Posted by Chip Patterson
Picked in the top two of the Big East by most preseason polls, it is fair to say there are some high expectations of Todd Graham's first year as the Pittsburgh head coach. The school has made the former Tulsa coach the new face of the football program, even using his "high-octane" theme to market the football team at http://www.highoctanefootball.com.
So what exactly does Graham expect from his "high-octane" football?
"Our goal is to run 81 or 82 plays per game, and I believe that as long as we protect the ball, we're going to be able to do that," Graham said as the Panthers opened camp on Monday.
In 2010, West Virginia led the Big East averaging 69.8 plays per game and the Panthers were fifth averaging just under 64. If the new no-huddle attack does produce 81 or 82 plays per game, it would rank them among the top offenses in the nation - where Graham's Tulsa team was a year ago.
There is no reason to think that the Panthers can't achieve their goal with the personnel on the field. Junior quarterback Tino Sunseri, son of Alabama linebackers coach Sal Sunseri, is a fast learner and has reportedly improved with the move to a shotgun formation. All-conference receiver Jon Baldwin may be gone, but Mike Shanahan (43 catches, 589 yards in 2010) and 6-foot-4 sophomore Devin Street will serve as the perfect compliment to the speedy return man Cameron Saddler - who will likely takeover the "Z receiver" position in the spread.
Ray Graham returns after a breakout 2010 that earned him 3rd Team All-Big East honors while sharing the load with Dion Lewis. The high play count will mean that some of the other running backs will need to step up, but there is no doubting Graham's playmaking ability on the field.
The Big East is filled with multiple looks on offense and defense, with no clear cut trend across the league. Seeing how the Panthers "high-octane" system matches up against different defenses will be just one of the story lines to keep an eye on in the upcoming Big East season.