Tag:Pitt
Posted on: April 29, 2011 1:45 pm
 

SEC dominates first round of NFL draft

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The SEC has been dominating the college football landscape for quite a while now, as the conference has been the home of the last five national champions. So it's not exactly surprising that during the first round of the NFL Draft on Thursday night, more players who called the SEC home during their college career were taken than any other conference.

In fact, nearly a third of the players taken on Thursday night were SEC players. There were 32 picks, and 10 of them were from the SEC, including five of the first six picks. The only non-SEC player taken in the top six was Texas A&M's Von Miller, who went to the Denver Broncos with the second pick. Other than that there was a distinct SEC flavor, with the state of Alabama being able to lay claim as the best college football state in the country. Auburn saw Cam Newton go to Carolina with the first pick, while Nick Fairley went 13th to the Detroit Lions.  Then there was the Crimson Tide, who basically had their own table in the green room, and everyone who sat at it -- and even one player who didn't -- heard their name called on Thursday night.

Marcell Dareus (#3 Buffalo), Julio Jones (#6 Atlanta), James Carpenter (#25 Seattle) and Mark Ingram (#28 New Orleans) all gave Nick Saban some valuable face time on television last night. Elsewhere in the conference, Georgia's A.J. Green (#4 Cincinnati), LSU's Patrick Peterson (#5 Arizona), Florida's Mike Pouncey (#15 Miami) and Mississippi State's Derek Sherrod (#32 Green Bay) were drafted as well.

Here's a look at selections by conference in last night's first round (both Nebraska and Colorado still counted for the Big 12).

  1. SEC - 10
  2. Big 12 - 8
  3. Big 10 - 6
  4. Pac-12 - 3
  5. ACC - 3
  6. Big East - 1
  7. MAC - 1

That's it. While it was a great year for the Big 12, what's somewhat surprising about the eight players drafted from the conference is that Missouri had two, Colorado had two and Baylor had another two. Not exactly your classic Big 12 powers. In fact, Oklahoma and Texas combined for none of the picks last night. Which can be looked at two ways. You might say that it's because neither school produced any top talent last season. I prefer to think of it as neither school lost any of its top talent this year.

There's a reason a lot of people think Oklahoma will start the year at #1 after all.

Then there was the Big 10, who had six picks, but it should be noted that all six players drafted from the Big Ten last night were lineman, whether offensive or defensive. Surprise! The Big Ten didn't have any top talent at the "skill" positions. Still, if you're a skilled defensive lineman in high school right now, there are worse places for you to play than the Big Ten, as Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois, and Iowa all sent members of the defensive line to the NFL last night.

Then, in other not-so-surprising news, we see that the Big East had only one player taken in the first round last night. The same amount as the MAC, which was the only non-BCS conference to be noticed last night, as Temple's Muhammad Wilkerson went to the Jets with the 30th selection. The one Big East player to be taken was Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin to Kansas City at 26, which came as a bit of a surprise as most grades on Baldwin saw him as being an early to mid-second round pick.

Of course, this isn't the end of the NFL Draft by any means. There are still three days and six rounds left to get through, and who knows what the numbers will look like by Sunday night? More importantly, the true measuring stick of the conferences success on the pro level won't be known for years. It's not the amount of players you funnel into the league, it's the players who last on the next level and succeed that really tell the story.

Though that's not going to stop the "S-E-C!" chants.

Posted on: April 25, 2011 12:56 pm
 

Ex-Michigan CB Christian transferring to Pitt

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Apparently the Ann Arbor-to-Pittsburgh exodus isn't just for coaches.

Earlier this year, new Pitt coach Todd Graham took full advantage of Rich Rodriguez's dismissal to hire away three different former Wolverine assistants. It's a decision that's already paying dividends where the Panthers' roster is concerned, according to this report at Scout.com; thanks in part to his familiarity with new defensive backs coach Tony Gibson, former four-star recruit and 2010 Michigan cornerback Cullen Christian has elected to transfer to Pitt.

For the Panthers, it's a welcome addition to a 2012 secondary that finished 19th in the country in pass defense a year ago but has its work cut out for it under Graham, thanks both to the Panthers' new defense-straining no-huddle offense and a 2011 two-deep that could feature as many as four seniors. Christian (like virtually every member of Michigan's 2010 pass defense) didn't do much to stand out as a true freshman in Ann Arbor, but did see action in 11 games and recorded six tackles.

A Pittsburgh native, Christian's return home and ability to continue working under his original position coach could see him fulfill the potential that made him one of Pennsylvania's most sought-after prospects in the class of 2010.

But where Michigan is concerned, it's yet another blow to a secondary that's already sustained a decade's worth of blows the past few seasons. The Wolverine pass defense was already in tatters last August, and that was before Troy Woolfolk missed a season with a serious ankle injury, Vlad Emilien left the team, Jared Van Slyke broke his clavicle, Ray Vinopal left the team ... you get the picture. Christian's decision not only deprives Brady Hoke of a much-needed scholarship body at corner, but of the highest-ranked recruit remaining in the entire secondary.

It's not a pretty picture for the Wolverine pass defense. But don't expect an unproven, first-year staff like Graham's to have much sympathy.

Posted on: April 18, 2011 12:28 pm
 

Big East and ESPN discussing extension

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Big East and ESPN have had a business relationship for 32 years and the two entities are currently at work to make sure that relationship lasts even longer. The current television deal between ESPN and the Big East runs through 2013, but both sides are currently negotiating a new deal, and early indications are that the new deal will be extremely helpful for the Big East. At the moment, the Big East receives $36 million annually from its deal with ESPN. The new contract that is in the preliminary rounds of discussion could see the conference more than tripling that income.

Sources indicate the early numbers range from $110 million to $130 million annually, but conference sources describe those figures as a starting point for any negotiation. The initial offer would fall short of the $155 million annual payout the ACC will receive from ESPN in a deal that kicks in this summer. But the bold push by ESPN shows the network wants to lock down college rights in the face of increasing competition.

Now, while you might think that the Big East would be in a rush to sign any deal that more than triples its income, that's not the case. Not everybody within the conference is as willing to sign with ESPN right now, but would rather test the open market. Which seems somewhat ridiculous. If your boss came up to you today and said he wanted to triple your salary, odds are that you wouldn't tell the boss that you'd like to see what you'd rather test unemployment first.

Of course, the job economy is quite different than the television rights for major college conferences at the moment.

Just look at the Big 12. A year ago at this time people were basically writing the eulogy for the Big 12 as the conference was losing Nebraska and Colorado, and seemed to be on the precipice of losing Texas and Oklahoma as well. As we know now, the Big 12 did not die, and just signed a new deal with Fox Sports last week that is going to bring in $90 million a year for the conference, while Texas and Oklahoma are busy starting their own networks. Also, if the Big 12 could get $90 million, then you know Larry Scott and the Pac-12 are sitting around licking their chops.

So odds are that if the Big East did decide to test the open market, it may be able to get more than what ESPN is already offering, even if it may still wind up being ESPN signing the check. Now, obviously, the reason the Big East is able to command so much money is not because of football. The conference's basketball league is what really drives the price up, but this new deal could go a long way in improving the conference in football.

If nothing else, it may help keep schools like Pitt and Syracuse around and not looking to relocate. After all, just because the Big Ten says it's done expanding, that doesn't mean it is, and both Pitt and Syracuse came up as expansion candidates with the Big Ten before the conference decided to stop at Nebraska.

Posted on: March 30, 2011 6:56 pm
 

Spring Practice Primer: Kentucky

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice  . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Kentucky, which started spring practice last week.

Spring Practice Question: Can the 'Cats find a passing game?

When all was said and done, the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were about what the 2010 Kentucky Wildcats were supposed to be: good enough to scrape to a low-level bowl game (the Birmingham-based BBVA Compass Bowl) , good enough for one major upset (against South Carolina) and a couple of scares, but not good enough to make any real noise even in a watered-down SEC East (2-6 conference record), and not nearly good enough to regain the momentum and top-25 attention from the Andre Woodson glory years. Around .500 was where the Wildcats were expected to finish, and around .500 -- 6-7 following the bowl loss to Pitt, specifically -- was where they wound up.

But that doesn't mean there wasn't something of a major surprise in how the Wildcats got to "around .500" in the first year of the Joker Phillips era. The first couple of seasons following Woodson's departure, Kentucky relied heavily on their ground game as an experienced offensive line, talented rushers like Randall Cobb and Derrick Locke, and iffy quarterbacking made that the 'Cats best option. Thanks to Cobb's dynamism and versatility, the Wildcat frequently became the offense's most effective form of attack.

With Cobb and Locke still around and the inefficient Mike Hartline still under center, not many expected that plan to change coming into 2010. But a strong fall camp from Hartline -- which he needed simply to keep the job away from sophomore Morgan Newton -- led to a stunningly good season; the senior increased his yards per-attempt by nearly two full yards and improved his touchdown-to-interception ratio from 6-to-7 to an impressive 23-to-9. The end result? The second-leading passing offense in the SEC at 269 yards a game and the 31st-best team quarterbacking rating in the country.

Of course, Hartline didn't manage it alone. There was Cobb, for starters, who made multiple All-American teams as an all-purpose player but spent most of his time at wideout and wound up with 1,017 receiving yards. He was followed closely by 6'5" Chris Matthews, who blossomed after a ho-hum junior season with 925 yards of his own. Even Locke chipped in with 318 yards out of the backfield.

So the good news for Kentucky is that after years of relying on one aspect or the other, their offense finally gained some semblance of balance. The bad news is that all the key players who made that balance possible are gone: Hartline, Matthews, and Locke have all graduated, and Cobb elected to turn pro a year early.

What's left is, on paper, less-than-inspiring. Newton will take over at quarterback after completing just 58 percent of his 43 passes in 2010 without a touchdown; he threw 135 times in 2009 but completed just 55 percent of those for a meager 5.2 yards per-attempt. But Kentucky won't have many other options, with Phillips citing grayshirted true freshman Max Smith as Newton's only competition at the moment. (Smith and Newton are, in fact, the 'Cats only scholarship quarterbacks.)

Spring Practice Primers
At receiver, junior La'Rod King returns after snaring 36 balls for 478 yards a year ago. But the next most prolific returning wideout is senior Matt Roark, who caught just 12 receptions without a touchdown, and no other wideout caught more than three. Tight end Jordan Aumiller and whoever emerges at running back -- likely sophomore Raymond Sanders -- will no doubt contribute as well, but it's nonetheless hard to see Newton getting that much help out of his receiving corps.

That doesn't mean there's not hope, though. Phillips is the same coach who coaxed the massive year-to-year improvement out of Hartline; who's to say he can't do the same with the athletic Newton? And if Newton won't get that big of a boost from his receivers, he ought to get plenty of one from his running game, one led by an offensive line with four retunring starters including all-conference junior guard Larry Warford. Then there's Phillips himself, who's guided the Kentucky offense for years and has consistently produced quality results.

But this is likely his biggest challenge yet. Without a functional passing game, even this line likely wouldn't be able to generate a game-winning rushing attack all on its own, and certainly not without the likes of Cobb or Locke. The Wildcat defense should improve, but if Phillips can't use this spring to rebuild some measure of last year's aerial success, Kentucky's school-record bowl streak may not make it to 2012.


Posted on: March 9, 2011 10:45 am
Edited on: March 9, 2011 10:47 am
 

Miami (Ohio) wins awkwardly-timed coaching award

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

It's not every day an entire team wins a coaching award, particularly for the coaching done by a coach who's no longer employed by that team (or any other). But yesterday was one of those days, as the Miami (Ohio) Redhawks were honored with the 2011 Lee Tressel Ohio College Coach of the Year Award, given by the Northeastern Ohio chapter of the National Football Foundation.

It's the kind of announcement that raises a whole host of questions. Fortunately, we're here to answer them:

They really gave a coaching award to an entire team? Yes, yes they did, and it makes a certain kind of sense when you consider that maybe no team in the FBS was better-coached last season than the Redhawks, who went from a miserable 1-11 in 2009 to a triumphant 10-4 in 2010. Add in Miami's MAC and GoDaddy.com Bowl championships, and there's no doubt the Redhawks' campaign represented the best in Ohio college coaching last year.

So why not honor the coach that made it happen? For the obvious reason, no doubt: that that coach was later arrested on ugly domestic violence charges and unceremoniously dumped from his new head gig at Pitt. Giving Mike Haywood a coaching award right about now would be almost as awkward as giving out some kind of coaching integrity award to Jim Tressel .

Speaking of ... I'm assuming Lee Tressel is related to Jim? Yes, it's Jim's father.

So the Northeastern Ohio Chapter of the National Football Foundation's timing could have been a little better, it seems like? It's certainly no fault of their own. But yes, given the events of yesterday evening, seeing the last name "Tressel" used synonymously with "great achievements in Ohio-based college coaching" feels a little ... awkward this morning. Doesn't it?

Of course, Haywood or no Haywood, "Tressel" on the plaque or no "Tressel" on the plaque, it's still a heck of an honor and one Miami richly deserved. Congratulations are in order. The Redhawks will simply hope that next time they receive it, it'll arrive with a bit simpler fanfare.



Posted on: March 7, 2011 6:16 pm
 

Could Pitt get in Villanova's way?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Last week there was a report that Villanova was close to coming to a decision and making the jump from the FCS level to join the Big East. The Big East added TCU to the conference with play beginning in 2012, and as the conference looks for a tenth member, Villanova does make sense based on their success at the FCS level. Add in the fact that the school is already a member of the Big East's basketball conference, and it becomes even more feasible.

Though according to one report, though it may make sense for both Villanova and the Big East to become partners, there's another school in the conference that may not be as excited by the idea.
According to sources close to the situation, administrators at the University of Pittsburgh are unhappy with the idea of having such a small venue in the conference, and would prefer that Villanova plays it’s home games at a venue that can hold a minimum of 35,000 fans (to match Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium).
Pittsburgh was also reportedly upset that Villanova has pushed the ultimate decision on this issue back until April, despite the fact that large the capital investment in moving from FCS to FBS football requires more due-diligence than a move from one FBS conference to another.
The tiny venue Pitt seems worried about would be PPL Park, which is where Villanova would prefer to play its games. As presently constructed, the stadium only seats 18,500. Only two schools in the FBS have stadium's with a smaller capacity than that: Idaho and FIU. It would also be the lowest capacity in the Big East by far.

Still, I'm not sure Pitt's real problem with Villanova is stadium size. I wonder if Pitt's hesitation has more to do with a third BCS conference school suddenly showing up in the state of Pennsylvania, as Pitt already has to compete with Penn State for recruits in the state.

Besides, it's not as though Villanova doesn't have options. While the school isn't likely to spend money constructing a new stadium, there are other places it can play. First of all, PPL Park was built with expansion in mind, and it's possible that the place could seat around 30,000. Then there's Franklin Field, which seats over 50,000, but that would be a problem because it's on another campus: Pennsylvania. Scheduling could prove to be quite a headache with both the Quakers and Wildcats sharing the stadium.

A natural move would be to have Villanova play at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The problem there is that Temple holds the lease on the stadium until 2017, and there's no way that three football teams can call the place home at once. Though it is possible that Villanova could play in a temporary home until 2017 when the lease expires, and then move into Lincoln Financial Field.

Bottom line, if Villanova wants to join the Big East, then Villanova is going to join the Big East. The only thing that can keep Villanova from making the move is Villanova itself.
Posted on: March 7, 2011 2:24 pm
 

Graham promises 'high-octane' football at Pitt

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

The past few seasons, there haven't been many adjectives less applicable to Pitt than "high-octane." Even in the Panthers' best days under Dave Wannstedt, their erratic passing game and slog-it-out rushing attack -- on display in the cavernous, often frigid, choppy, rarely lively Heinz Field -- never made for appointment viewing. When arguably the most memorable game* of your team's past decade is the lowest-scoring bowl game in 40 years , yes, it's probably time to look for something a little more pulse-pounding.

So it's no surprise that Todd Graham has begun his Pitt tenure by promising exactly that :
Members of the Pitt athletic department distributed gray T-shirts to season ticket holders that had on them, in blue ink, "High Octane Football, Coming Soon to Heinz Field."

Those shirts summarized football coach Todd Graham's message to fans during a "Let's Talk Football With Coach Graham," event Sunday at Petersen Events Center: Next season his offense will stomp on the gas pedal, creating more offensive possessions and more explosive plays.

"This isn't nanotechnology or nuclear science," Graham told the crowd of approximately 2,000. "We are going to mentally and physically wear you out."

If Graham and co-offensive coordinator Mike Norvell live up to their talk, some information-processing nanotechnology might actually be necessary to help Panther fans understand what they're seeing; they promised to snap the ball within five seconds of it being marked ready for play, to run the two-minute offense the entire game and throw "10 40-yard passes outside the hash marks per game." Tino Sunseri throwing a three-yard check-down on third-and-13, this sounds like it is not.

What it sounds like, in fact, is a carbon-copy of the offense installed by Gus Malzahn when he worked under Graham at Tulsa. The question is whether Graham can transplant it to Pitt with any real success; even with Malzahn on hand, the Golden Hurricane defense (the side of the ball on which Graham, a former defensive coordinator, would have more input) struggled so badly opposite the high-tempo no-time-of-possession offense that Graham never did win a Conference USA title. And at Auburn, Malzahn reined in the tempo to a certain degree ... and won a national title.

So it remains something of a question mark whether the all-out offensive approach can work for someone who's not a Chip Kelly- level genius. But after so much time spent watching -- or sleeping through -- Wannstacheball, it's understandable that Pitt and its fans want to give it a shot.

*Personally, this blogger would argue for the Panthers' wild 45-44 loss to Cincinnati to see the 2009 Big East title slip away, but that game's not nearly as representative of the Wannstedt era ... nor one Pitt fans will want to recall any more than the Sun Bowl disaster.

Posted on: March 4, 2011 1:44 pm
 

Dave Wannstedt defends his time at Pitt

Posted by Tom Fornelli

On Wednesday Sports Illustrated and CBS News released a story about the amount of football players in college sports with arrest records, and the lack of background checks that schools are performing on these players. Without a doubt, the school that emerged from the story with the biggest black eye on its reputation was Pitt, as the Panthers have had quite a few run-ins with the law as of late. Of course, this also reflected poorly on former head coach Dave Wannstedt, who oversaw the program as all these arrests were taking place.

On Thursday Wannstedt, now with the Buffalo Bills, tried to defend himself. Saying that while there were some problems while he was at Pitt, he was still proud of what he'd accomplished at the school.

"We had an unfortunate stretch of incidents last summer but I am very proud of our body of work during my six years with regards to players behavior," Wannstedt told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Every player [we recruited] was evaluated and scrutinized and we tried to project whether they would become productive members of our football program as well as the university at large. Every player and each incident was evaluated on an individual basis and we did our due diligence to make sure that we treated each player fair and almost all of the incidents resulted in either a suspension or a player being eliminated from our program and many of the incidents in question did not result in a conviction of any kind.

"Our players understood their responsibility, they graduated and for the most part, they did the right things."

Unfortunatly for Wannstedt, the results seem to indicate otherwise. Incredibly, only hours after the story went public, news of another Pitt football player being arrested emerged. The most amazing part of Fernando Diaz's arrest was that he needed to be Tasered by police four times before finally being subdued. However, the most telling part of Diaz's arrest was what his teammate said to him as he was struggling with the police.

Diaz's teammate told him to calm down because Dave Wannstedt was no longer the head coach, and that new head coach Todd Graham was going to make an example of him.

Sounds like Pitt players really did understand their responsibility. Get in trouble under coach Wannstedt and they just might get slapped on the wrist.
 
 
 
 
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