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
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.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
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.
College Football Preview: PITTSBURGH
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