1. So...um...how does it feel to be free of the Providence Mafia?
The offense has had plenty of growing pains, to be sure. This week's 12 points against Notre Dame proved that. They have at times moved the ball well and given us a glimpse of what the team is capable of, but there's been plenty of disappointment. Pitt's running game has done an adequate job with Ray Graham, but the passing game has struggled and probably will until Graham gets the right quarterback for his system. Tino Sunseri's fallen under the most criticism and flat out hasn't been very reliable this year.
Pitt's run defense has been fine with the 3-4, but the pass defense has been abysmal. The Panthers went into the game against Notre Dame ranked 119th out of 120 FBS schools. The pass defense did look better this weekend allowing only 216 yards, but there's still work to be done. Pitt's given up a lot of plays in the middle of the field and if B.J. Daniels can take advantage of that, with their offense, it could be a long game.
Wide receiver Devin Street is a guy that could have a big game. He was shut down in the Notre Dame game this weekend with only two catches, but in the two previous ones against Maine and Iowa, he had 13 catches for more than 200 yards. He's somewhat of a playmaker if he gets the ball in the open field, but again, that all depends on if Tino can get him the ball. True freshman Ronald Jones is also a bit of a wildcard. He's a dangerous kick returner and in addition to playing wide receiver, has also been used in some trick plays - in the game against Iowa, he threw a touchdown pass.
I fully expect Sunseri to be the starter on Thursday. He hasn't played well so far, but Graham's choices are pretty limited. His backup heading into the fall was Anthony Gonzalez, but he was suspended for two games for being in a car with marijuana. He has found his way back into the offense, but as a receiver. The current backup is Trey Anderson, a true freshman that was a walk-on and just joined the team at the end of July. As much as fans want to see him (and trust me, they do), I'm not sure how effective he'd be having only been on the team for two months. That said, Graham does like to get him some reps, so if he enters the game at some point (possibly the third quarter when Graham likes to give his backup some time), it won't be a big surprise.
The offensive line has been maybe the unit that worries fans the most. Last week, they gave up five sacks (though several of those were due to Tino holding the ball too long) and they haven't opened up many holes for Ray Graham over the past two games. To make things worse, Pitt lost guard Chris Jacobson, maybe their best lineman, to a knee injury for the rest of the year after the Iowa game. Jacobson was also the backup center so if Ryan Turnley needs to come out or needs a break, things get further complicated. In a nutshell, there's plenty of concern about the line to be sure. On the scale of Pitt quarterbacks, let's go with Matt Lytle - I'm not real confident in their ability to protect Tino against that great Bulls defense.
I picked against Pitt against both Iowa and Notre Dame, so trust me, this isn't my homerism coming out. But I have a feeling Pitt could pull this one out. I like the fact that the game's at home and on a Thursday night when the crowd should be into it. It won't be a sellout game as it was against Notre Dame, but I think there should be a decent turnout. Pitt also got better against the pass this week and I really can't see the offense struggling as much as it did on Saturday. The Panthers are only 2-2, but they have been competitive in their two losses, falling by a total of seven points. The thing I keep pointing to is that they've really outplayed all four of their opponents. They were shell-shocked in that fourth quarter against Iowa, but clearly outplayed the Hawkeyes otherwise. I wouldn't be surprised to see a South Florida win - not at all. But at some point, I think Pitt's got to pull one of these games out and I'll say it happens Thursday.
Pitt 24 - South Florida 20.