2004 Pittsburgh Panthers Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> <A HREF=[PlayerNode:656239]>Walt Harris</A> (44-40, 55-64 overall) <br><br> <b>Last Season's Record:</b> 8-5 (3rd place in Big East) <br><br> <b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2003 Continental Tire Bowl (23-16 loss to Virginia) <br><br> <b>Key matchup(s):</b> Sept. 04 @<A HREF=http://southflorida.TheInsiders.com>South Florida</A>, Sept. 18 <A HREF=http://nebraska.TheInsiders.com>Nebraska</A>, Oct. 16 Boston College, Nov. 25 West Virginia.

Star Power: OT Rob Petitti, 6-6 330 senior, WR Princell Brockenbrough 6-3 205 senior, QB Tyler Palko 6-2 220 soph.

Notable Additions: WR Jason Gaffney 6-2 185 JC transfer, K Joshua Cummings 5-11, 185 JC Transfer

Notable Subtractions: QB Rod Rutherford, WR Larry Fitzgerald, RB Brandon Miree, FB Lousaka Polite, TE Kris Wilson, DE Claude Harriott, CB Shawntae Spencer, P Andy Lee, and LB Lewis Moore were all drafted or signed as free agents by NFL teams

Notable Returnees: RB Raymond Kirkley 5-10 225 junior, RB Jawan Walker 5-10, 215 junior, WR Greg Lee 6-2 180 soph., OG John Simonitis 6-3 300 soph., LB Brian Bennett 6-0, 235 soph., DE Thomas Smith 6-4 275 junior, DT Vince Crochunis 6-4 290 senior, DT Dan Stephens 6-2 295 senior, S Tez Morris 5-10 190 junior, S Tyrone Gilliard 5-11 195 senior

09/04/04@South Florida
10/16/04Boston College
11/13/04@Notre Dame
11/25/04West Virginia
Offensive Overview: The offense will be much different than the 2003 version. The quarterback, whoever that may be, will be asked to play within the framework of Walt Harris ' offense. Red-shirt soph. Tyler Palko and Luke Getsy are battling neck and neck for the starting QB job. The line will need to be retooled significantly and Pittsburgh will need help from oft-injured players like Matt Maiers and Rob Fredrick. There is a very good possibility that one or more of the red-shirt freshmen could see significant time on the line. At tailback, the battle between Kirkley and Walker may come down to the wire. The Panthers must find a way to fill the holes left by the departure of Fitzgerald and Wilson. Brockenbrough and Lee will have to produce early and often. At TE, Erik Gill and Steve Buches give the Panthers a nice 1-2 punch.

Defensive Overview: The defense could be the strength of this year's Pittsburgh team. The Panthers return a ton of depth at linebacker and in the secondary, albeit unproven depth. The biggest loss on defense may be at corner where Shawntae Spencer was rock solid. Bottom line is that the Panthers must find a way to consistently shut down the running game.

Special Teams Overview: Sophomore P Adam Graessle had two seasons to learn from Andy Lee, though Graessle may have a stronger leg than Lee. K David Abdul junior was involved in a serious automobile accident early in the year. His rehab is going well and he may be able to join the team this fall. If Abdul is unable to kick, JC transfer Joshua Cummings will battle incumbent walk-on J.B. Gibboney soph. and walk-on fresh K Connor Lee.

The Panthers can win eight games this season if... the offensive line comes together and the defensive line improves on their sack total last season of six. On offense, whoever the brand new quarterback may be will be asked to not lose games. The defense will be more aggressive under Paul Rhoads, but will need to show that they are not so undersized that teams can smash-mouth them to death.

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