Breakdown of Panther opponents in 2002

An evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the 12 teams Pitt will face this season.

This is a look at the strengths and weaknesses of opponents on the Panthers' 2002 schedule. Pitt will play a 12 game schedule that will feature seven home games. Pitt is shooting for its fourth bowl game in six years and plays six teams that played in bowl games last season.

Ohio U

The Bobcats return six starters on offense and three starters on defense. They run a triple-option offense that features the running game. Senior QB Dontrell Jackson, senior RB Chad Brinker and senior FB Joe Sherrill will lead the ground attack. Defensively, Ohio needs to improve against the run and they also gave up the big play through the air last season. Last season they finished with a 1-10 record, but they did only lose to Toledo and Iowa St by only a touchdown. They also out-rushed WVU and were only losing 14-7 to NC State in the fourth quarter of their game last season. The Panthers should not have many problems if they can avoid looking ahead to the Texas A&M game.

Texas A&M

Always known for their standout defenses and strong rushing attacks, the Aggies look to return to the national picture after struggling last season with being forced to play young players on offense due to injuries. Texas A&M returns 10 starters on offense and seven starters on defense. Standouts on offense include sophomore Derek Farmer, a 5-11 192 lb running back known for his hard nosed, tackle-breaking running style. Defensively the Aggies are known for a pit bull-like attacking defense. Standouts on defense include D-end Ty Warren, linebacker Jarrod Penright and CB Sammy Davis. All three are ranked among the best in the country at their positions! They finished 8-4 last season which included a bowl win over TCU. This should be a tough game for the Panthers' young and inexperienced offense, especially the QB and WR's.

UAB

Pitt defeated UAB 24-6 at home last season to secure a bowl invitation. UAB returns six starters on offense and only two starters on defense. UAB is always known for playing tough defense, but their entire front four has moved onto the NFL. The Blazers return three starters on the O-line and a solid pass catching combo in senior QB Thomas Cox and senior WR Willie Quinnie. Top players on defense should include D-end James Malone, DT Marvin Nickson and safety Chris Brown. Playing in Alabama in the mid-September heat, even at night, can never be easy and UAB has been known for pulling big upsets in its history, so the Panthers will need to be ready for this game.

Rutgers

Pitt defeated Rutgers 42-0 last season. It was the first season for new head coach Greg Schiano. Rutgers has recruited very well the last two seasons and they also played a ton of young players, which should start to pay off for them. They return seven starters on offense and nine starters on defense. Tight end LJ Smith is the best player on offense and one of the best in the conference. QB Ryan Cubit took a beating last year as a freshman but proved his toughness and showed he does have the talent to make some noise. Top players on defense include D-end Raheem Orr, LB Gary Brackett and safety Shawn Seabrooks. Rutgers came close to upsetting Syracuse last year before falling 24-17, so they can pull off the upset if their opponent isn't sharp. Rutgers finished 2-9 last season.

Toledo

The Rockets finished 10-2 last season and ranked in the top 25. It also included a bowl win over Cincinnati. They lost a lot of talented players from last season but still figure to be one of the top teams in their conference as they have put together a strong program. Toledo returns four starters on offense and four starters on defense. Toledo returns five linemen who have started at least two games each. Top players on offense include tackle Nick Kaczur and senior WR's Carl Ford and Donta Greene. The Rockets run a high-powered spread offense and have been very successful with that attack. Toledo will have to replace big play QB Tavares Bolden and NFL RB Chester Taylor. The defense features star senior linebackers Tom Ward and David Gardner. Both are considered among the best in the country. The Rockets do have to replace their defensive line, which has been extremely strong in years past. Toledo has crushed Penn St and Temple in recent years, so the Panthers will need a strong performance to come away with the victory.

Syracuse

Syracuse defeated the Panthers 42-10 last season after the Panthers dominated the first half. Syracuse returns six starters on defense and two starters on offense. Syracuse must replace four starters on the O-line and must replace star RB James Mungro. Johnie Morant is the top play maker on offense and RJ Anderson is a solid QB. The defense should be strong again and led by LB Clifton Smith and tackle Christian Ferrara. Syracuse finished the season with a 10-3 record last year, which included a convincing win over Kansas St in a bowl game. The Panthers have not beaten the Orangemen in a long time and it is never easy to get a win at the Carrier Dome. Still, this season looks to be the Panthers' Best chance in awhile to finally grab a victory.

Notre Dame

The Irish defeated the Panthers last year 24-7 in what could have easily been a Panther victory. New coach Tyrone Willingham looks to improve over last season's 5-6 record. The Irish return seven starters on offense and six starters on defense. The Irish return four of five starters on the O-line, but need to find a RB. They have little to no depth at running back. They also do not have a QB to run a pro-style offense that the first year coach likes to run. The Irish return three of four starters in the secondary. They should be strong up the middle of their defense with returning senior starters Darrell Campbell and Cedric Hilliard at tackle and senior linebacker Courtney Watson. Winning up at Notre Dame is never easy, no matter what record they have or the opposing team has.

Boston College

The Eagle defeated the Panthers 45-7 last season in what was one of the worst performances by a Panther team in a long time. The Eagles return eight starters on offense and defense and should have an outstanding team this season. They return four of five starters on the O-line and top QB Brian St.Pierre. If they find a RB to replace superstar William Green, they will be tough to stop. On defense, the Eagles are always strong and should be very good Once again. Antonio Garay is a standout D-end who returns for his senior season and will be backed by star LB's Josh Ott and Vinny Ciurciu. BC also returns three of four in the secondary, plus both kickers! The Eagles were 8-4 last season and beat Georgia in a bowl game. Pitt gets BC at home this year but they look on paper like one of the best teams in the conference if not the country.

Virginia Tech

Pitt defeated VT 38-7 in a big upset last season as the Panthers finally turned their season around. VT was dominated from start to finish and will be looking for revenge this season at their home field. VT returns six starters on offense and five starters on defense. They feature two of the best RB's in the country in Lee Suggs and Kevin Jones. They also return three of four starters on the O-line. Top performers on defense include safety Willie Pile and CB Ronyell Whitaker. VT must replace their top three linebackers from last season and three of four on the D-line. VT finished last season with an 8-4 record and lost to FSU in the Gator Bowl. Pitt has the team to beat VT but pulling off a victory at their place is never easy, especially when you consider they will be out for revenge.

Temple

Pitt defeated Temple 33-7 last year to start their impressive turnaround. The Owls return nine starters on offense and six starters on defense in what should be their best team in awhile. Temple will run the spread offense this season and will feature senior star WR Sean Dillard. Leading the way for the defense will be outstanding DT Dan Klecko. Dan will be moved to D-end this season. This will be the first team that consists of players recruited entirely by head coach Bobby Wallace. The Owls were 4-7 last season and upset WVU 17-14.

Miami

What can you say, they are the defending National Champs and will once again be loaded with talent! They have already been selected as the #1 team in the country! Miami defeated Pitt 43-21 last season. They are led on offense by super QB Ken Dorsey and star WR Andre Johnson. They only return three starters on offense and six starters on defense, but many of the backups having playing experience in blowout victories, plus most were All-Americans in high school. Miami returns all four starters on the D-line and two of three starters at linebacker. Miami does need to replace its entire secondary. Jonathan Vilma leads the defense from his linebacker position. The Miami D-line is considered the best returning unit in the country. They finished 12-0 last season and were the National Champs! Pitt would have to pull off a huge upset to beat Miami down in Florida, but hopefully the Panthers will get some revenge for last year's blowout loss.

WVU

Pitt defeated WVU 23-17 last season in the backyard brawl. WVU should be much improved after having a year to learn the new systems that were put in by new coach Rich Rodriguez. WVU returns seven starters on offense and eight starters on defense. The offense will be led by star RB Avon Cobourne. They also return four of five starters on their O-line. Question marks on offense include WR and QB.The defense is led linebacker Grant Wiley. The defense returns all three starters on the D-line in a new 3-3-5 Defense. They also return two of three starting linebackers. If the new incoming WR's step up, they should have a much-improved offense. The defense will have five seniors And one junior in the front six. WVU finished 3-8 last season and has a chance to be one of this year's biggest surprises. As bad as they were last year, they were in the Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse games till the end.


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