In its College Football Preview issue this week, Sports Illustrated has the University of Pittsburgh ranked 62nd among the 119 NCAA Division I-A teams in the nation.
The Panthers are picked to finish sixth in the Big East with just two Conference wins, probably against bottom-dwellers Connecticut and Syracuse, and go 5-7 overall to finish out of the bowl picture for the third straight year under head coach Dave Wannstedt.
When told about it, the Panthers within earshot let out a collective groan, but senior left offensive tackle Jeff Otah's response summed it up the best: "What? 62nd? They don't think too highly of us, do they? Well, I guess we'll just have to prove them wrong, that's all.''
West Virginia and Louisville, which are ranked fourth and fifth nationally by SI, are picked one-two in the Big East with 6-1 Conference marks and 11-1 records overall. WVU is picked to play in the Orange Bowl against Virginia Tech, while Rutgers -- third in the Big East at 10-2 and 5-2 -- has the Conference's other BCS bid to face Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinals are slated to meet Cal in the Sun Bowl.
Other bowl teams on Pitt's schedule include Navy vs. BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl in San Diego, Cincinnati vs. Memphis in the PapaJohns.com Bowl in Memphis, Oregon State vs. Virginia in the Emerald Bowl in San Francisco, South Florida vs. Wake Forest in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte.
In the players to watch list among unranked Big East teams, redshirt sophomore Oderick Turner is mentioned for Pitt. The note says that after catching 44 passes for 660 yards and eight touchdowns as a freshman, (Turner) will play an even bigger role in the offense with the loss of Derek Kinder to a season-ending knee injury in he team's first full-squad workout.
Others on that list are running back Donald Brown from UConn, defensive tackle Terrill Byrd from Cincinnati, quarterback Matt Grothe from South Florida and defensive end Jameel McClain from Syracuse.
The Big East's top offensive player is Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, while Rutgers tackle Eric Foster is the top defensive player. The top rookie is WVU freshman running back Noel Devine. The coach on the rise is Louisville's Steve Kragthorpe, while Syracuse's Greg Robinson is the coach on the hot seat. And the sleeper program is South Florida with Coach Jim Leavitt.
Additionally, SI noted that former Miami recruit Willie Williams is now enrolled at Louisville and has two years left. WVU raided South Florida for assistant coaches Greg Frey and Rod Smith, the OL and QB coach, respectively. Two-year starter Dustin Grutza will have to battle Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk to win the Cincinnati QB job again.
And Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt is counting on highly-touted freshman LeSean McCoy of Harrisburg, Pa. to contribute immediately. McCoy, a top 10 RB in high school class of 2006, originally committed to Miami before spending a year at prep school. Another highly-ranked Panthers recruit, quarterback Pat Bostick of Lancaster, Pa. could also play as a freshman.
Individually, Brohm, WVU quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton basically are in SI's Heisman watch with Slaton listed among the frontrunners with Arkansas running back Darrenn McFadden and USC quarterback John David Booty.
Brohm, Slaton, Louisville center Eric Wood and Foster were preseason All-America candidates from the Big East.
USC was SI's preseason No. 1 pick with LSU a close second. The two are set to meet in the BCS title game Jan. 7, 2008 in New Orleans. SI's other BCS matchups have No. 3 Florida facing No. 9 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, while No. 8 Texas takes on No. 10 Wisconsin in the Fiesta Bowl. Michigan is ranked sixth, while Virginia Tech is seventh.
The rest of the top 20 has Ohio State at No. 11, followed by Rutgers, Arkansas, Penn State, Boise State, Auburn, Tennessee, Nebraska, Georgia and Cal. South Florida is 25th, while Cincinnati is 56th. UConn is 89th, and Syracuse is 95th. Other Pitt opponents include Eastern Michigan, 116; Michigan State, 72nd; Virginia, 46; and Navy, 50; Grambling State is not a Division I-A program and is not listed.
The three lower-ranked teams than Eastern Michigan are Utah State at 117, Buffalo, 118; and Florida International, 119.
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