Oh yeah, we're now one day out. ONE. DAY. OUT. The answers after the jump!
1. Are Pitt fans still angry over the 2005 Fiesta Bowl? Do they look at this game as a revenge game?
I think the vast majority of fans would say no. Even the most die-hard Panther fan knows deep down that the 2004 Pitt team was not a BCS caliber team. Rather, it was a mediocre team that won a four-way tie in a bad seven team conference. At the time, however, I think many Pitt fans were surprised how good Utah was. Sure, they were highly ranked and had beaten USC a few years previous, but there was a perception that the non-BCS teams were the "have nots" of college football and couldn't compete with the "big boys" in the BCS conferences. And even though Pitt wasn't even close to being relevant, I do think there was a local perception that Utah was overrated by the national media who were looking for the BCS-buster story. Clearly, we were mistaken. Since then, Utah, Boise and TCU have shown that it's possible to be a national power outside the BCS monopoly - something no one really knew at that time.
Back to your question, aside from a few fans who made the long trek out west and came home disappointed, I think most fans view this game as an early season test against a good team and nothing more.
2. Since the Panthers are starting a new quarterback, how much do you think they'll rely on Dion Lewis?
In the de facto Big East championship game against Cincinnati, Dion Lewis carried the ball 47 times and accounted for 228 yards of total offense. In regulation. Pitt's other running backs combined for four carries. Keep in mind, that was with an established quarterback finishing up a very good season. To say that the offense runs through Dion is a huge understatement.
With Dion Lewis being eligible for the NFL after this season (he prepped for a year before coming to Pitt), I expect Wannstedt to run him this year until the wheels fall off. This will especially be the case while Tino Sunseri adjusts to game speed. Add in the fact that backup Ray Graham is on the mend following a training camp knee injury and I'd expect to see Dion carry the ball until the defense is able to show that they can stop him.
The good news for Pitt is that Dion Lewis has been nothing short of amazing. From a guy who only had offers from Miami of Ohio, Tulane and Pitt, he's become one of college football's premiere players. He doesn't have break-out speed, although he's plenty fast. He doesn't have incredible power, although he's deceptively strong. It's really tough to explain him as a running back - he's a very shifty runner who is able to break tackles and make guys miss. He also happens to be a lot of fun to watch.
3. What are the expectations for this year's team?
BCS or bust. It's as simple as that. ANYTHING short of winning the Big East is going to be a disappointment. And winning the Big East is what they have to do, as it seems unlikely that any Big East team aside from maybe WVU (who travels very well), would be considered for an at-large BCS berth. To add even more pressure, the conference's second place bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl, is able to select Notre Dame if the Irish are bowl eligible and it seems likely they'd pass on an 11-1 Big East runner-up for a chance at ND. (On that note, if you guys could do us a solid and take care of them November 13th, we would greatly appreciate it.)
It's a strange dynamic this season. Pitt's non-conference schedule of Utah, Miami and Notre Dame will assuredly be three of the five toughest games this season, if not the top three, yet they don't particularly matter in terms of accomplishing this team's goals. Losses would certainly damper the enthusiasm around this team and further embarrass the conference, but it wouldn't derail their BCS chances. It's been a strange off-season in that regard. Unless you think Pitt can get to the BCS title game - and only a very select group of fans do - the non-conference is simply warm-ups. Again, a weird feeling thinking of Utah and Miami and warm-up games for USF and Syracuse, but there you have it.
4. Explain Pitt's offense to Ute fans, who might not know much about their style.
Pitt runs a very traditional pro-style offense, even using a fullback (remember them?) on a regular basis. There will be no four wide receiver sets, and even seeing three WRs on the field together is an uncommon sight in the 'Burgh. Pitt wants to run the ball and will throw to set up the run, not the other way around. That doesn't mean they won't throw it when they can. Jon Baldwin has emerged as a full-blown star and surefire first-round NFL draft pick. He absolutely torched Notre Dame at Heinz Field last season for 142 yards on 5 acrobatic catches in what is widely considered as his coming out game (apologies for the terrible rap music in the YouTube video).
There's a lot of concern at other positions, however. Depending on what day of the week it is, the offensive line is either coming together or a complete train wreck. Both tackles return from all-conference seasons, but the interior line is replacing three starters. Furthermore, last year's team had tight end Nate Byham, who basically acted as a third tackle, and Dorin Dickerson, who had a fantastic season as Pitt's primary pass catching end.
And then of course, there's Tino Sunseri. No one except the coaches, players and beat writers have seen him play in anything besides mop-up duty. The only thing we really know is that he's short (6'0" short), but has more mobility and reportedly a stronger arm than last year's quarterback, Bill Stull. By all accounts, he has a lot of confidence, a high football IQ - his father was briefly the head coach in the '80s and is now the linebacker coach at Alabama - and knows the offense well. What that translates to, I have no idea.
5. What's your prediction for the game?
I've really gone back and forth on this game all summer. I will say, however, that this is so much better than opening with some D-II program or MAC team. I've been reading everything about the Utes for the past month in anticipation of this game. Best case scenario for Pitt: the offensive line has a pulse, allowing Dion Lewis to do his thing to the tune of 150 yards or so. The run game forces single coverage on Baldwin who gets open early and deep, giving Tino some confidence to start hitting underneath routes to the other guys. Pitt wins 34 - 17. Worst case: The offensive line can't block and takes penalties, forcing Sunseri into 3rd and longs. With Lewis bottled up, Sunseri has to carry the offense and looks like the inexperienced player that he is. The defensive line misses last year's DTs more than anticipated and d-ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard aren't able to generate pressure, leaving the secondary exposed to the Utes' spread attack. Utah wins 38 - 16.
With a gun to my head, I'm going to say Pitt wins, 24 - 20. I think Tino and the line will play just well enough to escape Salt Lake City with a W.