- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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Time to get back at it in the hope and concern series, where we look at the top reasons for optimism and pessimism for each Big East team's 2011 season. What things should new Pittsburgh coach Todd Graham be hopeful and concerned about? Let's take a look.
Biggest reason for hope: Increased scoring
Pitt wasn't exactly a plodder last year, averaging more than 26 points per game and reaching 40 points three times. Yet there was usually a feeling that the offense could have done more with weapons like Dion Lewis, Ray Graham and Jon Baldwin. One thing Todd Graham promises to do is ratchet up the pace and the points. Tulsa led the nation in total offense in 2007 and 2008 and finished fifth in 2010. It might take a couple of years for Graham to assemble the kind of players he wants to run his spread at peak efficiency, but expect the Panthers to put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses this year.
Biggest reason for concern: The back end
While the offense should produce and Graham loves the depth and talent along the defensive line, there are questions elsewhere. The linebacking corps did not play well at times this year, especially in pass coverage. Are guys like Tristan Roberts and Max Gruder quick enough? Will Greg Williams be more fundamentally sound? Or can younger players like Shane Gordon and Todd Thomas step up? At cornerback, the Panthers exited the spring with a pair of new starters in K'Waun Williams and Buddy Jackson. Williams is talented but largely unproven, while Jackson has been an enigma his entire career. Safety is in good hands at one spot with Jared Holley, but the Panthers have to replace all-league performer Dom DeCicco. Pittsburgh could be vulnerable to good passing teams.