Pitt Picked To Finish Sixth

The Pitt football team apparently has a lot to prove this season, as the Panthers were picked sixth in the eight-team Big East Conference in a preseason media poll announced during the annual Media Day festivities Tuesday in Newport, R.I.

Pittsburgh, which will be guided for the third straight season by head coach Dave Wannstedt, only finished ahead of Connecticut and Syracuse in the preseason media poll. The Panthers, who were represented by senior wideout Derek Kinder and fifth-year senior defensive end Joe Clermond, were 6-6 overall and 2-5 in the Big East last season. Pitt returns eight starters on offense and six on defense in an attempt to surpass the .500 mark for the first time under Wannstedt.

West Virginia, which returns Heisman hopefuls in running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Pat White among nine offensive starters (18 overall), received 20 of the possible 24 first-place votes to finish first in the poll. The Mountaineers were 11-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big East last season to tie for second behind Louisville.

The Cardinals, who were 12-1 overall and 6-1 in the Conference last fall, received three first-place votes and finished second in the poll. Louisville has a new coach, Steve Kragthorpe, but returns Heisman candidate Brian Brohm at quarterback.

Rutgers received the other first-place vote and was picked to finish third. The Scarlet Knights, who were 11-2 overall and 5-2 in the Big East last season, won the program's first bowl game with a 37-10 decision against Kansas State in the Texas Bowl. Rutgers' top returning player is tailback Ray Rice, who is another Heisman hopeful for the Big East.

South Florida was a clear choice to finish fourth after a second straight bowl appearance last season. The Bulls finished 9-4 overall and 4-3 in league play. USF returns 19 starters this season, including quarterback matt Grothe, the big East rookie of the year last season.

Cincinnati garnered 86 points and was projected to finish fifth, just six points ahead of Pitt. The Bearcats, 8-5 overall and 4-3 in the Big East, beat Western Michigan 27-24 to win the inaugural International Bowl last season. Brian Kelly enters his first full year as the head coach after taking over in December and guiding Cincinnati to its bowl win. Among Cincy's 15 returning starters is junior defensive tackle Terrill Byrd.

Connecticut (45 points) and Syracuse (32) were solid in the final two spots. UConn was chosen to finish seventh after going 4-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big East last season. The Huskies have 14 returning starters with sophomore tailback Donald Brown coming back after a spectacular freshman year.

Syracuse improved to 4-8 overall, including 1-6 in the Big East, but still was picked to finish eighth this year. Coach Greg Robinson, like Wannstedt, is also entering his third season. The Orange has just 12 starters returning this season, including senior defensive end Jameel McClain, the Conference's sack leader last fall.

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