College Football Preview: PITTSBURGH

The Panthers were hoping spring practice would bring a decisive winner in the battle for the starting quarterback position. It didn't.

Juniors Luke Getsy and Tyler Palko alternated in looking good, so the Panthers will head into the fall with a real live quarterback controversy on their hands.

Unfortunately for coach Walt Harris, that's one of many positions that are open for new starters in 2004, as Pittsburgh could have as many as eight new starters on offense and four to six new starters on the defensive side of the ball. Also, Pitt will have competition for the placekicking job as well as a new punter for the coming season.

One of the biggest problem areas is the offensive line, which was decimated by injuries in spring practice, making it hard to get a good look at either quarterback because they were scrambling so much. Harris knows that he needs the front five to get healthier -- and better -- if the Panthers are going to get anything going offensively come fall.

Defensively, the Panthers looked quick in the spring, but they also are inexperienced in the secondary, a fact that could burn Pittsburgh against good passing teams. It's going to be a long offseason for Harris, but he's hoping to get some work done to make sure the season doesn't seem longer.


PRESEASON PREDICTIONS: OL Rob Petitti, 2nd team All-America by Street & Smith's; 3rd team by Athlon. Rated the fifth-best tackle in the country in Lindy's.

KEY GAME: Hosting Boston College on Oct. 16 could be a turning point game for the Panthers in 2004. The contest will be the third straight Big East matchup for Pittsburgh against a strong Eagles team that figures to be a solid contender for the league crown. With six games under its belt, Pittsburgh will have had time to find itself, so how well the Panthers can do against the Eagles will show coach Walt Harris how good a team he has.

THE MINDSET: This is an entirely different team from a year ago, and not just because of the loss of all-everything receiver Larry Fitzgerald to the NFL. Three veteran offensive linemen and the entire starting backfield are gone as well, so Harris has to plug in a lot of new players this year. Teams aren't going to be expecting big things out of Pitt this season, so the Panthers may be able to pull some surprises if they can get it together early on.

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Fitzgerald seems like the obvious answer here, and, yes, there's no way to replace Fitzgerald's outstanding play at receiver. The Panthers have a more realistic chance of making headway at the quarterback position, formerly maintained by Rod Rutherford. Juniors Luke Getsy and Tyler Palko battled it out in the spring, but neither took a lead in the race to replace Rutherford.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We'll have 10 bodies. I'm not sure all of them would necessarily qualify as linemen for various reasons, but we'll have enough guys to play the game." -- Head coach Walt Harris, underscoring the lack of healthy offensive linemen in spring practice prior to the team's spring game.


PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: With so many players gone from last year, it's hard to know exactly what the offense is going to look like. One stalwart, though, is senior OT Rob Petitti, who will anchor a very inexperienced offensive line. Senior WR Princell Brockenbrough won't make anyone forget Larry Fitzgerald, but he's a capable player who should get even more looks now that Fitzgerald has moved on to the NFL.

PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: Seven starters return on this side of the ball, led by LB Brian Bennett, who ranked second on the Panthers in tackles a year ago with 118. Two fifth-year senior tackles -- Vince Crochunis and Dan Stephens -- anchor the defensive front.

INJURY IMPACT: Petitti sat out spring practice due to a shoulder injury. He was joined by fellow offensive linemen Justin Belarski, who sat out with a foot injury, and Matt Maiers, who missed some time as well.

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