CINCINNATI OH - DECEMBER 04: Tino Sunseri #12 of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks to the sidelines during the Big East Conference game against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Nippert Stadium. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Pitt Football will need big performances from key players at important positions in order to be successful in 2012.
If you enjoy spending you time reading story after story regarding conference expansion and the ever-changing landscape of college football, sorry to disappoint you, but this article is about things that actually take place on the field. You know, football.
Also, if you enjoy talking about "high octane" and "speed, speed, speed," this preview may disappoint you as well. Those days are gone. Paul Chryst has brought a humble and subdued new attitude as well as a new offense for these Pitt Panthers. It's the third new offense in three years for most of these players. That's an incredibly tough thing for professionals, let alone college kids.
Here are some players who will be game-changers for the Panthers offense this season. Remember, a game-changer can be both good and bad. Also know that Ray Graham is not on the list. He changes games. We know this, opponents know this, and the entire country knows it. Therefore, I'm omitting the obvious choice of Graham in an attempt to think outside the box. Save your hate mail. Now, onto the list:
Devin Street, WR: The 6-foot-4 wide out had a respectable 2011 campaign with 53 receptions for 754 yards and two touchdowns, but many, including me, pegged Street for a breakout season under Graham's offense. That never quite materialized. The tall and speedy Street has the ability to become a big-play receiver, but either had trouble getting open or Tino Sunseri had trouble finding him. For Pitt to be successful in 2012, Street will need to step up and show the promise and talent many are waiting for. If Street can open the field up in the simplified passing game, expect big dividends for the offense as a whole, especially the running game.
The offensive line: Not a specific player, I know. But still, the offensive line will be a crucial part of Pitt's offensive gameplan this fall. The line is a big of a question mark this season (shocking, isn't it?), but there look to be plenty of options to replace both tackles. Expect the line to consist of Juantez Hollins and Matt Rotheram (who impressed O-line coach Jim Hueber this spring), guards Cory King/Ryan Schlieper and Chris Jacobson, and center Ryan Turnley. This group will have to be efficient run blockers in order to open up the passing game for Sunseri. If they do make holes for Ray Graham, Isaac Bennett, and newcomer Rushel Shell, they must give Sunseri time in the pocket.
Tino Sunseri, QB: I told you, "game-changer" is a term that can have both positive and negative connotations. Last year, Sunseri changed games ... for the worse. He held onto the ball too long, took frustrating sacks, threw killer interceptions, and missed open receivers. This year, in a system that suits his style, I expect Sunseri to ... well ... "shine" isn't the right word. Basically, I would like to see Sunseri "manage." He needs to manage his play by making smart reads with the ball and not hold onto it for ages like he did last season. I think part of that had to do with confusion and unfamiliarity with the system. If Sunseri can evolve into the cliche "game manager", Pitt will succeed. If not, he'll be a game changer for all the wrong reasons once again.
If Street can break out, if the line can open holes for a talented group of backs, and if Tino can successfully manage the game, expect big things from the 2012 Panthers. I'd also be rich if I won the lottery. I also might have a better chance of that happening. Now I sound like a true Pitt fan. In any case, I'm ready for some actual football.