1. Pitt had a rather tumultuous offseason with the firing of Dave Wannstedt, the hiring/firing of Mike Haywood, and the eventual hiring of Todd Graham. How do you feel about the way things turned out? Did you agree with the decision to cut ties with Wannstedt? Did you like the hire of Graham?
I mentioned this in another Q&A recently, but Pitt, in a way, was very fortunate in my opinion. I didn't like the Mike Haywood hire from the beginning because of his limited track record as a head coach. And while I wasn't a huge Todd Graham fan at first, I think it was an infinitely better hire simply because there was one thing (his offense) that you could point to and legitimately be excited about. Haywood's big selling point was being a disciplinarian.
At the time, I did not agree with the decision to let Wannstedt go. Under him, Pitt had their first ten-win season in 30 years and were headed in the right direction, I thought. He averaged nine wins per season over his last three years there, which isn't bad. Can Pitt do better? Sure, but how easy will it be to average 10-11 wins every year? And if you can't get to the next level with the guy you bring in, then why make the move in the first place? There were clearly some frustrating things that Wannstedt did (repeatedly kicking to Mardy Gilyard in the Big East championship game two years ago may be chief amongst them), but all coaches are going to have their moments of stupidity - like Todd Graham refusing to burn the offensive play clock this weekend to give his defense a rest.
2. Todd Graham seems to have a knack for attracting top offensive coaches. At Tulsa, he worked with Gus Malzahn, Herb Hand, and Chad Morris. Now at Pitt, he managed to hire Calvin McGee, Rich Rodriguez's former offensive coordinator, and Todd Dodge, who flamed out as North Texas's head coach but is generally regarded as a spread guru. How has the transition from Wannstedt's pro-style offense to the hurry-uo no-huddle spread gone? Are you a fan?
There have been growing pains, obviously, but so far the offense has done a decent job at times - mostly because they have running back Ray Graham who's near the top of the NCAA in rushing. The biggest problem is that it seems to me the system requires either an elite quarterback or one with a thorough knowledge of the system and knows it in his sleep - Tino Sunseri is neither. He's been incredibly mediocre so far and while he makes plays, has definitely had his share of 'What were you thinking?' moments. Pitt has gotten a verbal commitment from a top quarterback, Chad Voytik, for next season, but that still means he's probably a bit away from not only taking the starting job, but fully knowing what he's doing. Tino should be better by next season, but the question is, how much better?
Regarding my own personal feelings on the system, I'm fine with whatever works. Wannstedt's system drew in a lot of higher-rated kids because they knew it was a system they could use for the NFL. But if Graham runs a great offense that wins but doesn't necessarily translate to NFL skills, I'm fine with that. The primary job of college coaches isn't to prepare players for the NFL, it's to win games and make sure they get an education.
3. Irish fans are familiar with the growing pains that can come from taking a pro-style QB and trying to fit him into a spread system, so, building off that last question, how has Tino Sunseri done as the quarterback in this new system? Is he the type of QB Graham wants or is he looking to pick up a better fit via recruiting?
As I mentioned above, Tino's been kind of so so. Many of my blog's readers think he's awful and they're well within that right, but the fact is that he has been capable of making plays. Last week when he was much maligned for Pitt's killer loss to Iowa, he managed to complete 70% of his passes. There were, of course, the two interceptions, but he made a fair number of quality throws as well. Graham has made his frustration known about Tino and it's clear that he knows he has to get more out of the QB position. In the game against Maine, he brought in the backup to 'get some work in.' That backup is Trey Anderson out of Texas who was a walk-on that just joined the team this Fall and is a true freshman. Many fans are clamoring for him to get playing time, so you can see where we're at.
4. On defense, Pitt lost some of its playmakers from a year ago (as a Browns fan, I thank you for Jabaal Sheard). Who are the players Irish fans should look out for when our offense takes the field?
Defensively, Pitt's best player is probably Brandon Lindsey. His ten sacks last year were good for 16th in the nation and he's off to a solid start this year. Lindsey started out at linebacker before moving back to defensive end last week to make way for true freshman Juan Price, who responded with two sacks. Price is another guy that can shake things up at linebacker, though like the others, his pass coverage can be a bit suspect.
5. How do you feel about Pitt moving to the ACC? Can you briefly explain the reasoning behind it? Do you view it as a big upgrade?
I'm in huge favor of the move, to be honest. Pitt's gotten a lot of ill will the past few days (which I can understand, to a degree), but it's boiled down to the fact that the administration wasn't convinced the Big East was doing enough to grow. Approximately 18 months ago, Pitt sent a letter to the conference explaining that they'd need to pursue other options if things didn't move along. The Big East did add TCU since then, but that was more of a band-aid than anything else since it was still only one team. The conference would still be susceptible to falling apart if three or four teams left and Pitt's administration knew that. It's been reported that Pitt may have echoed those sentiments at the conference meetings, but that nothing much came out of it. The bottom line is that Pitt, like any school, has to do what's best for Pitt. The idea that because the university was instrumental in saving the conference the first time around they're unable to leave now is ludicrous. Things change and the landscape of college football is considerably different than it was back in 2003.
The move is an upgrade if only because the ACC is much more stable. They recently upped their fee to leave the conference from about $10M to $20M making it significantly more difficult for schools to leave. The football is an upgrade and while the basketball could be a slight downgrade for now, that will probably change. There's talk of UConn joining and if the Big East splits with the basketball teams leaving on their own, then there's no question about the ACC's dominance in that sport.
6. Who ya got?
Pitt's found a way to beat Notre Dame three of the past seven times, so a win at home wouldn't surprise me. The offense made some strides last week in Iowa and looked much more like what we envisioned it would be under Graham. If the game were at South Bend, I'd favor the Irish much more, but playing Heinz Field makes it more of a toss up. Pitt looked really good against Iowa for three quarters, but I think it's safe to say the Hawkeyes aren't as strong as the Irish. Plus, with their backs against the wall in the Big House in an absolutely crazy atmosphere, Notre Dame's composure to get that late score showed me something. I'll go with Notre Dame in this one, 37 - 31.
Thanks again to Cardiac Hill! Stop by and say hi and wish them luck! Go Irish!