Wed Aug 05 12:03pm EDT
No one has a clue who's going to win this league. So the Doc's logically crossing off the contenders, one by one. Part of Big East Week.
Sayonara Shady. LeSean McCoy handled the ball on 35 percent of the Panthers' offensive snaps, accounted for 40 percent of their total yards from scrimmage and scored more touchdowns than the rest of the offense combined. He was one of only five players nationally more than 300 carries for the season, and joined Beanie Wells as the only players averaging at least 20 carries in both 2007 and 2008. With McCoy, backup/one-time starter LaRod Stephens-Howling and last year's top two targets all moving on, the offense is totally bereft of proven playmakers.
But McCoy is by far the most important, mainly because every time I watched Pitt last year, I got the feeling "Shady" was the only thing the team had going for it. Witness the Panthers' four-overtime slugfest at Notre Dame, in which McCoy outgained the rest of the Pitt offense, covered the last 37 yards of a critical second half touchdown drive on five straight shotgun snaps and accounted for 65 of the Panthers' 69 yards across the overtime periods, setting up each of the Conor Lee field goals that extended and eventually won the game. (Lee, selected as the best kicker in the conference, is also gone, for the record.) Or in the win over West Virginia, when McCoy carried on 10 of 11 plays for 71 yards and two touchdowns on consecutive fourth quarter drives that put the Panthers over the top. The backs attempting to replace that impact this year combined for 49 yards in '08 on 17 carries and will probably be surpassed by freshmen.
Stuck with Stull. Much of the slack from the departures will fall to quarterback Bill Stull, last seen going for 7-for-24 passing in the 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl, the ugliest bowl game of the post-World War II era. Stull had his moments and was an improvement over Pat Bostick, who tanked as a true freshman after Stull was injured in '07, but the veteran still finished with five interceptions in the last four games and a negative TD:INT ratio (10:9) for the year. How far can a team go with a novice running game and only the fourth or fifth-best quarterback in the conference?
The Wannstedt Wane. Altogether, recruiting under Wannstedt has probably been as good or better here than at any program in the Big East -- and yet his first three teams couldn't even punch their ticket to a bowl game, while South Florida, UConn and Cincinnati, teams that still finish annually at the bottom of the conference in terms of incoming talent, have been just as competitive, including the Bearcats' run to the championship last year. Brian Kelly, Greg Schiano, Jim Leavitt and Randy Edsall are seen as energetic builders maximizing their scant resources; Wannstedt is seen as a stodgy, by-the-book type who hews to the status quo and subsequently always winds up somewhere in the middle -- his Big East record after four years is 14-14, and his teams haven't won more than two conference games in a row since mid-2005. If McCoy and/or All-American linebacker Scott McKillop couldn't provide the spark for a minor hot streak, who on this team is going to?
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Previously eliminated: Cincinnati.