Pitt Preview: The Quarterbacks

If one were to take all the necessary ingredients into making a good college quarterback, throw them all into a mixer and pull out the consumate player, Tyler Palko would have to be considered.

Palko has all the tools, to go along with an "us against the world" mentality, which is a key component to any field general's success, to take the Panthers to national heights, unknown around the Oakland campus since the 1980's. Just ask his teamates who they'd first want to lead them into battle and they're quick to respond, "Tyler Palko". Panther players now know to never count themselves out of any game with Palko under center.

During the 2004 season, his first as a starter and first on field action since the 2002 season, Palko completed 56.2% of his 409 pass attempts for 3,067 yards, 24 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, leading fourth quarter comeback victories against Furman, Temple, Notre Dame and West Virginia, the preseason conference favorite.

Against Division 1-AA Furman, Palko had a career day completing 30 of 36 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns, two of which came in the fourth quarter, as the Panthers overcame a 17-point deficit to defeat the Paladins 41-38 in overtime.

At lowly Temple, being down by 10 points in the opening minute of the fourth quarter, Palko completes a 50-yard scoring pass to Greg Lee, slicing the deficit to 16-13. He then engineers a nine-play, 58-yard drive, capped by a one-yard touchdown run by Kirkley, giving Pittsburgh its first lead of the game and ensuing victory.

On the road in a very hostile enviroment in South Bend, Palko sparks the Panthers to a fourth quarter (41-38) victory by first hitting TE Erik Gill for a nine yard TD with 2:24 remaining and a short lived 38-35 lead. On their very next possesion the Irish kick a 45-yard field goal to tie the score at 38. Palko saves his best for last leading Pitt on a six-play, 55-yard drive in the final minute to set up the game-winning 32 yard kick by Josh Cummings. Palko finishes with 334 passing yards on 26 of 42 passing attempts, including five touchdowns, the most ever thrown against the Fighting Irish in their storied history.

The 97th edition of the "Backyard Brawl" was the scene for this much anticipated clash of conference powers. Tyler Palko leads the Panthers on a game-winning, fourth quarter touchdown drive. The Panthers lone touchdown comes when Palko runs a QB draw, powering his way into the endzone. The Pitt defense holds WVU on fourth down inside Panther territory to seal the victory.

Though depth is an area of concern, Matt Cavanaugh's offense is set at it's most important position. As long as Tyler Palko is at the helm the Panthers will be a force in the New Big East Conference. What are the Panthers prospects should Palko sustain a nagging, or worse yet, serious injury?

Unless you think incoming freshmen QB's Billy Stull or Shane Murray are the second coming of Michigan's Chad Henne, the cupboard is relatively bare. Luke Getsy, Palko's chief competition since both were recruited from the class of 2002, transfered to Akron before the start of the 2004 season.

Not only is hard throwing, redshirt sophmore Joe Flacco an unproven player, completing only one career pass on four attempts, he's also looking to transfer from Pitt.

These nuances leave the coaching staff little options for the second stringer. Either one of the incoming freshmen or junior Matt Flaus, who's yet to attempt a college pass, will hold the distiction of being Palko's backup. Look for one of the freshmen. Flaus, a former walk-on, likely won't get the chance.

Deja-vu? A highly touted highschool quarterback from Pittsburgh Central Catholic signs a letter of intent to play for the local university. Another Marino? Not likely. What does Shane Murray do best of all? He wins football games. Murray, a duel threat quarterback, isn't the most gifted passer coming out of the state of Pennsylvania, or the WPIAL for that matter. He is however, a cerebral player who combines veteran leadership with athleticism, who, like Tyler Palko, would sacrifice almost anything to come away with a victory for his team. Prior to an amazing run in 2004, Central Catholic coach Art Walker again entrusted Murray as team captain. Murray, a starter on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball, took that responsibility all the way to an undefeated state championship. In two seasons as starter for the Vikings, Murray led Central to a 29-2 record. During his senior season he threw for 1,485 yards and 20 touchdowns, while running for 476 yards and four TDs.

As a defensive starter at free safety, Murray had five interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Honors include, defensive selection on The Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAAA All-State Team (first team), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Fabulous 22", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review "Terrific 25", Harrisburg Patriot-News "Platinum 33", All-Quad East honoree on offense and defense. Rated the No. 27 prospect in Pennsylvania by Scout.com. Murray's future with the Panthers probably lies on the defensive side of the ball.

Billy Stull was dumbfounded. He attended the Walt Harris passing camps prior to his junior and senior seasons. He then puts together a senior season that most kids could only dream about. Stull wanted to stay home and play for the local team. In 2004 Stull did what no other WPIAL quarterback has ever done, throw for over 3000 yards in a single season.

All told Stull passed for 3,310 yards with 40 touchdowns and 15 interceptions while leading Seton-LaSalle to the WPIAL Class AA championship and the quarterfinals of the state playoffs with a 13-1 record. He set a WPIAL championship game record with 323 yards passing against Aliquippa while throwing five TD passes. During his illustrious career he threw for 5,572 yards and 62 touchdowns, ranking in the top five of both categories in WPIAL annals. Had a career completion rate of 61%, completing 393 of 643 passes. Led the Rebels to a two-year record of 19-4 (.826).

All accolades aside, [The Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AA All-State Team (first team), Pittsburgh Post-Gazette "Fabulous 22", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Class AA Co-Player of the Year, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review "Terrific 25", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review All-Class AA, Harrisburg Patriot-News "Platinum 33", First team All-Century Conference, PrepStar All-American, SuperPrep All-Northeast Team, Scout.com East Hot 100, Rated Pennsylvania's No. 15 by SuperPrep and Scout.com], still no offer from the Panthers.

Billy Stull, the area's hottest quarterback prospect reads the writing on the wall and verbals to the Kentucky Wildcats. Exit Walt Harris, enter Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt wants a stud QB in his first recruiting class. He can't believe a kid with the talent of Stull, who wants to play at Pitt, never got an offer from the former regime. He quickly steps up and offers a scholarship. Stull's verbal commitment to Kentucky is no more. The record-setting quarterback who made WPIAL history signs with Pitt. Billy Stull, the future of Pitt football?

"Next Up," (The Runningbacks)


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