Big East title chances: Pittsburgh

June, 20, 2011
6/20/11
2:00
PM ET
We continue our look at Big East title chances for each team in the league. Up today: Pittsburgh. Plenty of folks have their hopes up for the Panthers now that new coach Todd Graham is in charge. But Pittsburgh has disappointed its fans of late. Can Graham reverse that trend in Year 1?

Three reasons why Pittsburgh will win the Big East

1. High-flying offense. Say so long to the plodding, conservative days of Dave Wannstedt and hello to the high-flying days of Graham. His no-huddle, spread attack helped Tulsa become one of the most prolific offenses in the nation, and there certainly is talent for the same to happen in Pittsburgh. Ray Graham is going to be a key component to the offense, even as Pittsburgh moves away from a pro-style attack. Mike Shanahan and Devin Street could emerge, and Tino Sunseri has an opportunity to prove his critics wrong.

2. Depth on defensive line.You are not going anywhere unless you can play well on the defensive line, and this certainly has the potential to be the strength of the team, even without Jabaal Sheard. Myles Caragein and Chas Alecxih return and Brandon Lindsey will play the hybrid defensive end/linebacker position in the new defensive scheme. Graham acknowledges that Sheard is the biggest player the Panthers have to replace, but Lindsey could be the man to make folks forget about him. Lindsey led the Big East in tackles for loss last season with 17.5 and is a preseason candidate for defensive player of the year.

3. Believe in Ray. Graham is going to be a huge piece of this offense, simply because he is going to have to take some of the pressure off Sunseri to perform. There is little depth behind him, so Graham could emerge and have a 1,000-yard season with Dion Lewis gone. He already is bulking up and ready to carry more of the load. A solid offensive line should be able to help, especially if Chris Jacobson pans out at center.

Three reasons why Pittsburgh won't win the Big East

1. Sunseri. There are many a Pittsburgh fan that is skeptical about whether Sunseri can handle the rigors of this offense, especially because his deep ball has been so-so. But this is an offense that relies on high percentage passes, so Pittsburgh will put Sunseri into a position to succeed. But this is a completely different style of offense than he is used to, and he is going to have to do much on the fly in the no huddle. If he can't hack it, then Pittsburgh is in trouble.

2. Secondary concerns. One of the biggest question marks on the team is the secondary. Todd Graham is high on K'Waun Williams and Buddy Jackson at cornerback, but they have a lot to prove this season. Meanwhile, leading tackler and first-team All-Big East safety Dom DeCicco is gone, and Pittsburgh is going to have to figure out how to make up for his production.

3. Special teams.You know the old cliche. Nobody notices special teams unless they end up costing you the game. Pittsburgh loses Dan Hutchins, who punted and kicked field goals for the Panthers. Hutchins was the first-team All-Big East punter, so there are big shoes to fill there for walk-on Matt Yoklic. Kevin Harper is penciled in to replace Hutchins at place-kicker. This group definitely needs more seasoning, and fans have to hope they will be up to the test.

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