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In Youngstown State, Pitt will face one of the top teams in the FCS

As has been customary in recent years, Pitt will begin the season with a game against the FCS. While these teams almost always represent a win, the Panthers could find themselves with their hands full against Youngstown State.

Coached by Bo Pelini, the Penguins were one of the best teams in the FCS last year and that should again be the case in 2017. The Penguins went to the FCS championship game, ultimately losing to champion James Madison, 28-14. 12-4 on the season, Youngstown State did its fair share of scoring, topping the 35-point mark six times. In the team's last five wins before the title game loss, they scored a whopping 42.6 points per contest.

The team looks to be another strong one this year.

The Penguins return quite a bit and are ranked in both of the FCS top ten preseason polls - 8th in the Coaches Poll and 9th in the FCS STATS Poll.

We all know that there's a decent dropoff from the FBS to the FCS but with FCS teams pulling off the occasional upset, there definitely should be some concern from Pitt's vantage point. And while I think the attitude of the team is markedly different with Pat Narduzzi than it was under Paul Chryst, the Panthers still don't have to look beyond the 2012 upset and the close game in 2015 to see that an upset is possible.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt volleyball salvages challenging weekend with a victory

Pitt's volleyball team has some high expectations this year after reaching the NCAA Tournament last year for the first time in more than a decade. But the Panthers had an incredibly tough test to start the year at the University of Washington's Husky Invitational this weekend.

There, Pitt first faced No. 3 ranked host Washington and then played No. 9 Creighton before ending with a match against St. Mary's.

Playing two top ten teams to begin the season is just a really difficult thing and, as you might expect, the Panthers struggled a little.

Pitt was swept in the opener against Washington losing all three sets but it really could have been different. They easily lost the first set but were in complete control in the second and up, 21-14, needing only four more points to even things up. But a Washington rally got them closer and the Huskies ultimately won the set 26-24. That had to take the air out of the tires and Washington easily won the third set, 25-16 to take the match. Had Pitt been able to hold onto that second set, the match could have gone much differently.

The Panthers were then swept by Creighton the next day and unfortunately, the team couldn't hold another second set lead. Pitt pulled ahead and led 22-20 but ultimately fell, 25-22.

When you lose the first two sets in a match, it's really difficult to get up for the next one and make a match of things. Pitt dropped the third set to Creighton, 25-17, and failed to win a set in their first two matches.

The good news is that the competition wasn't as stiff in the third match of the tournament and Pitt was able to pull out a five-set win against St. Mary's. I was surprised to see the St. Mary's match finish so close. They were only 11-18 last year and I expected to see Pitt dominate that one. But it was also the Panthers' second match of the day and maybe they weren't at full strength. The important thing is that they avoided what could have been a bad loss on their resume.

It's hard to take too much away from this weekend. Had the Panthers come out with two wins, it would have been a major success but getting one was the more expected result. It would have been nice to see the first two matches a little more competitive from a set standpoint but they also played well in those second sets in each matchup so it wasn't a complete blowout.

Next up for the Panthers is the Dayton Invitational next weekend as the team will face Dayton and Iowa State. Things don't get much easier there, either. Both teams are in the Others Receiving Votes category of the current rankings and will be tough tests. Dayton, you might recall, was ranked No. 23 last season when the Panthers ousted them in the NCAA Tournament, so they'll be looking for revenge.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt vs. Youngstown State Preview - Panthers have plenty of hurdles in opener against the Penguins

Hey, look - it's football.

I've been looking forward to football pretty heavily the past few weeks for some reason. And Saturday, the Panthers' season officially begins.

Pitt starts the year off with a game against a familiar foe in Youngstown State. This will be the third time in the past six years that Panthers and Penguins will have met in the opener and neither of the past two have been all that easy for Pitt.

Pitt famously lost the 2012 game, which was the first contest for then new head coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers were not only defeated, but beaten with ease in an ugly 31-17 loss. Pitt met Youngstown State again in 2015, Pat Narduzzi's debut. But while the Panthers won 45-37, Youngstown State never went away and kept the game close. James Conner also suffered a season-ending MCL injury in that game. So you'll excuse me if I'm not real thrilled of another prospect of playing the Penguins.

It's also not about what Pitt has historically done against Youngstown State that causes some concern. Pitt goes into this game with a flurry of other issues. First, the team tries to recover after losing five players to the NFL Draft this past year. Among the replacements is the Pitt debut of quarterback Max Browne as the Panthers must move on from Nathan Peterman.

The Panthers are also dealing with several personnel issues heading into the game. They dismissed defensive lineman Jeremiah Taleni back in April and then fellow projected starter on the defensive line, Rori Blair, over the summer. In addition to those losses, Pitt will also be without several suspended players, including Jordan Whitehead, Alex Bookser, and Quintin Wirginis. Bookser and Whitehead are starters and Wirginis was expected to be in the mix. On top of that, we also don't know how healthy the team is and there are a few health issues floating around as well.

Finally, the elephant in the room is that the Panthers play a huge game with interstate rival Penn State the following weekend. I feel pretty strongly that the team shouldn't be looking past Youngstown State but you can't help but think that some players will have their eyes on that game against the Nittany Lions.

Pitt gets the game at home and I suspect they'll have enough to win. Win comfortably? We'll see.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt to move Sweet Caroline

Pitt makes decision to tweak its most divisive tradition.

Pitt decided to throw the slight hand grenade today of announcing that Sweet Caroline will no longer be played after the 3rd quarter:

Pitt will also tweak one of its in-game fan engagement traditions with Sweet Caroline, previously played between the third and fourth quarter break, moving around to different points in the games. The song has traditionally inspired a stadium-wide sing-along that brings fans out of their seats and closer together. After taking into account feedback from the Pitt Athletics Fan Committee, The Panther Pitt, coaches and players, the song will now be played at different points in the game, targeting specific moments in an effort capitalize on its unifying effect and preserve the tradition of playing it at Heinz Field.

This is fairly large news. There has been a LOT of debate the last couple years on using Sweet Caroline at games. It was started during the 2008 season, and since then has angered, thrilled, and “meh”d Panther. Oh, and caused half the student section to leave after it’s played during most games.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of Sweet Caroline itself, but it is easily the most successful thing Pitt has to get people up, out of their seats, and cheer for Pitt. My opinion has long been if you want to replace Sweet Caroline, find something to replace that has the same effect of getting a vast majority of people at the game involved because nothing else that Pitt does comes even close. You can say what you want about the song, but being in a bar or at a wedding full of Pitt folks and having the song come on is still a fun experience. Yes, it’s not Pitt’s song, but there are ton of things dozens of schools do that aren’t there’s, and people love those just the same. Seven Nation Army might be the most played pump up song at any school, but people love it However, as someone pointed out to me, Pitt tries to sell Sweet Caroline as a Pitt tradition, which does draw the criticism of not being something Pitt started. When you put something on a t-shirt, you are certainly trying to make it into something.

As for students leaving early, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen. I’ve long felt that if Pitt was good, the opponent/game is good, and it’s not unbearably hot, students will stay. Should they really all need all three to stay? You can argue no, but I’m not gonna address that much. It was such a struggle to fight when I was in school and helping to restart the Panther Pitt. My thought is they likely will still leave after the 3rd quarter.

I’m also thinking that if Pitt is moving Sweet Caroline to “other points in the game”, that it likely will not be played to its full length, which could make it awkward. Sweet Caroline isn’t a 30 second pump up song, and it’s one of those “do it all the way or don’t do it all” type of scenario to me.

It will be very interesting to see what direction Pitt goes in after this season after changing it up

Pat Signal: David Green commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a local three-star defensive tackle.

Dedicated☑️Blessed☑️Committed☑️— David Green (@TMT_DGreen2) August 24, 2017

Pitt received some good this afternoon as David Green pledged to the program. Green is a 6’2’ 265 pound defensive tackle from Pittsburgh, and plays for state power, Pittsburgh Central Catholic. He is graded as three-star by Rivals and ESPN. He chose Pitt over additional offers from Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Minnesota, among others.

Green is a unique talent, and adds some athleticism to the interior defensive line. He checks in at 265 pounds and will likely need to bulk up for college, but if you watch his highlight tape you will see that Central Catholic uses him as a fullback, and he proves to be an effective runner for the Vikings. That kind of athleticism should translate at the next level.

Green helped lead Central Catholic to a state title in 2015 as a sophomore, and was on last year’s team that was a state runner-up in class 6A. The Vikings figure to be among the best teams in the state again this year with state championship aspirations. Central has long been a pipeline program for Pitt, and Green will join former teammates, Damar Hamlin, Rashad Wheeler, and Bricen Garner next season.

Green becomes the 14th commitment in the class of 2018. He is the fifth player from the WPIAL to join the class, and is the second defensive tackle to join the class. Green is also the second commitment this week joining Florida DB, Marquis Williams. We have talked at length that Pitt’s recruiting class will not very big, and space will be limited leading up to February's signing day. It seems things are coming down to the wire with just a few spots left.

Realignment Endgame?

How might the final ACC look?

A favorite topic of offseason discussion every Summer it seems is conference realignment. The prevailing opinion at this point is that, while the ACC will likely survive, the Big XII will eventually be absorbed into the other power conferences. However, due to geography, most people have doubts that the ACC would be in a position to take in more than one Big XII team - namely, West Virginia.

So then, what might the ACC look like in its final configuration? About three weeks ago I examined this question on ACCFootballRx [see ACC Endgame]. Since then I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions which I’d like to consider here as well.

First, in my initial article, I assumed that once the Big XII was dissolved there would be a “champs only” playoff model - at which point Notre Dame is all-in. That leaves one spot for the one Big XII team in the ACC footprint: West Virginia.

How would the divisions line up at that point? If we assume the conference tosses out those crazy Atlantic / Coastal divisions and goes more Old ACC / Old Big East, we might see something like this:

(Don’t worry about cross-over games - there would only be two: Virginia / Virginia Tech and Florida State / Miami).

This is a kind of “getting the band back together” alignment for us fans of former Big East teams, and it would restore some great rivalries, such as

  • Pitt vs. Boston College, West Virginia
  • Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville
  • Boston College vs. Pitt, Miami, West Virginia
  • Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech, Miami, West Virginia

In addition, with Notre Dame all in, they would play teams like Pitt and Boston College even more regularly than the current alignment allows.

For fans living in the Mid-Atlantic states, those are some great rivalries restored which would be welcomed with open arms!

However, some have commented that they just don’t think there will ever be a scenario which results in Notre Dame joining the ACC for football... it just isn’t going to happen (or so they say). If true, what else could the ACC do to keep up with the SEC and the Big Ten?

Another alternative which I have examined on ACCFootballRx is the possibility of adding Texas - either as a partial, or along with one or more other Texas teams [see Longhorns and Texas Expansion]. In this scenario, the ACC would add Texas (possibly as a partial member), along with TCU and possibly Houston as well.

This expansion could possibly lead to a North / South division split, like this:

Even this would restore the BC / Pitt game, as well as create some good and very drive-able games between Pitt / Louisville / Virginia Tech. For recruiting purposes something would have to be done to insure annual games in either Florida, Georgia, or Texas for all North division teams - but that really isn’t difficult to do. The league could even sweeten the pot by giving North division teams preferential treatment when scheduling Notre Dame (maybe making that game come around more often for North teams - say every other year instead of every three years).

BOTTOM LINE: Realignment is likely not over, and as long as the Big Ten is looking to add more teams it behooves the ACC to be proactive and make sure the conference is not boxed in - like it was to some extent when the Big Ten acquired Maryland and Rutgers. However, I believe that as long as expansion options exist - whether regional, like West Virginia and Notre Dame, or into the #1 football state - Texas - the ACC should be able to keep up with the Big Ten and the SEC long-term.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer a West Virginia/Notre Dame expansion, a Texas/TCU expansion, or stay with 14.5 teams?


Pitt Football Training Camp: Pat Narduzzi talks freshmen running backs

Pitt's football team has two true freshmen running backs trying to get onto the field in a cluttered stable. We've talked about this quite a bit in the offseason but head coach Pat Narduzzi gave a little bit of clarification to their status for this year on Wednesday.

Typically, most of a team's freshmen will be redshirted and that's especially true if the players are in a unit that is considered deep with other talent. But the Panthers' freshmen are highly-regarded. A.J. Davis was a four-star recruit wanted by numerous major programs and Todd Sibley, while a three-star guy, was a former Ohio State recruit that also had an offer from Michigan, according to Rivals. In other words, both are very skilled guys and could play for any number of teams.

For either to get on the field this season, aside from injuries, they'll seemingly need to be in the team's top three backs. When asked about the freshmen being redshirted, Narduzzi was mostly clear. “If they are going to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart, then yes. But if we feel like they can help us win a game, we are going to play the guys to help us win."

However, he also offered this, too, which sounds like it's opening the door for one of them. "You would like to pick one—redshirt one and play the other—and find out who is close enough to help you."

I'm not terribly sure how to interpret this. Say that one is clearly ahead of the other but not in the top three. Does that mean he won't play barring injuries? Now, perhaps the team doesn't sustain a major injury and if one player goes down for a week, the other two guys may be able to carry the load. But anything beyond that could easily force one of these guys into action.

And as I've stated before, don't undersell the importance other guys Pitt uses as running backs. In addition to the experienced trio, Pitt also has any number of 'other' players that should get carries on sweeps and trick plays, including Quadree Henderson, Jordan Whitehead, and Maurice Ffrench. Add those guys in and the number of carries you'd need from a fourth back (or even a third one with an injury) are minimal.

My overall feeling is that if Pitt doesn't sustain a major injury, one of those guys would have to be really impressive for it to make sense to play them this season. Aside from that, the Panthers just have too many options.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Panthers shuffling offensive linemen to find best unit

Earlier this spring, Pitt was shuffling its offensive line and doing some experimenting. We're closer to the season now but the Panthers are still moving pieces around and trying to find the best fit.

Pitt offensive lineman and Texas transfer Brandon Hodges is still very much in the mix for a spot on the Panthers' offensive line. That's especially true for the first game with the team missing guard Alex Bookser, who is suspended for the opener. But what about the long-term plan for him?

So far, Pitt seems intent on using him at both guard and tackle. Hodges said after practice on Wednesday that he is splitting his time between the two positions. "I'm playing both [guard and tackle]," Hodges said. "You have to be ready for anything, any possible time. I'm ready to play whatever Coach [John Peterson] wants me to play."

Is he leaning towards any particular position? According to head coach Pat Narduzzi, nope. "50/50," he says.

The Panthers' overall plan seems pretty simple and is one that was mentioned earlier in training camp - get the best linemen on the field, regardless of position.

That sounds good in theory, but how is the team putting it into practice? By playing multiple guys at multiple positions.

The path for Hodges to earn playing time appeared to be at tackle where he was essentially competing with Jaryd Jones-Smith to start opposite Brian O'Neill. That's because the Panthers had two returning starters at guard in Bookser and former center Alex Officer. But that sounds less firm now because Officer continues to get reps at center and could be there instead.

"You have guys like Alex Officer, who is really improving at center," said offensive line coach John Peterson. "We're going into the season having multiple centers, and it's very reassuring." Connor Dintino and Jimmy Morrissey have both been the primary competitors there but Officer sounds as if he's back in the mix and that could be, in part, to accommodate Hodges to play guard.

In addition to Officer and Hodges, Pitt is working to cross-train the offensive linemen to play different positions. Bookser, for example, appeared set at guard but has taken reps at center as well. Peterson explained a little about the importance of moving guys around after practice Wednesday.

"It's really about building depth for the unknown factors," he detailed. "That's the thing when you can't predict what happens through the course of the game or the course of the season. Anything can happen and that's why you practice guys in cross-training, because it allows that flexibility and depth. Everyone has their weaknesses and strengths, so I'm just trying to put guys in a position where they can use their strengths."

All of that, of course, makes perfect sense. But how does it screw with practicing the week of a game? Well, there's less of that.

"You do less [cross-training] (during a game week), because the guys really get honed in on the game plan," Peterson added. "But just like anything, you could play right side, left side, guard, tackle. We have that versatility with guys that can snap the ball then play guard also."

The idea is to get them experience playing a lot of positions early on and in camp and then during a game week, they are mostly at the decided-upon position.

Overall, Pitt has seven guys that are in the mix to potentially start games. That, along with the added flexibility of being able to move around, should make them an incredibly versatile unit this season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

ESPN's Robert Lee pulled from Virginia game because of his name, report says

ESPN broadcaster Robert Lee was scheduled to call an upcoming University of Virginia football game, but in light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the network has pulled him from that assignment because of the similarity between his name and that of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

>> Charles Barkley offers brutally honest take on Confederate statue debate

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch released ESPN’s statement on the situation, saying it was Lee’s decision to request a different assignment:

>> See the tweet here

>> Read more trending news

Lee’s decision to request a change of assignment comes on the heels of recent protests in Charlottesville, in which a counter protester, Heather Heyer, was allegedly killed by a white supremacist.

Read more here.

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (FB Season Preview)

Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett record a complete season preview for the 2017 Pitt Football season.

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett record a season preview for Pitt Football. Topics include Paris Ford becoming eligible, an extensive look at the depth chart, and predictions for the season.

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