PITTSBURGH PANTHERS Head coach: Dave Wannstedt Last season: 5-7 overall, 3-4 in the Big East. Spring practice: March 25-April 19.
The 2007 season ended with Pitt at home for the holidays again. But this offseason has had a different feel because the Panthers ended the regular season by defeating rival West Virginia 13-9 and spoiling the Mountaineers' national-title hopes. Paul Rhoads was the architect of the defense that stymied West Virginia's spread offense, but he left to become the defensive coordinator at Auburn. Coach Dave Wannstedt replaced Rhodes with former SMU coach Phil Bennett. Worth watching on the other side of the ball will be the play of the quarterbacks. Pat Bostick was forced into duty as a true freshman because of injuries to Bill Stull and Kevan Smith. All three are healthy this spring, and they will compete with junior college transfer Greg Cross for playing time.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt returns enough talent to contend for the Big East title.
West Virginia and Rutgers have had the best tailback - fullback duo in the Big East in recent seasons, but Pittsburgh may take that honor this fall. McCoy was a Rivals.com Freshman All-American after rushing for 1,328 yards. Collins returns as a lead blocker, while former starter LaRod Stephens-Howling serves as McCoy's backup. Senior Derek Kinder returns after missing all of 2007 with a knee injury. Kinder, who had 847 yards receiving yards as a junior, gives Pitt one of the top wide receiver corps in the league. Turner has 13 touchdown catches over the last two years while Kinder's replacement last year, T.J. Porter, showed flashes of brilliance as a sophomore. McKillop is one of three returning starters at linebacker.
HELP IS NEEDED
Three starters are gone from the offensive line, including star tackle Jeff Otah. Junior college transfer Robb Houser provides instant help, but veterans and freshmen alike will have to step up. Pitt needs more consistency at quarterback.
KEEP AN EYE ON
G Chris Jacobson: Pitt returns two starting guards, but Jacobson, a redshirt freshman, is expected to push for playing time on a line that needs his physical presence.
OT Jason Pinkston: He will have the inside track at claiming one of the vacant tackle spots. He started the first three games in 2007 before a shoulder injury ended his season.
DE Greg Romeus: He was a second-team Rivals.com Freshman All-American after recording 11.5 tackles as a backup last season. The starting job is his to lose during the spring.
HIS TIME IS NOW
It could be said Kinder already has had his time, because he was Tyler Palko's primary target. Kinder, a fifth-year senior, now must help a younger group of quarterbacks increase their production.
Pittsburgh missed playing in a bowl for the third consecutive season under Dave Wannstedt, but all signs point to 2008 being a turnaround year with recent recruiting classes coming to fruition. With other teams in the Big East in transition, Pitt could make a run at the league title. The Panthers need to settle on a new offensive line and find new starters at defensive line and in the secondary this spring.
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.