Pitt has some talent, but it can’t afford injuries

By Darrell Laurant  |   Wednesday, July 25, 2007  |  Comments( 0 )

Pittsburgh Panthers
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(Third in a series of previews on Big East teams).

For the most part, it's easy to file all the 2007 Big East football teams into a pre-sorted niche.

There's the Big Three (West Virginia, Louisville and Rutgers). There's the Terrible Two (Connecticut and Syracuse). And then there's the Tweens (Cincinnati and Central Florida).

Which takes in everybody but Pitt. The Panthers, coming off a 6-6 overall, 2-5 Big East season, remain a mystery.

For sure, Dave Wannstedt's team is missing some key players from last season -- QB Tyler Palko, All-America CB Darrelle Revis, All-Big East linebacker H.B. Blades. But eight starters return on offense and six on defense, and a relatively friendly schedule may give the young (half the squad are freshman and sophomores) Panthers time to jell.

Pitt hosts Eastern Michigan and Grambling to open the season, steps up in class with a trip to Michigan State, then plays Connecticut, Virginia and Navy. The Panthers don't face any of the Big Three until the second half.

Palko is a big loss, but new quarterback Bill Stull comes with some impressive prep credentials. The junior was the first player in the storied WPIAL (Pittsburgh's top high school league) to throw for over 3,000 yards in a season, and was 6-of-8 for 69 yards and a touchdown in limited action last year.

And if Stull feels the urge (or the confidence) to air it out, he's got one of the top big-play receivers in the league to play catch with. Derek Kinder caught 57 passes for 847 yards last season, including touchdown grabs of 80, 78 and 55 yards.

Then there's Rod Stephens-Howling (one of the best names in college football), a Joe Morris/Maurice Drew/Garrett Wolfe type of back (5-7, 180) who has learned to use his small size as an advantage. The author of 893 rushing yards last season, Stephens-Howling is a rabbit in the open field and surprisingly tough between the tackles.

Had Revis not jumped to the pros, Pitt would have fielded one of the top secondaries in the league. As it is, Mike Phillips and Eric Thatcher are returning starters at safety, while Aaron Berry will replace Revis and team with Kennard Cox at corner. The star of the unit, though, is DE Joe Clermont, who has made most of the preseason defensive "watch lists" and led the league with 16½ tackles for loss last season (5½ sacks).

Linebacker Scott McKillop is another standout, and Dorin Dickerson has been switched from offense to join him.

The problem with Pitt this season will be depth. The backups at almost every position are freshmen or untested sophomores, and backloading the schedule could prove to be a serious mistake if the Panthers start to wear thin after Nov. 1.

That's when the Big Three arrives.

Original college football insight, courtesy of RealFootball365.com
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