July 29, 2008

Big East Notes: Kinder's return key for Pitt

NEWPORT, R.I. The toughest game for Derek Kinder to watch last season resulted in Pittsburgh's shining moment.

Kinder was an All-Big East wide receiver in 2006, but missed last season with a torn ACL. The toughest moment for Kinder, who had 847 receiving yards and six touchdowns as a junior, came in the Panthers' 13-9 win over West Virginia.

Pitt didn't need Kinder that day, but the receiver struggled to stay on the sideline.

"Just my competitive nature, just wanting to play in a rivalry game, I was wishing that I could be out there," Kinder said.

The return of Kinder - as well as quarterback Bill Stull - should help Pittsburgh play in a bowl game this season. Stull opened last season as the starter, but a thumb injury on his throwing hand ended his year prematurely.

Without their top two threats in the passing game, Pitt ranked seventh in the Big East and 104th in the nation in pass offense. Running back LeSean McCoy, though, thrived with 1,328 yards and 14 touchdowns as a freshman.

With everyone back, Kinder expects Pittsburgh's offense to be one of the league's best just like its defense.

"This year we can score a lot of points," Kinder said. "This year we'll be able to run the ball and pass the ball better than last year. LeSean is going to help the passing game in a lot of ways, and if we can pass better we can help LeSean in a lot of different ways."

Coach Dave Wannstedt said the Panthers win over West Virginia, which knocked the Mountaineers out of the national championship game, was a critical turning point during his tenure at his alma mater.

"We needed that win from a program standpoint," Wannstedt said. "As a coach, I can talk about the national championship trophies and Super Bowl trophies in my office and say this is what we have to do to win, but sooner or later you have to win a game of magnitude."

TWO STARS MISSING

Two of the Big East's biggest names were conspicuously missing from media day. Neither USF quarterback Matt Grothe nor defensive end George Selvie both juniors accompanied Bulls coach Jim Leavitt to Newport, R.I. Leavitt said he preferred to bring seniors to speak with the media at the event.

USF brought running back Benjamin Williams, wide receiver Taurus Johnson and linebackers Bruce Mompremier and Tyrone McKenzie.

No deal with service academies

The Big East is not exploring deals with Army and Navy to help fill out the conference schedules, outgoing commissioner Mike Tranghese said, refuting a report in the New York Post on Monday.

The paper reported the conference sought Army and Navy to play four Big East teams each one season and then swap opponents the next.

Tranghese said those talks were held long ago.

"I haven't the foggiest idea where that came from," Tranghese said. "I haven't talked to Army and Navy in 18 months."

Tranghese also said speculation regarding Big East expansion in football is just rumors.

"Coaches are talking about it," Tranghese said. "I told our coaches to stop talking about it because it's not on our agenda. There isn't a football team out there that's available that will make us better. Our presidents aren't going to expand to solve a scheduling problem."

With a seven-team league schedule, some teams will be forced to play four Big East games on the road.

Schiano still optimistic

Despite reports of setbacks on Rutgers' stadium expansions, coach Greg Schiano said he is optimistic they will be completed satisfactorily.

"When you're building a program it's about infrastructure, facilities, human capital and all those things," Schiano said. "I like where we are. I am very confident everything is going to turn out the way it is planned and I'm looking forward to it being done."

The Newark Star-Ledger reported Rutgers made a secret deal with Schiano, allowing him to break his contract without penalty if stadium expansions are not completed by 2009.

Under Schiano's current contract, the coach would have to pay a $500,000 penalty if he leaves his 10-year contract before the '09 season. The newspaper report indicated that an addendum to the contract releases Schiano from the damages if the stadium expansion stalls.

Moving on without Mauk

Cincinnati brought only two players to Big East media day (most schools brought three or four). However, bringing quarterback Dustin Grutza was an indication the Bearcats are moving on without Ben Mauk.

Mauk was a reason Cincinnati won 10 games last year after he passed for 3,121 yards and 31 touchdowns. The NCAA has twice rejected Mauk's hopes for a sixth year of eligibility, but he's still appealing the decision.

Mauk could have participated in spring practice and offseason drills through the first game week, but he has been held out of the training sessions.

"We had to move on as a team," coach Brian Kelly said.

Grutza is no neophyte, however. The senior has started 24 games over the past three years, but lost the starting job when Mauk transferred from Wake Forest. Grutza will have to hold off another transfer if he wants to start during his senior year. Demetrius Jones, who started the opener for Notre Dame last year, transferred to Cincinnati shortly thereafter.

Jones, though, will not be a factor for the starting role early. He had surgery on his throwing shoulder when he first arrived on campus. He could handle 12-15 plays a game but is not healthy enough to start.

"He's made good progress," Kelly said. "He has had to re-learn how to throw the ball properly because of compensating for an injury through his competition years at Notre Dame. He was hiding the injury he had. He's not in a position to compete for the starting position yet. He cannot beat out Dustin Grutza yet."

Miserable offseason ends for Louisville

Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe insists he had a good offseason. Maybe Kragthorpe did, but Cardinals fans did a lot of squirming. Going 6-6 and missing a bowl game for the first time since 1997 was bad enough. However, 22 scholarship players have left the program since spring 2007.

Not all were under good circumstances: wide receiver Mario Urrutia and linebacker Lamar Myles declared for the NFL Draft (though only Urrutia was selected); leading rusher Anthony Allen transferred; defensive end Peanut Whitehead's career ended due to injury; and cornerback Rod Council, running back George Stripling, wide receiver JaJuan Spillman and linebacker Willie Williams were all dismissed from the team.

"There's always going to be transitions," Kragthorpe said. "The biggest thing is that creates opportunities for other guys to step up that didn't have that opportunity before and now that role has been vacated any way it's been vacated."

If there's a silver lining going into the season, it's the story of wide receiver Trent Guy. The special teams star was shot in early July while walking to his car after leaving a nightclub in Louisville. Kragthorpe said Guy is recovering well.

"Trent is doing great," Kraghtorpe said. "He should be released for activity in terms jogging and lifting weights. If things go well, I see him (back) by the middle of October."

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.




 

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