Will Ray Graham play in Pitt's opener? (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
After a tumultuous offseason which included the hiring of new coach Paul Chryst, Pitt football finally gets back to playing actual games on Saturday. First up - the Youngstown State Penguins.
At first glance, it might be easy to declare the Panthers as blowout winners. Pitt has played Youngstown State twice in the last ten years and come away with big victories each time (41-0 in 2005 and 38-3 in 2009). The Penguins are also coming off of a pedestrian 6-5 season in the FCS. But there are plenty of reasons that Youngstown State can give the Panthers a scare.
Despite a mediocre season last year, they were the only team to beat eventual champion North Dakota State - and they did it on the road. The team also boasts two stars on offense - quarterback Kurt Hess and running back Jamaine Cook. Cook ran for approximately 1,400 yards last season and Hess is already steadily climbing the school's all-time record lists as he enters his junior season. Both could give the Panthers fits if the defense doesn't keep them in check.
And if you think the Penguins will be intimidated by Heinz Field, think again. Youngstown State regularly plays big-time FBS programs and last year, traveled to Michigan State. They lost that game 22-6, but playing on the road against a ranked team, that outcome was hardly embarrassing. Youngstown State may not feel right at home in Heinz Field, but they should also have a small contingent of fans because of the school's proximity to Pittsburgh.
But if the Panthers play their game, they should win this one. It may not be pretty, but the team simply has too much talent for most FCS schools to handle. Pitt should be bigger, stronger, and faster than their counterparts and as long as they don't take Youngstown State lightly, they have to be considered the favorites.
The big question mark from Pitt's vantage point is running back Ray Graham. He was deemed a game-time decision earlier this week and his status isn't yet known. Backups Isaac Bennett and freshman star Rushel Shell should be able to hold down the fort adequately, but the team would be better off if Graham could play. Not only is he a great player, but looking ahead a bit, it'd be nice for him to have a few carries before Thursday night's tilt against Big East foe Cincinnati.
Add it all up, and Pitt should give Chryst his first win as Pitt's head coach.
For more on the game, stay tuned to this Storystream and head over to SB Nation Pitt blog, Cardiac Hill.