05 July 2010
[caption id="attachment_31" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Now that it's Tino Time, are our expectations too high?"]
Last season was a big year for the program.
I wouldn't go so far as to call it a special season, but a lot was accomplished last year that hasn't happened 'round these parts in quite a while. 10 wins. A top 10 ranking. Thirty-three seconds away from the BCS. These accomplishments are nothing to scoff at. However, what ended up being a third place finish in the Big East and a middle-of-the-pack bowl game was below what last year's team was capable of.
So expectations have risen. With three of the top players in the Big East returning in Lewis, Baldwin and Romeus (each top five in the nation at their position), it's officially BCS-or-bust time in Oakland/Southside/North Shore (damn it, we're spread out).
That would be all well and good if it wasn't for one glaring question mark at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Sophomore Tino Sunseri will be taking the reins of the Panthers offense and while he might turn out to be the second coming of Dan Marino for all we know, I wouldn't expect him to put up 2009 Bill Stull-esque type numbers - and that could derail Pitt's BCS dreams.
[caption id="attachment_1120" align="alignright" width="275" caption="(Mel Evans / AP)"]
The much maligned Bill Stull had just about the best season anyone could have hoped for in 2009. Following Boogate 2009
, Stull quietly had one of the better seasons in the country. His stats? A 65% completion rating for 2,633 yards with 21 touchdowns with only 8 interceptions. Numbers like those are well and beyond "game-manager" status - they're the stats of a damn good college quarterback. Throw in the fact that he was sacked only 14 (11 times less than 2008, when he played 3 less games) and Bill Stull was a fantastic general for the offense.
Yes, I know Stull's improved numbers didn't occur in a vacuum. His offensive line was better. The running game was incredible. He had two all-world targets in Dickerson and Baldwin. He had brand new scheme with a more innovative offensive coordinator.
Sunseri will have many of those advantages too, assuming the interior offensive line plays reasonably well. But will he be able to match Stull's production? Many seem to assume so. I'm not as sure. First off, we know next to nothing about Sunseri as a passer. He threw two touchdowns last seasons, both in fourth quarter clean-up duty (against YSU and South Florida). Other than that, we have his 9 of 17 for 82 yards performance in the spring game
. That's it. While he clearly has more mobility than Stull did, and that may serve him very well with this offensive line, his other qualities are far greater unknowns: Can he effectively read a defense, especially early in the season when Utah and Miami will be daring Pitt to beat them through the air? Can he make all the throws necessary? Can he provide the leadership necessary to lead a team into the BCS? Possibly - but I wouldn't pencil Pitt into the Orange Bowl just yet.
Let the countdown to training camp begin.