You could not write a better opening for a career then Jeff Quinn got last season aft erthe Bulls shut out Rhodes Island. In his first outing Coach Quinn watched the Bulls trounce the Rhodys. Shortly after that game reality set in and the Bulls limped to a 2-10 mark, their worst since Turner Gill's first season in Buffalo. The Bulls offense stalled, literally, after just on solid week against an FCS team.
It was also a year to forget for Pittsburgh. It's not that there season was awful. They went 8-5 and beat up on an SEC team in their bowl game but it could have been better. In a season when the Big East was up for grabs Pittsburgh choked away an eight point second half lead in a game which would, eventually, propel the UConn Huskies to their first outright Big East title and an appointment at the Fiesta Bowl.
Jeff Quinn gets a second chance after 2010 but Dave Wannstate used up his final life and Pitts first hire, Mike Haywood, could not even make it to signing day. The Panthers settled on Todd Graham who's offenses have a reputation for their explosiveness. He built a very respectable program at Tulsa, producing some of the best Squads Conference USA had to offer over the past decade.
But Graham does not have the tools in place to bring that offense to the Big East and he knows it. Chris gates who covers Pitt for Pittsburgh Sports Depot and Area 4-1-Zoo was kind enough to take a few questions.
Based on what you've seen this summer how much Will the 2011 Pitt offense try to be like the 2010 Tulsa offense? What are the differences? and what are you thinking about Graham?
Wannstedt continually underachieved. Mike Haywood was a guy nobody had ever heard of. Graham should have been the choice from the start, but what matters is the university got it right in the end. Now Graham has to win an outright Big East title to really get Pitt fans behind him.
Todd Graham says Pitt is going to be able to run about 65 percent of the plays that he ran at Tulsa last year — his fourth season with the Golden Hurricane. Graham says that's normal, and he also isn't planning on making this Panthers offense a carbon copy of Tulsa's system. With different personnel, Graham is going to be able to run some different things in the running game with Ray Graham and stretch the field with tall receivers like Mike Shanahan (6-foot-5) and Devin Street (6-foot-4). -- Chris Gates Pittsburgh Sports Depot and Area 4-1-Zoo
Graham is showing his experience by not trying to force someone else's recruits to play his game. No other AQ conference is as up for grabs as the Big East a fist year coach, at any school, has a shot at making some noise this season.
So where are expectations sitting with Pitt right now? Last season was a really down one throughout the Big East so will there be a quick bounce with your new coach?
Many are expecting a Big East championship or very close to it. The way Pitt fans see it, former coach Dave Wannstedt underachieved with the talent he recruited. Now Todd Graham comes in — a guy that has only succeeded thus far in his career — and he inherits much of that talent that Wannstedt left behind. Granted, most of Pitt's players were recruited to play in a different system both offensively and defensively, but there are enough good athletes and experience on this team to win the Big East. -- Chris Gates
When you consider that Temple, who finished 5th in the MAC beat UConn, the Big East Champ, last season you get an idea of just how vulnerable Big East teams are right now and that creates a ton of parity. Were Buffalo not so awful last season I might be far more optimistic about taking Pitt down this year.
Despite the instinct to write there game off there are some reasons to think that the Bulls can not only give Pitt a run but maybe they can shock the Panthers. Pitt dropping their opener to a MAC squad would not be a first. Bowling Green shocked the Panthers at home in 2008. That game saw Bowling Green shut out Pitt during the second half, overcoming a slight deficit with the help of four Pitt Turnovers.
So what does Gates see as his teams biggest vulnerably?
Pitt has a first-year starter at center and Graham has said bad snaps are a common problem when he takes over a team. Ryan Turnley will be snapping the ball to quarterback Tino Sunseri this year and there have been some issues this summer in training camp with bad snaps. If Turnley can't play well enough at center, that forces Chris Jacobson to move over from guard to center and then the whole line must re-align. - Chris Gates
Last season UB fans saw first hand what a shifting line could do to your offensive stability. Spotty performance and injuries had coach Quinn picking positions out of a hat. That was a huge factor in Buffalo's awful offense.
Besides the line, and the multiple coaching changes, Pitt has had some other issues on and off the filed that moved their Quarterback of the future to the third string, and his backup to a slash sopt.
The shift in Pitt's depth chart at quarterback has been a complete surprise. Tino Sunseri is the starter and we've known that for a while. But the guys behind him — Anthony Gonzalez and Mark Myers, both heralded recruits — are seemingly in completely different scenarios than anyone could have predicted. Freshman walk-on Trey Anderson has come out of nowhere to grab the backup job, creating a ripple at the position. Anderson was recruited by Pitt's QB coach, Todd Dodge, when he coached at North Texas, and Anderson decided to come to town to try and earn a scholarship. He's done much more than that, surprising everyone with his natural ability to lead Graham's "high-octane" offense.
After a summer arrest involving marijuana and subsequent two-game suspension to start the year, Gonzalez (who was the No. 2 QB in the spring game) has become a slash type of player because Graham says he's way too good of an athlete to not be on the field every weekend. Therefore, Gonzalez will play H-back in Graham's system, which will have him doing a lot of things a tight end typically does. He's now considered Pitt's fourth option at QB. And Myers, who looked like "the guy" in the making under Wannstedt, has slipped to third on the depth chart. His cannon of an arm and outstanding size (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) has been surpassed by the scrappy Anderson (6-foot, 180 pounds). -- Chris Gates
There are reasons to think that a solid MAC squad can give the panthers a run for their money this season. What is not known is just how solid are the Bulls? Does the weight added on the line make that much of a difference? Was it the QB's last season or just the lack of protection.
I'm not convinced we have a 'solid' squad yet. Were it not for the Akron, EMU, and BSU losses last season I might be very optimistic about our chances this year. We have a bigger and deeper line, we have a more seasoned Quarterback, and Coach Quinn brought in some spectacular coaches on offense.
But we did not beat Akron, EMU, or BSU last season. Last season the Bulls seemed to get worse with each passing week. But hey, they played their best game of the season in week one last year, maybe were in for a repeat. and UB can do something special...