Future Bright For Pitt

After going 9-4 and 10-3 in consecutive seasons, and finally winning a bowl game, the Pitt football program is a national contender once again.

That's basically what Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said in a post-game interview before heading into the locker room. Some might not believe that to be the case, but if the Panthers continue to reload -- and there's no indication that they won't -- Wannstedt should be correct, a close win against an average North Carolina team notwithstanding.

While this year's seniors most assuredly will be missed for their play on the field and high character off it, there are enough returning players that should keep things rolling for the Pittsburgh football program in the future as well. Add to those guys a solid 2010 recruiting class, and the sky's the limit.

First and foremost are freshman Dion Lewis and sophomore wideout Jonathan Baldwin, who should be scaring opposing defenses for a couple more years if they decide to play out their eligibility. On the O-line, right tackle Lucas Nix is just a sophomore, while his brief replacement Saturday -- Greg Gaskins -- also has sophomore eligibility. Left tackle Jason Pinkston has another year as well, while Chris Jacobson -- who replaced senior Joe Thomas in the bowl game -- should be solid as a two-year starter on the line.

A key on offense will be the quarterback play, as usual, but with offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti guiding them junior Pat Bostick and redshirt frosh Tino Sunseri should get the job done. Bostick will be in his fourth year in the program and with continued physical improvement, as well as a thorough understanding of the offense, he should not be a drop-off from Bill Stull.

Some might argue that Bostick is more accurate and will upgrade the position. That remains to be seen, but he most certainly won't hamper the offense. And if Sunseri wins the job, all the better for the Panthers, because I expect both to have a terrific spring. And whichever quarterback earns the job, it's the Pitt offense that will benefit the most.

Tough losses at tight end from a blocking and receiving standpoint, but Mike Cruz has a chance to be very good as well. Already a solid blocker, Cruz is athletic with good hands. He is expected to stay at tight end in the spring. Depth is inexperienced, but talented.

The main issue on offense is replacing Robb Houser at center. A walk-on, Alex Karabin, was the backup this season. But he got little to no playing time. After him are Jared Martin and Wayne Jones, a fifth-year senior and redshirt junior, respectively, next year. Neither has played. Someone likely will move, but if it happens it will be someone who also has not played much if at all. John Fieger, the long-snapper this season, might be an option as well.

Defensively, the line could take a big hit if Greg Romeus leaves a year early, but Brandon Lindsey should be ready to step up if needed. Shayne Hale also will get more reps, and the tackles -- while mostly inexperienced -- should be solid with Myles Caragein, Chas Alecxih and Justin Hargrove.

The linebacking corps will miss Adam Gunn, but should survive with Mason, and Gruder and Williams, among others, stepping up.

The secondary loses both corners, but gains Andrew Taglianetti and a more experienced Jarred Holley. Ricky Gary and Antwuan Reed should step in at cornerback, while Dom DeCicco and Elijah Fields also are safeties. Fields could move to the linebacking corps.

The kicking game is solid with punter and place-kicker Dan Hutchins returning.

Cam Saddler has a chance to be a dynamic returner with a chance to win both jobs next year.

All those returning players, along with some stability in the coaching staff -- the majority is expected to come back as well -- should allow the Panthers to gun for the Big East title again and possibly compete on a national as well.

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