PITTSBURGH -- University of Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt believes that the Panthers are much better prepared to open this season than they were last year in Wannstedt's return to college football, but that won't guarantee success against Virginia Saturday night at 7 at Heinz Field.
"Everybody knows what kind of team Virginia has,'' Wannstedt said Monday. "They're close to being a BCS team, so this won't be a chance for us to work out the kinks, catch our breath or do any experimenting. We're going to have to be ready to play and be ready to play very well Saturday night.
"(So), we'll have to be ready to play and play well. I believe our football team is where we need to be mentally, and we're in pretty good shape physically. ... So, our guys will be ready to go, and we look forward to the challenge. But there's no chance for error (against) a team like Virginia.''
Pitt will commemorate the 30th anniversary of its 1976 national championship by honoring the team at halftime. So, former players like quarterback Matt Cavanaugh, the team's offensive coordinator now, head coach Johnny Majors, the team's special assistant to the head coach and athletic director, tailback Tony Dorsett and nose tackle Al Romano will be in the spotlight as well as the newest edition of the Panthers football team.
"Last year (against Notre Dame), with all the excitement coming back with (Mike) Ditka and (Dan) Marino on the field and all those guys, I just don't want to make them mad,'' Palko said. "They were upset last year that we got embarrassed, so I don't want to embarrass them this year.''
Palko was only half-kidding, but it could be difficult for Pitt's offense, at least in the early going, against Virginia with so many inexperienced players on the depth chart on both sides of the ball. The biggest area of concern is at wide receiver, where only junior Derek Kinder has experience.
* Redshirt freshman Oderick Turner, who was inconsistent in training camp, is the other starting wideout. Redshirt sophomore Marcel Pestano (one career catch) and redshirt frosh Cedric McGee are the backups. McGee missed nearly all of camp with a leg injury, and Pestano didn't step up.
* Also, senior Joe DelSardo has been suspended through the opener with the length determined after that, and freshman T.J. Porter could be suspended for his recent conduct. Porter has struggled with homesickness since early in camp, and he got into a shoving match with cornerback Darrelle Revis at practice Friday night. Wannstedt said he will practice this week, but his status for the game will be determined by game time.
"(Porter) is part of the team, and he will be at practice,'' Wannstedt said. "But we're just working through some growing pains that really don't have anything to do with football. It's more of a transition and adjustment.
"And I really feel an obligation to the player and, as importantly, his parents, and our University to try to do everything we can to help these young kids with the transition if there's problems.
"As long as it doesn't compromise anything that we're doing as a football team,'' Wannstedt added. "So, you have to be able to separate the two. ... It has not been determined if he'll dress Saturday, but I would expect so. And I expect him to have a good practice, and we'll go from there.''
* Freshman Dorin Dickerson, a blue-chip recruit, was supposed to add depth to the wideout spot this year. However, he was injured for two weeks in camp and dropped down the depth chart. He eventually was moved to running back and could help there, but he hasn't practiced much at full speed.
"There are a lot of circumstances at receiver, so we're not as deep as I would like to be at the position with guys that have played or with practice time,'' Wannstedt said, referring to the injuries, attrition and suspension that have plagued the position since training camp began.
"Oderick Turner is going to be an outstanding player. He's a redshirt freshman, but he's going to grow up fast. And he's going to make plays Saturday night. I think he's going to be a heckuva player for us. But that position, for the reason's I've mentioned, we're a little thin there.''
* Pitt is just as young at tailback with sophomore LaRod Stephens-Howling returning as the starter, but three freshmen -- Shane Brooks, Kevin Collier and Dickerson are the backups. Sophomore Conredge Collins and redshirt junior Mark Yezovich are battling for the fullback spot.
"To LaRod's credit, and our strength program, he's about 10 pounds heavier than he was a year ago today,'' Wannstedt said. "I believe he's stronger, and he's plenty tough enough. We know that, so I'm optimistic that he's going to be more durable. But, will we spell him? Yes. ... So, there's no question that it's going to be running back by committee.''
* There are several other issues for Pitt going into the opener. The place-kicking is not yet settled due to a lingering hamstring injury to redshirt sophomore Conor Lee. A second walk-on, freshman Dan Hutchins, is battling with Lee for the starting spot. But one has not been named. The two will kick Wednesday at Heinz Field, and a determination will be made afterward.
"It's been tough to really make a final decision because Conor Lee has been hampered a bit by that injury,'' Wannstedt said. "He wanted to kick (Monday), but I'm probably going to hold him another day or maybe two days to see where he's at. So, there's more involved in this decision.''
* Two other starting positions were close, but redshirt junior Kennard Cox edged fifth-year senior Reggie Collier at the cornerback spot opposite Revis, and redshirt junior Joe Clermond is ahead of classmate Chris McKillop at left defensive end. All four will play.
"Joe Clermond and Chris McKillop are interchangeable as to who starts,'' Wannstedt said. "And they'll play equally. ... (At cornerback), it was close, but either one could start. Reggie has been hampered a little bit with an injury, but he's back full speed for practice.
"And they'll both play. They've been consistent. They both can run and have been in the system, so we have confidence in both those kids.''
* Sophomore's Gus Mustakas and Rashaad Duncan are the defensive tackles, but redshirt sophomore Corey Davis and freshman John Malecki will rotate in as backups. Wannstedt said that frosh Jason Pinkston and McKenzie Mathews will be brought along slowly this season.
"I like our attitude better, and I think we're hungrier,'' Wannstedt said. "I think we have more playmaking ability with our front four, regardless of who's in there, and we're going to rotate guys. I expect to play eight defensive linemen come Saturday night.''
* Redshirt sophomore long-snapper (for punts) Mark Estermyer officially was awarded a scholarship. Wannstedt added that one will not be given to whichever kicker wins the starting job until possibly the spring.