The 2002 Panther football season in review

A look back at the best and worst of the past season, from most talented players and best newcomers to worst loss.

I'm very pleased with the season. Nine wins for the first time since 1982 feels really nice. Obviously we had a chance at a few more wins, but you have to be realistic also in that we could have lost some close games that we won also. UAB, Temple and BC were all close wins. Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Miami and WVU were all close losses. The important thing is to build on the season and take it further next year!

Finishing ranked in the top 25 for the first time since 1989 and winning back-to-back bowl games for the first time since the 1980-81 seasons were great accomplishments!

Here is a look back at the season, the highs and lows, the good and bad. Tell me your thoughts!

BEST WIN

1.Virginia Tech: They were ranked No. 3 at the time. The victory was over the highest ranked team in some time gave us a lot of national attention, which really helped recruiting as it was seen on national TV. It also moved us up in the Big East pecking order.

2.Oregon State: They were 8-4 like us going into the game. We dominated on ESPN national TV and helped secure a top 25 finish for the first time since 1989. It gave us 9 wins for the first time since 1982.

3.Syracuse/BC: We broke a long-standing losing streak against Syracuse. It was even longer up at the Dome. Huge, huge monkey off of our back! BC was a quality team that beat Notre Dame on their home field this season. Two teams we needed to beat going into the season.

WORST LOSS

1.WVU: Hands down the worst to me. It hurt us in the rankings, it hurt us from getting a 10 win season, but the worst part was how we lost. We had 4 turnovers with 3 coming as we were going in to score TDs!!! Now that the emotions are gone, looking back I still believe we were a much, much better team. Even coming off of the hard fought Miami game, we still played well enough to win by a couple of TDs if we don't turn it over so many times!

2.Notre Dame: We dominated the game but couldn't get the ball into the end zone. Very frustrating. We killed them in total yards by something like 420 to 180, but couldn't get the TD score in a close, low scoring game.

3.Texas A&M: Frustrating because our defense played great, but our offense couldn't do anything till late in the 2nd half. Swinging gate and all...it still was playing for overtime at the end of the game. If we played them later in the season when Rod, Miree and Fitz had their games together...we win easily.

BEST NEWCOMERS

1.Larry Fitzgerald: What a recruiting pickup!!! We probably would have gone 6-6 without him! He was the first true freshman All-Big East unanimous selection in conference history. He made almost every All-freshman national team and is one of the best talents to ever play in the Panthers' program. He should rewrite every school receiving record before he is done.

2.Brandon Miree (transfer from Alabama): It took him awhile to get going. But that was understandable considering he sat out for almost two full seasons and missed part of fall camp with an injury. He outshined several top national RBs in the last three games. You will see McGahee, Cobourne and Jackson in the pros. Will you see Miree too??? Can't wait to see him next season after a full year with speed guru Dave Kennedy!!!

3.David Abdul: This true freshman had a great year. He struggled early, but really came on to have a fantastic year. He deserves a lot of the credit for the crucial BC win. He should have a record setting Pitt career. Glad we have him 3 more years!!!

4.Tez Morris: This redshirt freshman free safety finished with over 100 tackles and had a big INT in the Insight Bowl. Another guy who will greatly benefit from coach Kennedy's speed and strength program. After getting this first year under his belt, he should really be something next year. He didn't make us forget about Walker, but he played very, very well this season.

BEST BREAKOUT YEAR FOR NON-FIRST YEAR PLAYER

1.Rod Rutherford: Lets face it, up till this season he hasn't done anything throwing the ball. He had his ups and downs this year, but he never got rattled and kept working hard and improving. A true leader who admits his mistakes and takes blame when he needs to. You have to repect that. The WVU game was just a very poor game by Rod. I thought the coaches asked him to do too much for the Notre Dame game, but other than that, he has been solid to very good all season. He should really benefit from getting this first year as a starting QB under his belt. He ended up No. 2 in passing in the Big East to a Heisman candidate, and had one of the best passing seasons by a Pitt QB in program history!

2.Claude Harriott: Was just a streaky pass rusher up to this season. He finished with 10.5 sacks and created a lot of pressure and holding calls all season. If he can gain a little more weight and strength, and keeps improving, he should be in the pros after next season.

3.Lamar Slade: Had a very good season. Was a very spotty player till this season. He was consistent all year. Made big catches to move the chains all season. He will be missed.

4.Dan Stephens and Vince Crochunis: These two sophomores really stepped up their play this season. Against BC, Miami, Notre Dame and others, they often out played their opponents who were much more highly rated recruits than they were coming out of high school. Most defensive lineman don't come into their own until their junior and senior seasons, but these guys benefited from playing as freshmen.

5.Matt Morgan and Dan Lacarte: These two juniors both had breakout seasons. They both showed flashes last season, but both stepped it up this year and will be expected to be leaders of the O-line next season. Dan is outstanding as a pulling guard. Matt has played at a high level in both run and pass blocking.

UNSUNG HEROS (didn't always get the press, but were just as responsible for our 9 wins season as anyone)

1.Brian Guzek/Brian Beinecke: Both of these seniors just made play after play. They should be remembered as hard-nosed guys who had excellent college careers and did it for many years. I'll always remember Beinecke's huge hits on the Iowa St RB in the Insight Bowl game a few years ago and on the Notre Dame RB at the final game at Pitt stadium. His game against Temple this year was one of the best in school history. Guzek had an excellent career and always seemed to play his best in big games. He had a great game in this year's Insight Bowl and was a dominant player. He was a tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar type of player that had a non-stop motor. Both of these guys will be badly missed. Hopefully the younger players have learned by watching the work ethic these guys had.

2.Lousaka Polite: I hate to even list him because most Pitt fans know what he does for the team. But I'm listing him because he gets very little press. He is a great blocker, and a very good running threat. He has good hands to catch the ball out of the backfield also. We only have him for one more season, so enjoy his play while you can!

3.Kris Wilson: An excellent receiving threat and an improved blocker. Although he didn't get as many passes thrown his way as some would like, he still keeps a defense honest. Defenses can't double up on receivers and safeties can't sneak up on blitzes because of the threat of Wilson going over the middle.

4.Torrie Cox (on special teams): We all know what a great job he did at corner the last two seasons, but not many talk about how much he will be missed on special teams. Look at how many great tackles he has made on the punt coverage unit! Look at how many long kickoff returns he has had over the years. One of the best special teams players in program history.

MOST TALENTED PLAYERS ON THE TEAM

1.Gerald Hayes: Gerald had a excellent Pitt career and played his best in our biggest games. He was dominating in the Notre Dame, Oregon State, Syracuse, Virginia Tech and many other games. Has a great chance to be a first round draft choice. I would love to see the Steelers put him inside next to Bell!

2.Larry Fitzgerald: GREAT, GREAT talent!!! I only ranked him 2nd because he is a true freshman and it took him a few games to find his game. By the time he is done and he keeps improving, plus if he plays all 4 years, I can see Larry having his jersey retired as a Pitt Panther.

3.Claude Harriott: Had an excellent season. Has excellent speed for a D-end. Can also play the run. If he can add more weight and strength, he has an excellent chance at the pros.

4.Torrie Cox: He along with Hank Poteat are the two best Pitt corners since I can remember. Also a fantastic special teams performer both on coverage and kick return teams.

5.Kris Wilson: Needs to improve his blocking more, but he has excellent speed and a big frame that the pro's love in a tight end. He is faster than Larry Fitzgerald!

6.Lousaka Polite: I really think this guy can play at the next level. I will be interested in seeing what the scouts and gurus think after his senior season. He has the size and speed. Great blocker, good runner, good hands, he has it all.

7.Rob Petitti: Struggled early with an ankle injury, but came on strong in the 2nd half of the season. If he keeps working hard, should be a pro. The question will be at guard or tackle.

BEST PLAYS OF THE YEAR

1. Miree's great run against #3 Virginia Tech late in the game to give us the win.

2. Fitzgerald's awesome catch against Oregon State where he had to dive and stretch out all the way to bring the ball in.

3. Any of Fitzgerald's great jump ball catches from Rutherford in the end zone against Virginia Tech and Miami.

WORST DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCE

1.WVU: Easily our worst of the year. We didn't stop the run in the first half and didn't play smart. We got beat on to many trick plays. Other than this one game we played good to great defense all year.

WORST OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCE

1.WVU: Four turnovers, three coming in the redzone. WVU played well that day, but still we should have won by 14-17 points. We moved it inside the 20's probably easier than we did against the MAC teams earlier in the year, but we kept turning it over.

2.Notre Dame: We had over 400 yards in total offense but couldn't get the ball into the end zone. We had two costly turnovers that hurt us also.

3.Texas A&M: We just didn't have it together that early in the season. Rod, Fitz, Miree and the O-line were still finding their way.

BEST DEFENSIVE PERFORMANCES

1.Oregon State: We shut down what many considered was one of the top 5 RBs in the country in Steven Jackson. He finished with 34 yards on 19 carries. The Beavers had a QB, RB, and WR that were among the most dangerous in the country and we completely shut them down. They only scored 13 points and two of those points shouldn't have been allowed as they came after bad calls.

2.Notre Dame: Other than two big pass plays, we completely shut their offense down. We did a great job against their running game.

3.Texas A&M: Same as the Notre Dame game. Other than two big pass plays, they got nothing the whole game.

4.Virginia Tech: Other than one long run by Suggs, we played the run against a great duo of Suggs and Jones as you can expect. Great performance!

5.Miami: I think we played a great Miami offense about as good as you can play them. Probably the best that any team has played against them this year.

BEST OFFENSIVE PERFORMANCES

1.Syracuse: We scored early and often. This one was over way before halftime. They dared Rod to beat them with his arm, and he killed them.

2.Virginia Tech: We did a great job running and passing against what is always an excellent defense. Our offensive system seems to match up with their defensive system very well.

3.Oregon State: Even though we didn't have as many yards as in some other games, we ran very well against the 10th rated defense in the country and completed the big passes when we needed to also. Very efficient, no turnovers, all around very good game.

Pitt opens the season at home against Kent State Sept 6. Can't wait!!!


Panther More Top Stories