Pitt Poised for a Big Season

There hasn't been this much excitement surrounding the Pitt program since the days of quarterback Dan Marino, and before that since Tony Dorsett prowled the Pitt campus.<br><br> Pitt enters the season ranked in the Top Twenty in most preseason polls and even making an appearance in the Top Ten in a few polls.

The Panthers return eight starters on offense. Leading the way is senior quarterback Rod Rutherford, who passed for 2,783 yards with 22 touchdowns and rushed for 398 yards and six touchdowns last season. Rutherford is joined by a mostly veteran offensive line and also sophomore wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald who is coming off the best season for a freshman wide receiver in school history. He amassed 1,005 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last season.

The Pitt defense returns seven starters led by defensive end Claude Harriott and linebacker Lewis Moore. The Panthers are confident that they have adequate replacements for the five starters they lost.

The Panthers return kicker David Abdul and punter Andy Lee on special teams, but they need someone to really step up in the return game.

Pittsburgh has a favorable schedule catching Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Miami at home. Potential trouble spots are Texas A&M, Boston College, and archrival West Virginia on the road.

The Pitt team has a great attitude coming into the season and they appear to have their heads screwed on right; they are well grounded. A lot of factors are in Pitt's favor. Their biggest enemy may be themselves.

Walt Harris has grown as the Pitt coach, but he still has a tendency to over-coach at times. I think he learned a valuable lesson after the 1-5 start in 2001, when he refused to change the offense and put himself and the team behind the eight ball.

The stage is set for a great run this season for Pitt. The variables are overconfidence, over-coaching, and the big variable - injuries. Pitt can't afford any key injuries because depth is a concern.

Pitt's best case scenario is an 11-1 record. The worst case scenario would be a 9-3 mark. Let the games begin and brace yourselves for an exciting season.

George Von Benko

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