Friday, March 18, 2005

Pitt's Golden Boy Already Rusting?

The Dave Wannstedt Era at the University of Pittsburgh is approaching only its three month anniversary but challenges are already mounting for the new leader. After resigning as the head coach of the NFL's Miami Dolphins in November, Wannstedt was selected as Walt Harris' successor. While it did not appear that Pitt wanted to retain Harris as its head football coach, Harris now holds that position at Stanford as the successor to Buddy Teevens. With the recent steady decline of the Big East as a football conference, it is arguably an upgrade. Harris wasted no time in recruiting at Stanford, landing four star prospects DE Matt Kopa, DT James McGillicuddy, DE Will Powers and DE Ekom Udofia. Meanwhile, Wannstedt managed to lure only one "major" prospect to Oakland in the form of RB Conredge Collins out of Florida. Considering both men had the same amount of time to recruit student athletes and Pitt was coming off an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl while Stanford was coming off a disappointing 4-7 finish. Much like Pitt's Keystone State rival Penn State, the Cardinal did more with less while Pitt underachieved. However, recruiting is off to a good start for the Panthers for the Class of 2006 having already received verbal commitments from two of Pennsylvania's top players.

The struggles for Pitt do not end with recruiting, scheduling and attendance are major concerns for the coming season. The Panthers are guaranteed a sell out for the season opener as Notre Dame will pay a visit to Heinz Field. Unfortunately for Pitt, a good deal of the fans in the stands will not be wearing the blue and gold of the Panthers, rather the blue and gold of Notre Dame. The rest of the home schedule is very underwhelming with the likes of Youngstown State, Cincinnati, South Florida, Syracuse and UConn visit the Steel City. The Panthers have both rival West Virginia and Big East favorite Louisville on the road. None of the games are likely to help Pitt do any better than maintain their average attendance of about 42,000 in 2004, a steady decline from 2003.

The truth about the University of Pittsburgh's football future is not pretty. While their coaching staff features two ex-NFL coaches, Wannstedt and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, both were failures at the pro level. Wannstedt was awful with Chicago and underperformed in Miami. Cavanaugh meanwhile led the anemic Baltimore Ravens offense and failed to shape Kyle Boller into a worthy pro quarterback. Pitt's imagine as a major football program also took a hit when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College were invited to join the ACC. Pitt would have been just as easy to integrate into the ACC as Boston College, if not easier. The ACC saw the writing on the wall, the Panthers are pretenders as a major football program. They have rented Heinz Field from the Pittsburgh Steelers since Pitt Stadium closed and they do not appear to making efforts towards changing this predicament. Dave Wannstedt has an uphill climb to re-establish Pitt as a "football power", a task that will be even more difficult if he chooses to institute a power-running game rather than sticking with a pass-heavy offense that QB Tyler Palko and WR Greg Lee thrived on in 2004. Pitt should reach a bowl game and contend for the Big East title but I see Louisville and West Virginia finishing ahead of them. I will predictt a 7-4 finish, including losses to Notre Dame and Nebraska.


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