Todd Graham takes over the Pittsburgh program from Dave Wannstedt following a disappointing season which led to the veteran coach's dismissal and a botched hiring and firing of Mike Haywood Miami of Ohio.
Graham came in from Tulsa, where he had built one of the nation's most exciting offenses, and he put together a staff that included a number of former Rich Rodriguez assists -- like himself -- who helped build WVU into an offensive power.
Getting a late start on recruiting, Graham did not have a highly-rated class but he will not worry about that.
"It has been challenging, but that is what makes this business so great," Graham said. "The foundation of our program is to bring men of great character into the program. But, when you start talking about personnel, our philosophy is one that is very unique so we're not real concerned about rankings, we're not real concerned about what everybody else is doing.
"We're concerned about our unique philosophy and our unique approach. We look for character, work ethic, discipline, and those are the characteristics you are going to find in this class."
Graham's work will be cut out as he takes over the remains of a team that ran a traditional pro offense and not the high-speed spread that he will be installing in the spring. He also will be without top running back Dion Lewis and deep receiving threat Jon Baldwin, both of whom declared early for the NFL.
TOP OF THE CLASS
LB Nicholas Grigsby (Trotwood-Madison, Trotwood, Ohio) -- One of the top linebckers in Ohio,Grigsby had 154 tackles with four sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception returned 70 yards for a touchdown. He had 10.5 tackles in the state championship game.
DB Lafayette Pitts (Woodland Hills High, Pittsburgh) -- One of Western Pennsylvania's most highly coveted prospects, the 5-11, 180-pound defensive back will reunite with a pair of fellow Woodland Hills prospects at Pitt in his cousin, Jevonte Pitts, a freshman defensive back, and freshman defensive lineman Khaynin Mosley-Smith. A talented athlete, Pitts rushed for 1,658 yards with 28 TD, averaging 8.1 yards a carry as a running back.
RB Malcolm Crockett (Friendship Collegiate Academy, Washington, D.C.) -- With only one scholarship running back returning, Pitt landed four in this class and the most acclaimed is 5-10, 180-pound Crockett who rushed for nearly 2,000 yards and scored 20 touchdowns as a junior and senior. Although limited to seven games by an ankle sprain his senior season, he gained 810 yards and have five TD.
--The dismissal of head coach Dave Wannstedt may have hastened the departure of TB Dion Lewis, FB Henry Hynoski and WR Jon Baldwin for the NFL. All three had been leaning that way but when the change was made it solidified their decisions.
--The status of junior linebacker Dan Mason for the 2011 season is still an unknown as he recovers from a significant knee injury (sustained in September's Miami (Fla.) game). While his rehabilitation has been productive, he is not expected to fully participate in spring drills.
Practice priorities: This becomes a crucial spring as new coach Todd Graham has got to install his offense and defense. The offense is a radical departure from the conservative pro-style, run-first offense run by previous coach Dave Wannstedt. QB Tino Sunseri will have to make major adjustments if he is going to wind up the man running the show.
The top of list is finding a new quarterback, but there are other pressing matters, including incorporating the new offensive scheme and identifying seven starters on defense in the wake of a mass exodus on that side of the ball. Coach Harvey Jones said UT could be one of the youngest teams in the conference next season based on the many vacancies on the two-deep.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll be the most explosive team in the country." -- Pitt's new coach Todd Graham at his introductory press conference.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
KEY LOSSES: RB Dion Lewis was the top returning running back in the nation last year but failed to live up to his freshman statistics. Lewis went from 1,774 yards to 1,061 yards, in part responsible for the decline in production from the offense. Lewis declared early for the NFL. Ray Graham, his replacement, rushed for 922 yards last season including 277 against Florida International.
WR Jon Baldwin, one of the top deep threats in the nation, declared early for the NFL after a less-than-expected season. Baldwin failed to repeat as a 1,000-yard receiver last season, finishing with only 822 on 53 catches. He did lead Pitt with 5 TD receptions.
DE Jabaal Sheard, the Big East's Defensive Player of the Year overcame a pre-season indiscretion to put together the best season of his career. His ability to rush the passer and make plays will be difficult to replace.
PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2011
QB Tino Sunseri -- A junior, Sunseri proved himself a capable quarterback in Wannstedt's pro-style offense. How he will adjust to the wide-open offense run by new coach Todd Graham will dictate his future with the team. Graham is convinced he can do the job and that he can find a way to take advantage of Sunseri's abilities. Sunseri threw for 2,571 yards last year with 16 touchdowns, far short of what Graham is looking for out of his offense.
RB Ray Graham -- Expected to backup Dion Lewis, Graham got a chance early in the season and proved he could be an every-down back capable of gaining more than 1,000 yards. He finished with 922 yards while sharing time at the position with Lewis. Given the job on his own, he could prove to be the top running back in the Big East.
DE Brandon Lindsey -- Forced into action when starter Greg Romeus went down to a back injury, Lindsey became one of the top sack producers in the Big East. Rushing from the other side of Jabaal Sheard, he finished with 10 sacks and 18 tackles for losses.
WR Mike Shanahan -- With the Panthers switching over to Todd Graham's passing offense, Shanahan becomes a key component of the offense. He is the leading returning receiver, having taken some of the pressure off Jon Baldwin last year by catching 43 passes for 589 yards. He does have to show an ability to get to the end zone, having caught only one TD pass.
--FB Henry Hynoski, one of the most bruising blocking backs in the Big East and good short-yardage runner, had only 34 rushing yards and showed himself a capable receiver with 25 receptions for 174 yards last season. The new offense run by Todd Graham does not use a fullback.