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Pitt women’s soccer goes undefeated through four

Freshman talent has emerged to give the Panthers a boost

The Pitt women’s soccer team is undefeated through its first four games of the 2017 season. Though it’s too early to tell if that success is sustainable, the outlook is good, and several young players have already emerged as key contributors.

So far this season, the Panthers have beaten Hofstra and Duquesne, with a final score of 1-0 in each of those games. They’ve also played well on the road, earning draws against Cincinnati and Xavier in their last two outings.

To put that into perspective, every team Pitt has played this season other than Xavier posted a winning record with 10 or more wins last season. The Panthers, meanwhile, went 2-15-1 overall, earning the second-worst RPI ranking among Power Five teams. So this represents significant progress.

Much of this recent success is the result of an influx of freshman talent that has paid off surprisingly quickly. In fact, the wins over Hofstra and Duquesne were largely freshman showcases.

The season opener against Hofstra was won on the foot of freshman forward Juelle Love, who knocked in an opportunistic shot after Pride goalkeeper Ashley Wilson was forced to fend off an aggressive attack from redshirt junior striker Taylor Pryce. Pryce was credited with an assist, as was freshman midfielder Vildan Kardesler.

Kardesler — who captained the German national team at the U17 level before coming to Pitt — came up big against Duquesne with a game-winner in the 101st minute of a defensive struggle that went into double overtime. Head coach Greg Miller described Kardesler as “an extreme talent,” per Pitt’s website, and after her impressive start, it will be interesting to see what she can do this season.

Of course, Pitt wouldn’t have had the chance to win those tight games without redshirt freshman goalkeeper Katelyn McEachern. She defended eight shots against the Pride and the Dukes, recording back-to-back shutouts and earning ACC Defensive Player of the Week honors for her efforts.

Coach Miller was asked about his freshmen after the win over Duquesne, and he sounded genuinely impressed.

“This freshman class is fantastic,” he said, per Pitt’s website. “Great talent, great human beings and it’s great for their confidence early on to be contributing in that way. We’ll get the older ones involved, and they’ll get theirs. But it’s great that we have some variety, because you never know where the goals are going to come from, and we need them.”

The upperclassmen did get involved against Cincinnati on Thursday, as Pryce netted a brace to give Pitt a comfortable lead early in the second half. She was assisted by freshman forward Jess McCoppin, but that was the end of the freshman highlights.

McEachern had a tough night in Cincinnati, letting in two late goals from Bearcats defender Vanessa Gilles and midfielder Gabrielle LoPresti. The first goal was hardly McEachern’s fault, as the Pitt defenders lost track of Gilles, allowing her to slip behind them and head in a perfectly lofted ball by midfielder Katy Couperus. But LoPresti’s low shot, which McEachern got a hand on, seemed stoppable.

Still, most of this falls on the shoulders of Pitt’s defense, which let the Bearcats reel off 34 shots on the night, including 12 on goal. All in all, it was a disappointing outcome, considering Pitt had a tough Cincinnati team on the ropes early.

The Xavier game didn’t have as much offensive flash as the matchup with the Bearcats, but it ended on a much more uplifting note.

After falling behind 1-0 in the first half, the Panthers were able to fight back late and force a draw with a goal in the 84th minute. Junior forward Sarah Krause drew Xavier goalkeeper Toni Bizzarro out of the net with a shot that ricocheted toward redshirt junior Seyla Perez. Perez headed it in, evening up the score and sending the game into extra time.

McEachern made four saves in the game but was taken out for the second half after letting a header get by her in the 35th minute. She was replaced in goal by fellow redshirt freshman Amaia Pena, who made five stops and allowed no goals in 65 minutes.

With their road trip to Cincy in the books, the Panthers will head back home to take on Detroit and Illinois State. Both teams struggled in away games last season, so the Panthers have a legitimate shot at reaching four wins before they hit the road to face steeper challenges in Kent State and Nebraska.

Breaking Down the Two Deep: Pitt vs. Youngstown State

Looking at Pitt’s initial depth chart for the opener.

Quarterback

  1. Max Browne 6’5” 230 Senior
  2. Ben DiNucci 6’2” 220 Sophomore

It was announced last week that Max Browne was officially named the starter for the season opener, but I think most of us knew that was the likely outcome the second he transferred from USC. Browne’s story is well known by now, he is a former five star quarterback that never really found his footing for the Trojans. He comes to Pitt with one year to leave his mark. The talent and pedigree are there, he just needs to prove it on the field. Browne started some games for the Trojans last year, including one against Alabama, so he is not totally inexperienced.

DiNucci contended Browne throughout the Spring and recently Fall camp, but will enter the season as the backup. His only game experience came in the bowl game last season. He looked OK in the Spring game, and should be a solid backup this season.

Running Back

  1. Qadree Ollison 6’2” 230 Junior
  2. Darrin Hall 5’11” 220 Junior

Pitt only lists two backs on their initial depth chart, but that does not mean only two will play. We’ll start with the guys that are listed. Qadree Ollison is by far Pitt’s most experienced back, as he was the primary starter in 2015 and produced a 1,000 yard season. He also carried the ball 33 times last season for 127 yards and two scores. He obviously lost a lot of playing time with James Conner’s return. He will get the first crack as being the top back this year, but he will be pushed.

Also back for his junior season is Darrin Hall. Hall carried the ball 36 times last season, as opposed to 64 times as a freshman. He has 417 career rushing yards and two touchdowns. He too was affected by James Conner’s return and it limited his playing time. He has more speed than Ollison, and can add a different element.

Not listed is sophomore Chawtez Moss. He had more yards and carries than both Ollison and Hall last year, and flashed some skill as a freshman. He should push for playing time. Also looking for carries will be two highly touted freshmen, Todd Sibley and AJ Davis. It will be interesting to see if one or both guys can play this season.

Fullback

  1. Colton Lively 6’0” 235 Senior
  2. Erik Sellers 6’1” 230 Sophomore

Truthfully, I was not sure Pitt would even list a Fullback without the services of George Aston. He is injured for an undisclosed amount of time, but is expected back at some point this season. Obviously Aston was a good and versatile player for Pitt last season. It’s hard to say if Colton Lively and Erik Sellers can play the way Aston does. I expect Pitt to use multiple tight ends and three wide receivers quite a bit, but if they list a fullback, my guess they play to use one. We’ll see how the replacements handle the added responsibility.

Wide Receiver

  1. Jester Weah 6’3” 210 Senior // Quadree Henderson 5’8” 190 Junior
  2. Ruben Flowers III 6’3” 205 Freshman // Maurice Ffrench 5’11” 190 Sophomore
  3. Aaron Mathews 6’4” 205 Sophomore // Rafael Araujo-Lopes 5’9” 190 Junior

Pitt returns both starters at wide receiver. Jester Weah is back after a breakout campaign in 2016. Weah caught 36 passes for 872 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 24.2 yards per cage was the second best average natioanlly, and he should prove to be one of the best deep threats in college football once again. Pitt will also look to get more ways to get Quadree Henderson the ball. The reverses and sweeps maybe watched closer by opposing defenses, so the hope is that he developed more as a pass catcher for this season.

The depth took a blow when Pitt lost Tre Tipton for the year, but they have some guys with experience behind the starters. Maurice Ffrench appears like he could be the #3 option. He played some as a true freshman, but was used in the jet sweep role, but like Henderson, can be electric with the ball in his hands. Aaron Mathews and Rafael Araujo-Lopes played some throughout the season, Mathews broke through in the bowl game and made a few big plays. The wild card here could be redshirt freshman, Ruben Flowers III. He is a former four-star recruit, and could be a candidate to breakout this season.

Tight End

  1. Matt Flanagan 6’6” 260 Senior
  2. Chris Clark 6’6” 260 Sophomore
  3. Devon Edwards 6’4” 275 Senior

Matt Flanagan came to Pitt in the offseason as a graduate transfer from Rutgers. He had 17 career starts for the Scarlet Knights, and is the most experienced tight end on the roster. He was not much of a pass catching threat for Rutgers, but he played and was relied on as a blocker.

Chris Clark was the favorite to be Pitt’s starting tight end, and that may very well happen still. Clark was at one time the top ranked tight end recruit in the country and had an offer from just about every big time school. The talent is there, and he will play a considerable amount this season and could overtake the starting job at any point. Devon Edwards will provide depth as an extra blocker most likely. Not listed here are the three true freshmen tight ends on the roster, but one of them could push for playing time, most notably former four-star Charles Reeves.

Left Tackle

  1. Brian O’Neill 6’6” 305 Junior
  2. Tony Pilato 6’5” 320 Sophomore

Left Guard

  1. Alex Officer 6’4” 340 Senior
  2. Brandon Ford 6’5” 310 Freshman

Center

  1. Jimmy Morrissey 6’3” 300 Freshman
  2. Connor Dintino 6’3” 315 Junior

Right Guard

  1. Brandon Hodges 6’4” 315 Senior
  2. Mike Herndon 6’4” 310 Junior

Right Tackle

  1. Jaryd Jones-Smith 6’7” 320 Senior
  2. Jerry Drake 6’5” 315 Freshman

Despite losing two seniors that were NFL draft picks in the Spring, the offensive line could be a strength once again. Pitt will be without the services of Alex Bookser this week, who is serving a one game suspension. Still, they should be strong enough without him to face the Penguins.

The anchor of the line will be junior Brian O’Neill, who is shifting from right tackle to the left side. O’Neill is one of the better tackles in the country, and a strong junior season could thrust him into the NFL draft conversation. Also on the left side will be senior, Alex Officer, who has started the past 34 games on the line.

Some new faces will fill out the remainder of the line. Jaryd Jones-Smith was a key player for Pitt in 2014, but was lost to injury in 2015 and returned to play some last year. Obviously he is a massive player and many thought he had pro potential during the 2014 season, and he will look to regain that form. Joining Jones-Smith on the right side will be a graduate transfer from Texas, Brandon Hodges. He started 9 games for the Longhorns last season.

In a competitive battle for the starting center spot, former walk-on Jimmy Morrissey beat out junior Connor Dintino to be the starter. This spot will be interesting once Bookser returns, because Officer could assume the center duties.

Defensive End

  1. Dewayne Hendrix 6’4” 260 Junior OR Rashad Weaver 6’5” 265 Freshman // Allen Edwards 6’5” 255 Senior
  2. James Folston Jr. 6’4” 250 Junior
  3. Patrick Jones II 6’5” 245 Freshman

Pitt will again turn to Dewayne Hendrix to be a starting defensive end, just like last season’s opener. Hendrix was not able to show much after getting injured and missing the whole season. He is a former four-star with loads of potential and many are hoping he can offset the loss of Ejuan Price. He is listed alongside Rashad Weaver as a co-starter. My guess is Hendrix is a bit banged up, and we’ll see quite a bit of Weaver on Saturday. Weaver is a redshirt freshman that looks like he can be something special if he can put it together. The other starter will be senior Allen Edwards. He started four games last season late in the year, and showed a lot of positive things. He will look to carry that over into his senior season.

James Folston Jr. has some experience and will be in the mix quite a bit. The final member listed is redshirt freshman, Patrick Jones II. Jones is physically impressive and has some potential, but still may be a year away from being a serious contributor.

Nose Tackle

  1. Shane Roy 6’4” 280 Junior
  2. Rashad Wheeler 6’3” 290 Freshman
  3. Jaylen Twyman 6’2” 315 Freshman

Defensive Tackle

  1. Keyshon Camp 6’4” 290 Freshman
  2. Amir Watts 6’3” 285 Sophomore
  3. Kam Carter 6’4” 295 Sophomore

Since assuming the role as head coach, Pat Narduzzi has recruited a few areas better than others. Defensive Tackle is one of his stronger positions. Pitt list six players on the two-deep for the interior spots. While inexperienced, there is a lot of talent in this group, five of the six players are sophomores or younger. And four of the six were four star recruits. It may take time, but this could be a strong unit at some point this season.

Shane Roy provides experience and is a bit of a surprise as a starter. He has paid his dues and apparently impressed during camp to earn a starting job. Joining him as a starter is highly touted redshirt freshman, Keyson Camp. Two of the more intriguing backups are Amir Watts and Kam Carter. Watts played some as a true freshman, but an injury slowed him down some. Kam Carter started his collegiate career at Penn State, and after a stop in junior college is now with the Panthers. He is a talented player and has a chance to get some serious playing time this season.

Money Linebacker

  1. Elijah Zeise 6’2” 230 Junior
  2. Jalen Williams 6’2” 215 Junior

Mike Linebacker

  1. Saleem Brightwell 6’0” 220 Sophomore
  2. Chase Pine 6’2” 240 Freshman

Star Linebacker

  1. Seun Idowu 6’0” 225 Junior
  2. Anthony McKee Jr. 6’2” 215 Sophomore
  3. Rimoni Dorsey 6’0” 195 Sophomore

Seun Idowu started 12 games last season and had his ups and downs, but finished third on the team in tackles. He is a former walk-on, but should be expected to take a step forward this season. He is better than many expected him to be last season.

Saleem Brightwell assumes the middle linebacker role after spending most of the year as a backup. Brightwell however, is not inexperienced. He played in a lot of big games last season and had one of the plays of the year for a Pitt player by picking off a pass to keep Pitt alive in the Clemson game. He has very high expectations heading into his sophomore season.

The third starter will be junior Elijah Zeise. He actually beat out Idowu for a starting role last season, but was injured and missed the remainder of the season in the opener. He was initially a wide receiver, but transitioned to defense before last season.

The depth takes a hit while senior Quintin Wirginis serves his three game suspension, but sophomore Anthony McKee Jr. and freshman Chase Pine were at one time important recruits for Pitt, and could push for playing time on talent alone.

Cornerback

  1. Avonte Maddox 5’9” 180 Senior // Dane Jackson 6’0” 180 Sophomore OR Damarri Mathis 5’11” 185 Freshman
  2. Jason Pinnock 6’0” 190 Freshman
  3. Malik Henderson 6’0” 190 Sophomore

Avonte Maddox will be Pitt’s top corner once again this season. The senior from Detroit has 28 career starts under his belt, along with 6 career interceptions. Overall, Pitt cornerbacks had a rough 2016, but Maddox showed some bright spots during the season and is a tested veteran.

Starting opposite of Maddox is still up in the air as it could be sophomore Dane Jackson or true freshman Damarri Mathis. Jackson started three games last season, and made some big plays, but like Pitt’s other corners had his struggles. Damarri Mathis was a nice recruiting win for Pitt as they flipped him away from South Carolina before signing day. Mathis has been getting rave reviews since he walked on campus, and perhaps he can live up to the hype.

The reserve corners beyond the top three are inexperienced as well. Jason Pinnock is another true freshman and is know to play a physical style, and has the body type to match it. He will likely play quite a bit this season. Malik Henderson played sparingly last season.

One notable name missing here is Therran Coleman. Many expected him to compete for a starting job this year, and maybe that can still happen, but it sounds like he may be a bit banged up and is slowly coming along.

Strong Safety

  1. Dennis Briggs 5’10” 195 Junior
  2. Phil Campbell 6’1” 195 Freshman
  3. Henry Miller 6’3” 205 Freshman

Free Safety

  1. Bricen Garner 6’1” 180 Freshman OR Jazzee Stocker 6’2” 190 Sophomore

I mentioned how defensive tackle has been recruited well by Narduzzi in his tenure, and I think Safety is another position where you could say this is true. I think there is a lot of talent here, and some of it is not listed. Jordan Whitehead will be back in a few weeks, and he is an elite level player. Sophomore Damar Hamlin is still dealing with an injury, but he could push for playing time, and of course Pitt’s top recruit from last year, Paris Ford, enrolled late but may be as talented as a player they have. OK now for the guys that are actually listed...

Dennis Briggs was named as a captain last week, as a junior, which speaks to how the team views him. He played mostly as a nickel last year, but looks like he will start, at least for the first three games. He had to fend off two talented redshirt freshmen, Phil Campbell and Henry Miller. Both of those players have a lot of promise for the future, and should see time Saturday.

The other spot seems to be an ongoing battle. Many thought Jazzee Stocker (He went by Jay last year) would be the presumptive starter, but redshirt freshman Bricen Garner has pushed him to a tie thus far, we’ll see both guys on Saturday.

Kicker - Alex Kessman 6’3” 190 Freshman

Punter - Ryan Winslow 6’6” 225 Senior

Long Snapper - Cal Adomitis 6’1” 210 Freshman

Alex Kessman assumes the kicking duties replacing four year starter Chris Blewitt. Ryan Winslow is back as the starter for the third straight season, while Cal Adomitis is a brand new starter at Long Snapper.

Kick Returner - Quadree Henderson // Maurice Ffrench

Punt Returner - Quadree Henderson // Avonte Maddox

Quadree Henderson is arguably the best return man in America, Pitt is in good hands here. Avonte Maddox has a few special teams touchdowns in his career as well.

Cardiac Hill Poll of the Week: Pitt vs. Youngstown State

Pitt battles Youngstown State in the football season opener this weekend. While I expect most of you believe the Panthers will win, I'm guessing there might be some variance in the level of comfort among us.

As I mentioned on Monday, Pitt has some hurdles in this game, including dealing with a few suspensions to key players and breaking in a new quarterback. The Panthers are also facing what is expected to be one of the top teams in the FCS this season. Still, at home, it's really hard to pick against Pitt here.

How do you expect the Panthers to fare this weekend? Weigh in with the poll below.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @AnsonWhaley.
Poll What do you expect in the Panthers' first game of the football season against Youngstown State? Win by 20 points or more Win by 14-19 points Win by 10-13 points Win by 5-9 points Win by five points or less (or worse)   0 votes | Results

Nathan Peterman is the Bills’ No. 1 quarterback — for now

The ex-Panther is Buffalo’s only healthy signal-caller

Former Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman has had some impressive outings with the Buffalo Bills this preseason, but it didn’t seem like that was going to get him very far.

The presence of incumbent starter Tyrod Taylor meant he had no shot at the No. 1 job, and T.J. Yates seemed to have the inside track on the second-string position early in the preseason because of his previous experience in offensive coordinator Rick Dennison’s system.

To Peterman’s credit, he appeared to overtake Yates for the No. 2 spot with his performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Aug. 10, and it seemed like that was going to be the peak of the preseason, if not the entire 2017 season, for him.

But things change fast in the NFL, and they did for Peterman and the Bills on Saturday night.

On the team’s second drive in their game against the Baltimore Ravens, Taylor’s head hit the ground as he was sacked by linebacker Matthew Judon. Taylor left the game, and shortly after, the Bills issued an announcement, noting that he had suffered a concussion and would not return.

Peterman took over for Taylor and went on to complete 11 of his 23 passes for 93 yards. Although he failed to post 100 passing yards for the first time this preseason, he led the Bills on their only scoring drive of the night before coming out of the game.

After the game, Bills head coach Sean McDermott sounded pleased with what he saw from Peterman.

“The next man stepped up tonight,” he said, per the team. “Peterman did well. I was proud of how he handled himself.”

Yates relieved Peterman in the third quarter and threw for 102 yards on eight completions, but he coughed up his second pick of the preseason. The interception proved costly, as the Ravens went on to score three plays later. But that wouldn’t be the worst news for Yates.

On Sunday, Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com reported that Yates had also suffered a concussion against the Ravens, leaving Peterman as the team’s only healthy quarterback.

“The morning after the 13-9 loss to the Ravens, T.J. Yates joined starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor in the concussion protocol,” Brown said.

The news was something of a surprise, as Yates wasn’t sacked on Saturday, showed no signs of injury and never left the game. Even McDermott was uncertain when the concussion occurred.

“I don’t know for sure exactly what play, but he took some licks later in the game trying to win the game at the end,” he said.

The injuries leave the Bills in a tough spot, as they now need to track down a short-term contributor or two to fill in under center. They also have just two weeks left until their season opener against the New York Jets, and although McDermott called the situation “concerning,” he didn’t go into detail about his plans to resolve the issue.

“The quarterback position this week will be an interesting one,” he said. “We’ll obviously have to go in with more than one quarterback, so we’re going through that right now and we’ll see how it works out.”

For now, the surprising news means Peterman should at least get some first-team reps in practice, giving McDermott and Dennison a chance to see what he can do when surrounded by first-string talent. And with Taylor and Yates unlikely to be rushed back for the Bills’ preseason finale against the Detroit Lions on Thursday, Peterman may get an extended look there as well.

With that said, McDermott has clearly stated that Taylor is his starter, and the only way that seems likely to change is if he’s unable to play. That’s currently the case, but NFL players often get through the concussion protocol in just a week or two. So while there’s a chance that Peterman could start in Week 1, it’s unlikely that he’ll end up getting the nod.

In Youngstown State, Pitt will face one of the top teams in the FCS

As has been customary in recent years, Pitt will begin the season with a game against the FCS. While these teams almost always represent a win, the Panthers could find themselves with their hands full against Youngstown State.

Coached by Bo Pelini, the Penguins were one of the best teams in the FCS last year and that should again be the case in 2017. The Penguins went to the FCS championship game, ultimately losing to champion James Madison, 28-14. 12-4 on the season, Youngstown State did its fair share of scoring, topping the 35-point mark six times. In the team's last five wins before the title game loss, they scored a whopping 42.6 points per contest.

The team looks to be another strong one this year.

The Penguins return quite a bit and are ranked in both of the FCS top ten preseason polls - 8th in the Coaches Poll and 9th in the FCS STATS Poll.

We all know that there's a decent dropoff from the FBS to the FCS but with FCS teams pulling off the occasional upset, there definitely should be some concern from Pitt's vantage point. And while I think the attitude of the team is markedly different with Pat Narduzzi than it was under Paul Chryst, the Panthers still don't have to look beyond the 2012 upset and the close game in 2015 to see that an upset is possible.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt volleyball salvages challenging weekend with a victory

Pitt's volleyball team has some high expectations this year after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in more than a decade. But the Panthers had an incredibly tough test to start the year at the University of Washington's Husky Invitational this weekend.

There, Pitt first faced No. 3 ranked host Washington and then played No. 9 Creighton before ending with a match against St. Mary's.

Playing two top ten teams to begin the season is just a really difficult thing and, as you might expect, the Panthers struggled a little.

Pitt was swept in the opener against Washington losing all three sets but it really could have been different. They easily lost the first set but were in complete control in the second and up, 21-14, needing only four more points to even things up. But a Washington rally got them closer and the Huskies ultimately won the set 26-24. That had to take the air out of the tires and Washington easily won the third set, 25-16 to take the match. Had Pitt been able to hold onto that second set, the match could have gone much differently.

The Panthers were then swept by Creighton the next day and unfortunately, the team couldn't hold another second set lead. Pitt pulled ahead and led 22-20 but ultimately fell, 25-22.

When you lose the first two sets in a match, it's really difficult to get up for the next one and make a match of things. Pitt dropped the third set to Creighton, 25-17, and failed to win a set in their first two matches.

The good news is that the competition wasn't as stiff in the third match of the tournament and Pitt was able to pull out a five-set win against St. Mary's. I was surprised to see the St. Mary's match finish so close. They were only 11-18 last year and I expected to see Pitt dominate that one. But it was also the Panthers' second match of the day and maybe they weren't at full strength. The important thing is that they avoided what could have been a bad loss on their resume.

It's hard to take too much away from this weekend. Had the Panthers come out with two wins, it would have been a major success but getting one was the more expected result. It would have been nice to see the first two matches a little more competitive from a set standpoint but they also played well in those second sets in each matchup so it wasn't a complete blowout.

Next up for the Panthers is the Dayton Invitational next weekend as the team will face Dayton and Iowa State. Things don't get much easier there, either. Both teams are in the Others Receiving Votes category of the current rankings and will be tough tests. Dayton, you might recall, was ranked No. 23 last season when the Panthers ousted them in the NCAA Tournament, so they'll be looking for revenge.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt vs. Youngstown State Preview - Panthers have plenty of hurdles in opener against the Penguins

Hey, look - it's football.

I've been looking forward to football pretty heavily the past few weeks for some reason. And Saturday, the Panthers' season officially begins.

Pitt starts the year off with a game against a familiar foe in Youngstown State. This will be the third time in the past six years that Panthers and Penguins will have met in the opener and neither of the past two have been all that easy for Pitt.

Pitt famously lost the 2012 game, which was the first contest for then new head coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were not only defeated, but beaten with ease in an ugly 31-17 loss. Pitt met Youngstown State again in 2015, Pat Narduzzi's debut. But while the Panthers won 45-37, Youngstown State never went away and kept the game close. James Conner also suffered a season-ending MCL injury in that game. So you'll excuse me if I'm not real thrilled of another prospect of playing the Penguins.

It's also not about what Pitt has historically done against Youngstown State that causes some concern. Pitt goes into this game with a flurry of other issues. First, the team tries to recover after losing five players to the NFL Draft this past year. Among the replacements is the Pitt debut of quarterback Max Browne as the Panthers must move on from Nathan Peterman.

The Panthers are also dealing with several personnel issues heading into the game. They dismissed defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni back in April and then fellow projected starter on the defensive line, Rori Blair, over the summer. In addition to those losses, Pitt will also be without several suspended players, including Jordan Whitehead, Alex Bookser, and Quintin Wirginis. Bookser and Whitehead are starters and Wirginis was expected to be in the mix. On top of that, we also don't know how healthy the team is and there are a few health issues floating around as well.

Finally, the elephant in the room is that the Panthers play a huge game with interstate rival Penn State the following weekend. I feel pretty strongly that the team shouldn't be looking past Youngstown State but you can't help but think that some players will have their eyes on that game against the Nittany Lions.

Pitt gets the game at home and I suspect they'll have enough to win. Win comfortably? We'll see.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt to move Sweet Caroline

Pitt makes decision to tweak its most divisive tradition.

Pitt decided to throw the slight hand grenade today of announcing that Sweet Caroline will no longer be played after the 3rd quarter:

Pitt will also tweak one of its in-game fan engagement traditions with Sweet Caroline, previously played between the third and fourth quarter break, moving around to different points in the games. The song has traditionally inspired a stadium-wide sing-along that brings fans out of their seats and closer together. After taking into account feedback from the Pitt Athletics Fan Committee, The Panther Pitt, coaches and players, the song will now be played at different points in the game, targeting specific moments in an effort capitalize on its unifying effect and preserve the tradition of playing it at Heinz Field.

This is fairly large news. There has been a LOT of debate the last couple years on using Sweet Caroline at games. It was started during the 2008 season, and since then has angered, thrilled, and “meh”d Panther. Oh, and caused half the student section to leave after it’s played during most games.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of Sweet Caroline itself, but it is easily the most successful thing Pitt has to get people up, out of their seats, and cheer for Pitt. My opinion has long been if you want to replace Sweet Caroline, find something to replace that has the same effect of getting a vast majority of people at the game involved because nothing else that Pitt does comes even close. You can say what you want about the song, but being in a bar or at a wedding full of Pitt folks and having the song come on is still a fun experience. Yes, it’s not Pitt’s song, but there are ton of things dozens of schools do that aren’t there’s, and people love those just the same. Seven Nation Army might be the most played pump up song at any school, but people love it However, as someone pointed out to me, Pitt tries to sell Sweet Caroline as a Pitt tradition, which does draw the criticism of not being something Pitt started. When you put something on a t-shirt, you are certainly trying to make it into something.

As for students leaving early, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. I’ve long felt that if Pitt was good, the opponent/game is good, and it’s not unbearably hot, students will stay. Should they really all need all three to stay? You can argue no, but I’m not gonna address that much. It was such a struggle to fight when I was in school and helping to restart the Panther Pitt. My thought is they likely will still leave after the 3rd quarter.

I’m also thinking that if Pitt is moving Sweet Caroline to “other points in the game”, that it likely will not be played to its full length, which could make it awkward. Sweet Caroline isn’t a 30 second pump up song, and it’s one of those “do it all the way or don’t do it all” type of scenario to me.

It will be very interesting to see what direction Pitt goes in after this season after changing it up

Pat Signal: David Green commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a local three-star defensive tackle.

Dedicated☑️Blessed☑️Committed☑️https://t.co/YdQ7bGBJar— David Green (@TMT_DGreen2) August 24, 2017

Pitt received some good this afternoon as David Green pledged to the program. Green is a 6’2’ 265 pound defensive tackle from Pittsburgh, and plays for state power, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. He is graded as three-star by Rivals and ESPN. He chose Pitt over additional offers from Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Minnesota, among others.

Green is a unique talent, and adds some athleticism to the interior defensive line. He checks in at 265 pounds and will likely need to bulk up for college, but if you watch his highlight tape you will see that Central Catholic uses him as a fullback, and he proves to be an effective runner for the Vikings. That kind of athleticism should translate at the next level.

Green helped lead Central Catholic to a state title in 2015 as a sophomore, and was on last year’s team that was a state runner-up in class 6A. The Vikings figure to be among the best teams in the state again this year with state championship aspirations. Central has long been a pipeline program for Pitt, and Green will join former teammates, Damar Hamlin, Rashad Wheeler, and Bricen Garner next season.

Green becomes the 14th commitment in the class of 2018. He is the fifth player from the WPIAL to join the class, and is the second defensive tackle to join the class. Green is also the second commitment this week joining Florida DB, Marquis Williams. We have talked at length that Pitt’s recruiting class will not very big, and space will be limited leading up to February's signing day. It seems things are coming down to the wire with just a few spots left.

Realignment Endgame?

How might the final ACC look?

A favorite topic of offseason discussion every Summer it seems is conference realignment. The prevailing opinion at this point is that, while the ACC will likely survive, the Big XII will eventually be absorbed into the other power conferences. However, due to geography, most people have doubts that the ACC would be in a position to take in more than one Big XII team - namely, West Virginia.

So then, what might the ACC look like in its final configuration? About three weeks ago I examined this question on ACCFootballRx [see ACC Endgame]. Since then I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions which I’d like to consider here as well.

First, in my initial article, I assumed that once the Big XII was dissolved there would be a “champs only” playoff model - at which point Notre Dame is all-in. That leaves one spot for the one Big XII team in the ACC footprint: West Virginia.

How would the divisions line up at that point? If we assume the conference tosses out those crazy Atlantic / Coastal divisions and goes more Old ACC / Old Big East, we might see something like this:

(Don’t worry about cross-over games - there would only be two: Virginia / Virginia Tech and Florida State / Miami).

This is a kind of “getting the band back together” alignment for us fans of former Big East teams, and it would restore some great rivalries, such as

  • Pitt vs. Boston College, West Virginia
  • Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville
  • Boston College vs. Pitt, Miami, West Virginia
  • Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech, Miami, West Virginia

In addition, with Notre Dame all in, they would play teams like Pitt and Boston College even more regularly than the current alignment allows.

For fans living in the Mid-Atlantic states, those are some great rivalries restored which would be welcomed with open arms!

However, some have commented that they just don’t think there will ever be a scenario which results in Notre Dame joining the ACC for football... it just isn’t going to happen (or so they say). If true, what else could the ACC do to keep up with the SEC and the Big Ten?

Another alternative which I have examined on ACCFootballRx is the possibility of adding Texas - either as a partial, or along with one or more other Texas teams [see Longhorns and Texas Expansion]. In this scenario, the ACC would add Texas (possibly as a partial member), along with TCU and possibly Houston as well.

This expansion could possibly lead to a North / South division split, like this:

Even this would restore the BC / Pitt game, as well as create some good and very drive-able games between Pitt / Louisville / Virginia Tech. For recruiting purposes something would have to be done to insure annual games in either Florida, Georgia, or Texas for all North division teams - but that really isn’t difficult to do. The league could even sweeten the pot by giving North division teams preferential treatment when scheduling Notre Dame (maybe making that game come around more often for North teams - say every other year instead of every three years).

BOTTOM LINE: Realignment is likely not over, and as long as the Big Ten is looking to add more teams it behooves the ACC to be proactive and make sure the conference is not boxed in - like it was to some extent when the Big Ten acquired Maryland and Rutgers. However, I believe that as long as expansion options exist - whether regional, like West Virginia and Notre Dame, or into the #1 football state - Texas - the ACC should be able to keep up with the Big Ten and the SEC long-term.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer a West Virginia/Notre Dame expansion, a Texas/TCU expansion, or stay with 14.5 teams?

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