This is the first of two Q&As I'll be doing with Pitt bloggers as we prepare for the start of the 2010 season.
1. What are your expectations for Tino Sunseri against Utah?
I'm cautiously optimistic about how Sunseri will play. He started off a bit slow in training camp, but performed well enough to win the job early in the Spring, beating out Pat Bostick. The fact that he's got a lot of weapons in Dion Lewis, Jon Baldwin, and Ray Graham will help big time. But he's still a first-year starter and while I believe he'll play okay, I made the statement the other day that it wouldn't surprise me if he came out and threw three interceptions or three touchdowns. I'm sticking with that, so that should give you an idea of my confidence level of him at this point. It's just way too early to make a decision on it. He's playing with three new offensive linemen and there will be times when he simply needs to throw the ball away. If he can do that instead of taking sacks or throwing picks, I think he'll be fine.
2. Dave Wannstedt is entering his sixth season as coach at Pitt. Do you think he has the tools to take the program to the next level?
I wrote a piece for SB Nation Pittsburgh's regional site last week about Wannstedt being the real deal. He has the team on the right path, winning 19 games over the past two seasons and he's on target for another 9-10 this season. But perhaps just as importantly, he's recruiting and landing four-star and five-star recruits. That's what the program needs and he's done it successfully since he's been here. Further, he's moved into the eastern part of the state, an area that is really considered Penn State territory, and reeled in some of their highly-touted targets. He's also got Pitt going into New Jersey and bringing in some of their top talent as well. Wannstedt is an alumni and loves the school so I can't see him allowing any violations to come in and tear down what he's starting to build. All in all, I really do believe he's the right man for the job. The only downside is he's getting a little older and he makes it pretty clear that he has no desire to pull a Paterno.
3. What's your take on the Utah football program from an eastern perspective?
When they beat down an overrated Pitt team back in the Fiesta Bowl a few years ago, Utah really helped some smaller schools from the west get the recognition they deserve. They proved that the best teams in some of those small conferences could not only compete, but win against BCS-conference programs. Along with teams like Boise State, TCU, and BYU, they've continued that over the past few years, beating not only solid schools, but very good ones. Utah gets a lot of respect out this way and trust me when I say that there are a lot of Pitt fans out here that are nervous about this game. The biggest thing Utah can do is continue to win big games on a national stage like the one Thursday night. The more they continue to do that, the more respect they'll gain nationally.
4. What are the defensive strengths for Pitt? Are you concerned about the loss of talent?
Pitt's defense is anchored by its front four. They return quarterback nightmares, DEs Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard and while they lost their starting DTs from last year, the new replacements should be fine. The linebackers also lost some experience, but MLB Dan Mason is a beast and a lot of the message board/radio show contingent was calling for him to start last season as a true freshman. The secondary is unproven and may be the biggest concern. But a few players including Ricky Gary really stepped up in camp and Dom DeCicco could be all-conference. The key will be the front four. They were able to bring a lot of pressure on the QB last season and the formula is pretty simple: If they can do that, the secondary and LBs will be okay. If the QB has too much time to think, the secondary could get carved up.
5. What're your predictions for the game?
Ask me again in five minutes and you might get a different answer, but looking at the game objectively, I'd have to go with Utah by a nose. Too many variables for Pitt - new quarterback starting on the road in a hostile environment. Pitt has thrived in these situations sometimes, though. Back in 2007 when the team was horrible, they went on the road and beat a top-ranked WVU team that simply needed to win that game to play for the National Championship. Can Pitt win this game? Of course. But there are too many variables for me to predict them to win at this point. I think the teams are relatively even, but on the home field I have to give the slight edge to Utah. I place Pitt's chances to win at about 45%.
I'd like to thank Anson for his answers. We'll have another Pitt blogger's answers Wednesday. So stay tuned!