For the 2011 Pitt Panthers, September 10th marks the date of a showdown with Division I FCS (formerly I-AA) foe, Maine. The Black Bears, under head coach Jack Cosgrove, hail from the Colonial Athletic Association conference and finished the 2010 season with a disappointing record of 4-7, including 3-5 in conference play.
During every football season, Maine makes an attempt to play at least one FBS (Division I-A) team in order to draw attention to its program. In 2010, Maine took on Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Unfortunately, the Black Bears were not able to leave Syracuse with a victory, losing that game 38-14. This season, Maine will set its sights upon another Big East Squad, the Pitt Panthers.
In 2011, Maine has a relatively tough schedule. To go along with Pitt, Maine will also play FCS powerhouses Delaware and Villanova. Add in the fact that 6 of Maine's 11 games are on the road, and this schedule presents quite the challenge for Jack Cosgrove's team.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Donte Dennis, LB-Dennis is a 6'0, 220-pound senior linebacker from Rahway, New Jersey. He is a pre-season Third Team FCS All-American team, and a First Team All-CAA player. Dennis is an absolute missile, as he flies to the ball and can make the explosive hit. He is a converted High School running back with speed and tenacity. Dennis led Maine in 2010 with 108 tackles.
Chris Howley, OL-The 6'3, 295-pound Howley is a right guard from Runnemede, New Jersey. Howley is a Fourth Team All-American and also a First Team All-CAA selection. The redshirt-junior led the Black Bear's offensive line and helped to anchor a unit that allowed only 12 sacks during the 2010 season. He is a very smart and athletic player.
Jerron McMillian, SS- Jerron McMillian is a 5'11, 215-pound strong safety from Hillside, New Jersey. The redshirt-senior is a First Team All-CAA selection. He was among the CAA defensive back leaders in tackles a year ago, collecting 58. He also added 2 interceptions and broke up 6 passes. McMillian is a very athletic, active safety that likes to hit. He is equally adept against the run or pass, as he showed in 2009 while notching 5 interceptions.
Derek Buttles, TE-Buttles is a 6'5, 230 pound redshirt-senior tight end. Hailing from Pike, New York, Buttles is a Second Team All-CAA player. While he only caught 27 passes for 291 yards and a score a year ago, Buttles is an all-around football player. He excels in both the running and passing games, and also plays special teams.
Pitt RB Ray Graham vs. Maine LB Donte Dennis-Dennis is a speed demon at the linebacker position who will most likely match up with Graham out of the backfield. Look for Dennis to do a pretty good job of covering Graham on plays in space. Where Dennis will struggle, however, will be when Graham runs inside. Dennis will be overmatched on the interior and Graham could do a lot of damage if he successfully runs behind his massive blockers.
Pitt DL Chas Alecxih and Myles Caragein vs. Maine OG Chris Howley- Chris Howley may be Maine's only chance of finding some running room against a tough defensive line that the Panthers field. Unfortunately for Maine, Howley is only one man, and will not be able to block everbody. Even if Howley is able to control a single defender, look for the rest of the Pitt defense to wreak havoc in the backfield against the Black Bears. Alecxih and Caragein can each have dominate games against Maine.
Pitt QB Tino Sunseri vs. Maine SS Jerron McMillian-In order for Pitt to be successful on offense, Sunseri is going to have to be aware of McMillian for the duration of the game. McMillian is a ball-hawking safety that can make a team pay with a single slip up. Sunseri must improve his poise in the pocket and decision-making ability, or else McMillian may get his hands on a football or two. Keep an eye on McMillian, as he may make some splash plays.
For the second game in a row, Pitt has the clear advantage athletically. This game is going to come down to execution. Maine is very well coached under Jack Cosgrove and they will look to be very efficient with the football.
Maine, however, appears to lack the firepower needed to keep up with this FBS team. Behind RB Ray Graham, Pitt will most likely be too much for the Black Bears to handle. Pitt should come out of this game with a 2-0 record, and be ready to get to the meat of their schedule.