Q&A with ESPN broadcaster Rece Davis

Over the past few years, ESPN has been unbelievably kind to us. Much of it has to do with the awesome Mike Humes, one of their communications gurus, who just happens to be a Pitt grad. Mike has often lined up their broadcasters for Q&As to give us some insight on individual games as well as a national perspective on Pitt.

This year is no different and we start off with the awesome Rece Davis who was kind enough to answer some of my questions. You can watch Rece on Monday as he'll be calling the action on ESPN. For Cardiac Hill, he discussed the Panthers, NCAA regulations, his favorite place to eat in the Burgh, and of course the big Florida State game among other things.


First things first - who has the best chance to knock off the Crimson Tide for a National Championship this season?

Once again, I think Alabama has the best team. But the best team doesn't always win championships. And in the modern era, no team has won three-straight titles as Alabama is attempting to do. In our preseason predictions, I picked Alabama to beat Stanford in the title game. I think Stanford's defensive front seven is as good as anyone's and better than almost everybody's, so the Cardinal would definitely have a shot at the title.

There are other obvious picks. Ohio State is talented – they pulled a couple out of the fire last year against lesser opponents. Just a hunch that going undefeated again might be a bit much to ask, but rest assured, as long as Urban is there, they'll be in the conversation. Oregon is also a candidate, but I'm taking a little bit of a wait and see approach with them. Chip Kelly gave them such an edge and attitude. You can keep the system and know the plays, but replacing that is a bit tougher. I do think the Ducks have the most complete quarterback in the country in Marcus Mariota. I even have an Aloha means Touchdown t-shirt that some Duck fans gave me last year. Mariota ripped off a long TD run vs. Arizona State and I said that as he streaked down the field. I wouldn't be surprised if Aloha means Heisman or championship either. I just want to see how they play with Mark Helfrich, who is a very good coach, in charge rather than Chip. Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M, assuming Manziel plays the entire season, would also be on my list.

Fans look at college football and many can't help but see a broken system. Johnny Manziel autograph scandals, jersey sales, the now-defunct NCAA/EA Sports partnership. Everything with any kind of a financial aspect seems to be a dark cloud over the sport. Do you think it's a system in need of a drastic overhaul or should the NCAA just kind of sit back and continue to police things the best they can?

I definitely think the time has come for a change. There are so many facets to this but let me be clear. We can't "fix" it. Just as people skirt or break rules and laws in our society, some will continue to do so no matter what system we implement. So allowing Johnny Manziel to make money signing autographs or a Devin Street to pick up a few bucks on a small endorsement won't stop every instance of cheating.

I respect those who say we'd be opening a can of worms if we allowed these guys to make money, but there's already a pretty sizable can of worms crawling around in college athletics now. So it comes down to this. What is the big advantage to restricting these guys financially? About the best answer people can come up with is either that's the way it's always been done or we don't know what they'll do with the money or where it will come from. Others might say some players would make more than others. Isn't that life? And if this is about teaching life lessons, aren't high achievers or more accomplished people or more desirable skills rewarded at a higher rate?

Yes, sometimes it's not fair, and sometimes we don't agree with our compensation relative to that of others, but we learn to deal with it. I don't think universities should be in the business of paying athletes beyond their scholarships. I do think they should be able to offer the full cost of attendance if they want to do so. I think the fairest course of action would be to give players who have value in the marketplace the freedom to reach legitimate deals.

Certainly there would need to be some parameters. I think it would be a bit hypocritical of me to say that those parameters would be some type of monetary limit, but surely there's a way to ensure that we had ethical, legitimate business arrangements in place. For those who operated outside those parameters, the punishments would need to be punitive.

In terms of enforcement, I think football and men's basketball need their own governing bodies. That could come under the umbrella of the NCAA, but it needs to be based in reality and not in the antiquated notion that they can "level the playing field." It's not level now. It never has been. Troy is never beating Alabama for recruits. Elon will never take a basketball player away from North Carolina or Duke. The big shots have advantages now. In order to make those sports as healthy as can be, we should just acknowledge that.

Scholarship limitations keep those schools from taking everybody so it's not as if the Bowling Greens of the world won't have any players. Some of them will still be excellent players. I'm like most college fans. I love the nostalgia associated with the game. I wish that simply donning the blue and gold and hearing Hail to Pitt made every player tear up and that was reward enough. For some, it is. What I can't come to terms with is restricting athletes in ways that no one else associated with college sports or no other student on campus is restricted.

I fully realize there would be issues, probably major ones, but I think it would be more a transparent enterprise. In the long run, it would be healthier for the game. While I do believe that what Manziel is alleged to have done should be allowed, it isn't now. If he is found to have done this, he should be punished severely. A violation like that is blatant and should be dealt with accordingly. Everybody wants to see him on the field. But the rules that are in place now must be followed without regard for status.

So Pittsburgh - I think you've been here several times for games over the years. Do you have a favorite spot to eat or do you just grab whatever's available?
Sal Sunseri is a very good friend of mine. I love going to his brothers' place in the strip district, Sunseri Brothers. Jimmy and Nino make you feel like family. The Italian food there is awesome – pasta, pizza, bruschetta, you name it. It's all good. Often we rely on Jesse Palmer who is an unabashed foodie to pick restaurants on the road, but my contribution of Sunseri Brothers was a win for me.

In Pittsburgh, fairly or unfairly, many fans have already given Paul Chryst a stamp of approval or have written him off. With so much coaching turmoil over the past few years, it's hard to see Chryst's seat getting too hot before at least three full seasons in my mind. From an outsider's point of view, what are you hearing about Chryst in all of your travels and in speaking with others covering the sport on a regular basis?
Paul Chryst is absolutely perfect for Pittsburgh. He's a highly regarded coach, he's tough-minded with great values and he's just what Pitt needs to stabilize their situation. He's not afraid to make tough decisions and instill discipline in order to build his program. And that's what he's building, a program, not just a team. In a pro market, attendance is always challenging. With the sensational home viewing experience now with HD and affordability of giant screens, the question is always, how do you get fans to fill the stadium? The only cure is winning big. I believe Paul will do that. Pitt has a great tradition and I think Paul and his staff will re-establish that. He showed great loyalty to Pitt by not pursuing the Wisconsin job. Let's be honest. He would've been a natural for that job. But he showed his level of commitment. Fans need to be patient. They will be very glad they did.
One interesting thing about the Labor Day game is that both teams will enter with questions at quarterback. Assuming he gets the start, what do you expect out of freshman Jameis Winston in his first game? Pitt isn't expected to set the world on fire this season, but in what should be a hostile environment for a nationally-televised night game, he could have some trouble, right?

Jameis is already a legend. He burns veteran DBs in the spring game, then hops aboard a plane to go be the closer for the Noles against Miami. He's shooting down baserunners from the outfield and throwing footballs over the Pike House. His gregarious personality puts him in line to be the next big thing in college football. But he's a freshman and certainly he could have some issues against a veteran defensive front. He will see game speed he hasn't experienced, but I believe he's going to be great. I picked Florida State to win the ACC.
Conversely, there's Pitt quarterback Tom Savage, who hasn't played in a game in about three years. All of the practice time he's gotten since leaving Rutgers, and subsequently Arizona, should have made him a smart player. But since there's no substitution for actual game experience how do you think he'll fare?
Here's where the Paul Chryst influence will be most evident. He has ALWAYS put quarterbacks in position to succeed. Tom Savage has a lot of natural talent and I think over the course of the season, he will play well. While Florida State is replacing a lot of defensive starters, they're replacing them with studs. There will be little drop off and think the speed will affect him early. But I suspect Chryst will give him plays and throws that will allow him to manage the game well.
Can you give Pitt fans a few Florida State names to watch for come game day?
Obviously, everyone will watch Winston, but running back Devonta Freeman has had a very good camp according to Jimbo Fisher. Most know about Rashad Greene but Kelvin Benjamin is a physical specimen at WR and is learning to forget expectations and just play. Defensively, LB Christian Jones is outstanding and DE Mario Edwards was highly recruited as well. He has trimmed down from weighing more than 3-bills, he should shine.
What does Pitt need to do to have a chance against the Seminoles on Labor Day?

Force turnovers. Florida State was minus-six in turnovers last year. Frustrate the young quarterback. Take advantage of every scoring opportunity. Florida State is extremely talented on D, but there are some new starters and they do have a new defensive coordinator. Pitt needs to be pounce on mistakes. Pitt's best chance is to run it effectively, keep it close and try to steal a win late. I can't wait to get there. It should be fun.

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