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February 11, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Boyd will join 331 other prospects at NFL Combine; plus thinking spring

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I joined Ken Laird, Tim Benz and Josh Taylor on Friday morning to discuss Pitt (finally!) moving its spring game to Heinz Field. The game is April 16. Listen here.

Tyler Boyd will take his first significant plunge into the NFL Draft pool when he joins 331 other prospects at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, scheduled for Feb. 23-29.
Boyd, who left Pitt after setting school reception and yardage records in only three seasons, was invited, along with 12 other players with local ties. Let’s look at what NFL.com analyst Lance Zierlein, a talk show host in Houston, wrote about Boyd, who was listed at 6-foot-2, 200 pounds last season:
Strengths: Ultra-competitive. Known for powerful hands that clamp instantly onto ball and finish heavily contested catches. Has over-the-middle toughness. Plays with outstanding body control and has ability to gyrate and contort in mid-air in order to make acrobatic catches look easy. Brimming with confidence. Targeted 124 times or more in each of his three seasons. Able to create window through route polish. Sinks into breaks and comes out low with good turn radius when needed. Sits in space and slows routes when necessary to prevent safety from crowding him in deep middle. Has handled some kick return and punt return duties during his time at Pitt.
Weaknesses: Relatively low touchdown production (21) to target rate. Marginal long speed. Isn’t a threat to run by corners and has to win with routes and hands. Just a possession receiver much of the year. Limited YAC (yards after catch) potential due to lack of shake in open field and power to break tackles. Became a fumble factory on punt returns this year and ball security must be addressed. Lacks juice to be a full-time kick returner. Separation windows close quickly due to average getaway quickness out of breaks. Needs to use body better to protect the catch rather than just relying on strong mitts.
Sources tell us: “I think he can overcome some of his speed deficiencies with good routes and he has hand strength like (Jarvis) Landry in Miami. I would take him in the second or third (round).” — AFC East scout.
NFL comparison: Keenan Allen of the San Diego Chargers.
Bottom line: Pitt asked Boyd to be a running back and possession receiver this season, but that doesn’t define what he can be in the pros. Boyd makes up for a lack of speed with vice grips for hands and intelligence in his routes. Boyd isn’t a standalone WR1, but he can be a very productive starter in a play-action attack that allows him to play to his strengths.

I can’t disagree with anything Zierlein wrote, but I might add that Boyd quickly picked up the nuances of the wide receiver position very quickly (he was not solely that at Clairton), and he worked with three different quarterbacks at Pitt (Tom Savage, Chad Voytik and Nathan Peterman).
What I found interesting about that latter factoid is that Boyd recorded his longest catch with Savage (69), most yardage and touchdowns with Voytik (1,261 and eight) and most receptions with Peterman (91).
Also, Boyd led the team in receptions in all three seasons, and the No. 2 pass catchers (Devin Street, J.P. Holtz and Dontez Ford) averaged 52 receptions behind him.
After Street left for the NFL in the 2014 draft, Pitt never found a consistently effective complement for Boyd. In the NFL, Boyd will have another talented wide receiver lining up with him; it will be interesting to see what he does when he’s no longer the sole target of the secondary.
The second or third round appears to be what most analysts are predicting for Boyd on draft weekend (April 28-30).
Boyd has been working out in California almost since the end of Pitt’s season. He wants it, and knows what it takes. His willingness to work hard and his adherence to the concept of team (in my eyes his two most admirable qualities at Pitt) will help him construct a good NFL career.

A couple other observations about the combine list:
Eastern Kentucky outside linebacker Noah Spence, a graduate of Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg, is rated the No. 2 edge pass rusher available in the draft by respected analyst Mike Mayock.
While in high school, Spence seriously considered signing with Pitt and might have done so if Dave Wannstedt hadn’t been fired. But his college career was full of potholes.
He went to Ohio State and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2013, but he failed two drug tests and was treated for addiction, according to Zierlein. Spence, 6-2, 254, also was arrested last year and charged with alcohol intoxication and second-degree disorderly conduct, but the incident was expunged from his record after he performed community service.
On the field, he knows how to rush the passer. He had 22 1/2 tackles for a loss and 13 1/2 sacks while earning FCS All-American honors last year.

NFL.com also listed a few notable players who weren’t invited to the combine:
— Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who set a record with 88 rushing touchdowns, but will switch to running back and/or kick returner in the NFL.
— Wisconsin’s Mike Caputo, a West Allegheny graduate, who is a two-time, second-team All-Big Ten safety.

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February 23, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Peterman and Gruden will pair up on ESPN

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Anyone who knows me is painfully aware that the NFL Draft is my favorite event of the year.
Jeer, if you must, but covering the draft is a great way to elude yard work for one weekend in the spring.
This year, the draft takes on added significance for Pitt fans, with six Panthers — Nathan Peterman, James Conner, Ejuan Price, Adam Bisnowaty, Dorian Johnson and Scott Orndoff – invited to the NFL Combine that starts Feb. 28 in Indianapolis.
My pal and Steelers beat writer Joe Rutter will be there to chronicle all of the week’s happenings. Follow Joe on the Twitter Machine at @TribJoeRutter.
It’s never too early to write about the draft, and I’ve actually already done so with this story on Peterman’s preparations.
Peterman’s draft stock looks even better now that he has been invited to appear along with six other quarterback prospects on Jon Gruden’s “QB Camp” series on ESPN. The popular segment features Gruden, a Super Bowl-winning coach and NFL and “Monday Night Football” analyst, sitting down with the prospects in the film room, one-on-one, and offering instruction and criticism, plus evaluating their on-field work. The segments are filmed at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla.
Quarterbacks invited with Peterman this year are Joshua Dobbs, who won the starting job at Tennessee, prompting Peterman to transfer to Pitt in 2015, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
I wonder if Gruden will ask Watson what he was thinking when he threw that goal-line interception to Pitt linebacker Saleem Brightwell last season.
Watson and Trubisky are projected by ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay to be No. 1 draft picks.
Here are Gruden’s comments on each quarterback (submitted by ESPN):
On Dobbs: “Dobbs is a dual threat. He’s from a no-huddle offense. He can really create plays with his legs. He played some of his best football when the team was behind and when the game was on the line. He brought the Volunteers back to win from double-digit deficits more than any guy in the country. He’s a great kid, very intelligent, and I think he caught peoples’ attention at the Senior Bowl.”
On Kaaya: “Kaaya is interesting. The Hurricanes combine the I-formation with the college spread system, and he’s an accurate passer. He got hit a lot this year, but when he has protection, he can throw the football. He relies on timing and he’s going to be a pocket-passer for someone who really wants to accentuate that.”
On Kizer: “Kizer is an underclassman like a lot of these guys. He has perhaps the biggest arm in this draft. He can really throw the football. Notre Dame had a difficult season and I am a little bit surprised that Kizer is coming out, but he can do some damage with his arm and he has some athleticism.”
On Mahomes: “Another underclassman, Mahomes is the guy who has really popped off the film for me. He’s very athletic – a baseball player. They throw it every single play at Texas Tech. He can get rid of the ball from awkward positions with a lot on it. He’s a gunslinger.”
On Peterman: “Peterman is a transfer from Tennessee. Coach (Pat) Narduzzi at Pitt recruited Kirk Cousins to Michigan State and I heard he compares Peterman to Cousins. He’s a pocket-passer. They run a very creative offense at Pitt and this is the one guy who beat Clemson – and they did it on the road. He’s one of the most improved quarterbacks in the country this year.”
On Trubisky: “Trubisky is a lot more athletic than people think. He can run for first downs and touchdowns. If you look at him on tape, he displays some real courage. He’s stay in the pocket under intense fire and throws strikes. I just wish I had more film of him. He’s had just one year of work, but I am impressed with him.”
On Watson: “Watson has the best resume of anyone. He has an unbelievable amount of production and an impressive record – 32 wins in three years as a starter. He shredded some of the best teams in the country. He’s a dual threat with loads of intangibles. I am really looking forward to working with him to see how he spins it.”
On the overall 2017 QB Camp class: “There’s some unknowns this year, but this class starts with Deshaun Watson. His body of work is as impressive as any quarterback we’ve had come through QB Camp. I got the chance to see him live and I think he has a ton of ability. There are some underclassmen coming out who have questions that need to be answered. That’s why this process is exciting. But three or four years from now, I expect people will be saying this is a pretty good quarterback class.”
Gruden camp graduates include Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Cam Newton, Derek Carr and Dak Prescott.
New episodes of “QB Camp” begin April 11.
Here is some Pitt/draft trivia:
— Only two Pitt quarterbacks since Dan Marino in 1983 have been drafted (Tom Savage, 2014, and Alex Van Pelt, 1993). Van Pelt is the only NFL quarterback Pitt recruited out of high school. Savage was a transfer.
— If all six Pitt players are drafted this year, it will be the most since 2004 (Larry Fitzgerald, Shawntae Spencer, Kris Wilson, Claude Harriott, Andy Lee and Brandon Miree).
— The record is 12 in 1981. The draft was 12 rounds that year, but only quarterback Rick Trocano (11th round, Steelers) was selected after the fifth round, led by No. 1s Hugh Green, Randy McMillan and Mark May.

When Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi opens spring drills March 16, he’ll have two familiar faces working with him after naming James Patton and Tim Cooper offensive and defensive quality control assistants on Thursday.
Coaches love working with old pals, but Patton and Cooper also have extensive experience in college football.
Patton has been tight ends/fullback coach at Indiana the past three seasons. He was with Narduzzi at Rhode Island from 1995-1997.
Cooper has spent the past seven seasons as defensive coordinator/linebackers at Butler University. He was with Narduzzi on coaching staffs at Rhode Island and Miami (Ohio).
Narduzzi had those two openings after Wesley Beschorner left for Rice to be quarterbacks coach and former Pitt safety Eric Thatcher went to Florida International to be defensive backs coach. Thatcher, who was hired by FIU in December, was a graduate assistant at Pitt in 2010 and has been with Narduzzi the past two seasons.

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February 19, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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More than a few thoughts on Pitt’s upset of Florida State, its NCAA Tournament hopes and Kevin Stallings

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OK, all you fans with all the answers, tell me:
What do we make of the Pitt basketball team now?
Are you impressed by Pitt’s upset victory of No. 17 (destined to fall below that by around lunchtime Monday) Florida State?
Florida State was 16-1 at one time, but has been a .500 team (5-5) for more than a month.
Or, are you having trouble getting past Pitt’s 4-10 record in the ACC?
My take:
Pitt’s roster is dotted with proud athletes, whose performances fade at times due to circumstances, including difficult opponents and a decided lack of a true point guard, center and bench strength.
(To be fair to Jamel Artis, point guard in name only, he is one of the truly gifted players in the ACC, but he is better suited as a No. 2 guard.)
I got a sense of that pride Saturday when senior Sheldon Jeter was asked after the 80-66 victory against FSU what Pitt has to play for with four games left in the regular season.
Two words: “The tournament,” he said.
Then, he took it further.
“We still believe in us. It doesn’t matter who doesn’t. The people in that locker room, the people up in the coaches’ office, we believe in ourselves. We believe that we can still make it. We haven’t given up hope. We haven’t (said) `All right, we’ll go to the NIT.’ We’re still playing to get in the tournament.”
The one that matters.
Pitt has a few special athletes dotting its roster, led by two of the best players in the ACC — Artis and Michael Young. There are days when offensive catalysts Jeter and Cam Johnson defy anything the defense throws at them. Saturday was one of those days for Jeter, who scored a career-high 29 points against Florida State.
Johnson (10) was one of four Pitt players in double figures. That’s happened only three other times in conference play (victories against Virginia and Syracuse at the Pete and a two-point loss at No. 10 North Carolina).
I believe another key to Pitt’s modest resurgence (3-1 over 10 days is nice, but hardly season-defining) is coach Kevin Stallings and his staff.
It’s instructive to note that when Jeter was talking about those who believe the team can reach the NCAA Tournament, he included the coaches.
Stallings has been more critical of his team in one season than Jamie Dixon was in 13 years, but he doesn’t do it to send some vague message. He rips his team face-to-face before sharing some (not all) of his thoughts with the media. Saturday, he told the players that their second-half defensive effort, holding Florida State to 29 points and a 34.4 field goal percentage, might have been their best of the season.
Delusional fans hoping for a return of Sean Miller criticized former AD Scott Barnes when he hired Stallings. But when he was hired, Stallings had finished 23 consecutive years as a head coach (17 in the SEC) with 455 victories and the successful recruitment of 10 players who were drafted into the NBA. Coaches don’t last that long in the high-pressure, unforgiving business of college athletics unless they know what they’re doing.
After Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams called Stallings one of the top five offensive coaches in the nation, Pitt went out and scored 80 points against a bigger, more athletic team. That didn’t happen because Stallings just rolled the ball onto the court and said, “Go play.”
He devised a game plan, directed the execution and — finally — got some use from his bench.
Has he done enough? No.
Can he lead this team to an improbable NCAA Tournament berth? I’d be surprised.
Three of the next four games are on the road, and Pitt is 2-5 on hostile courts this season.
But I was surprised by the 11-point victory against Florida State, which came into the game tied for second in the ACC.
It’s sports. Anything can happen. That’s why we watch.
Before you criticize Stallings, let him coach the rest of this season and the next one, too. He’s a good man, who deserves that much.

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February 14, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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ACC could get at least 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament, but Pitt has plenty of work to do to join the party

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There’s nothing wrong with Pitt’s players and fans maintaining hope that the team can reach the NCAA Tournament next month.
The team is playing better after embarrassing losses to Louisville (by a historic 55 points), Miami (by 26 while only scoring 46) and N.C. State (which was 1-4 before playing Pitt and 1-6 after, including a 30-point loss to Wake Forest).
From those depths, can Pitt recover to win not only its six remaining regular-season games, but at least one in the ACC Tournament (because that’s what I think it would take to impress the committee after a 1-9 start to conference play)?
Hey, I always root for the story, and what a story that would be. But it’s not likely.
Pitt coach Kevin Stallings, who has done a good job with what little Jamie Dixon left behind, said Monday that the ACC might get more than 10 of its 15 teams in the NCAA Tournament.
Let’s go with that, because it does makes sense.
Six ACC teams are in the Associated Press Top 25 — No. 8 Louisville, No. 10 North Carolina, No. 12 Duke, No. 14 Virginia, No. 17 Florida State and No. 25 Notre Dame. With three weeks left in the season, five other schools already have between 15-17 victories. Pitt is not among those 11.
Stallings said the ACC this season might be as good as any league in the history of college basketball. That’s quite a statement, but not as outrageous as it sounds.
“It feels that way to me,” he said. “I’m not an expert. I don’t study the other leagues.”
But consider these results:
N.C. State defeated Duke. Virginia beat Louisville by 16, but then lost to Virginia Tech. Pitt defeated Virginia. Georgia Tech, which lost to Penn State, beat North Carolina by 12.
While he was at Vanderbilt, Stallings said SEC coaches weren’t resentful or jealous of the ACC getting more teams in the tournament. But he added, “Yeah, we wondered, `What the heck?’ Now I know.”

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February 10, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Stallings calls old Big East basketball “pretty boring”

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Pitt coach Kevin Stallings has been a proponent of offensive freedom, something he was forced to reluctantly curtail during his team’s recent eight-game losing streak.
He admitted Friday, while chatting with reporters, that he wasn’t a big fan of the old Big East, a conference where Syracuse and Pitt — Saturday’s combatants at Petersen Events Center — used to thrive in physical games that often emphasized defense over offense.
“The old Big East seemed like a 50-point game waiting to happen,” Stallings said. “Really from my perspective, it was pretty boring. I was never trying to carve out time to watch a Big East game on TV.”
Of course, the game wasn’t officiated as close as it is today, and that emphasis was no friend to shooters. Pitt senior Sheldon Jeter said, “It was very physical. It really was. It seems like hand checks never got called back then.”
Jeter added that 310-pound Pitt center Rozelle Nix may be the only Pitt player who fits the old Big East mold.
“Big, bruising,” Jeter said. “If you just looked at him right away, he could play in the old Big East.”

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February 7, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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Pitt will be challenged by nation’s toughest non-conference schedule

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The reality of the college football off-season is coaches take a few days off, immediately put their heads down until early February and, then, they look up the next day and the head coach says, “Don’t forget: Spring ball in less than a month.”
There’s been no word when Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi will start spring drills, but it will be within days of — if not before — the end of Kevin Stallings’ basketball season (even without a tournament berth).
So, what better time for Pitt fans to look at Pitt’s 2017 schedule (if they have the stomach for it) than right now?
ESPN senior writer Chris Low did just that, and he determined that Pitt has the toughest non-conference schedule among all Power 5 schools. Chris, an old pal, gets no argument from me.
After opening with FCS national runner-up Youngstown State (which will be celebrating the fifth anniversary of its 31-17 victory against the Panthers), Pitt travels to State College to meet an angry Penn State team with an agenda of vengeance and 18 starters back from a Rose Bowl team.
Then, it’s home against Oklahoma State. The Cowboys return one of college football’s most dangerous quarterback/wide receiver tandems, one of several Pitt’s secondary couldn’t handle last season (Mason Rudolph and James Washington).
Those three games to open the season are on consecutive September Saturdays.
The fourth non-conference game is at home against Rice, a possible breather. The Owls were 3-9 last season and finished tied for last with UTEP in the West Division of Conference USA. But in between Oklahoma State and Rice, Pitt opens its ACC schedule at Georgia Tech.
Overall, Pitt will play four games (one-third of its schedule) against teams ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 — No. 5 Penn State, No. 10 Oklahoma State, No. 16 Miami and No. 25 Virginia Tech.

But before you write off the season as impossibly difficult, remember this: Pitt’s 2016 schedule included what looked to be a sure defeat at Clemson. Pitt won, proving once again that games are not played on paper (or on blogs).

I’ve gotten several inquiries from surprised Pitt fans wondering why defensive line coach Tom Sims was dismissed last week.
Narduzzi had nothing to say on the subject, and that’s understandable.
But I can say this about Sims:
— He was the position coach for defensive end Ejuan Price’s two All-ACC seasons.
— He taught backup tackle Jeremiah Taleni something about technique. Taleni fought through Clemson’s heralded offensive line to force the biggest defensive play of the season — a tackle by linebacker Matt Galambos that dropped Tigers running back Wayne Gallman for no gain to set up Pitt’s game-winning field goal.
Did Pitt successfully recruit enough of its top defensive line targets? No.
Did Pitt’s defensive efforts in 2016 apply glory upon the coaches? No.
But Sims’ dismissal is evidence that a career as a coach on a major college or NFL team can be difficult to maintain and, at times, unforgiving.
Sims kept his career going for 20 years, and I’m betting he’ll be back on someone’s sideline this spring teaching technique to some wide-eyed lineman.

I haven’t seen an official list of those college players invited to the NFL Combine, scheduled for Feb. 28-March 6 in Indianapolis, but I’m told Pitt running back James Conner’s name will be on it.
I also expect quarterback Nathan Peterman, offensive linemen Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson and Price to be invited.
If Pitt gets five players drafted, it will be the most since 2011 (Jon Baldwin, Jabaal Sheard, Dion Lewis, Jason Pinkston and Greg Romeus).
By the way, keep the Twitter machine handy and follow Trib Steelers writer Joe Rutter @tribjoerutter throughout the off-season. He’ll be in Indianapolis.

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January 26, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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You can look it up: Westminster 106, Pitt 13 actually happened

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As the Louisville lead continued to grow Tuesday night at the Pete, media members leafed furiously through the Pitt media guide, hoping to put the eventual 106-51 final score in historical perspective.
There it was — twice — on pages 170 and 176: The largest deficit in Pitt basketball history: Westminster 106, Pitt 13.
Actually, Pitt has a connection to Westminster that goes far beyond, in terms of significance, a basketball game played 111 years ago.
Former Pitt coach Buzz Ridl, who led the 1974 Panthers to the Eastern Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament, was Westminster’s coach for 12 years and also served as that school’s athletic director. In 1962, Ridl’s Titans were voted the No. 1 small-college team in the nation.
I bring up all of this because that 106-13 score looked a little weird. OK, a lot weird. The 1906 Pitt team, coached by Benjamin F. Printz, was the school’s first and finished 2-9.
Yet, prior to allowing Westminster to score 106 points, Pitt had not allowed more than 35 in any other game.
Could it be a typo? Nope, the good people in Pitt’s sports information department are too careful to make such a mistake.
Finally, validation arrived via Twitter on Wednesday when @WC_Titans, the official Twitter page of Westminster athletics, proudly pounded its chest about the 93-point triumph.

The game, played at Westminster on Feb. 24, is documented in the 287-page book “The Glory Years – When the Towering Titans of Tiny Westminster Slew the Giants of College Basketball” by Dick Minteer .
Pitt, called the Western University of Pennsylvania at the time, trailed, 65-7, at halftime and the second half was trimmed from 20 to 15 minutes.
This was before the bottom of the nets were removed in 1911 — What? No peach baskets? — and Minteer writes, “… who was the poor guy that had to keep climbing and getting the ball out?”
In its next game, Pitt lost to Penn State by the unlikely score of 30-4, apparently shoring up its defense. The closest Pitt got to another victory was a 25-23 loss to the Wilmerding YMCA.
Pitt, actually, had winning records the next two seasons, before suspending the sport for the 1909 and 1910 seasons.
Sorry, this stuff interests me, so I just can’t resist throwing in this fun fact: In 1912, Ontario, Canada, native Dr. George M. Flint started a 10-year career as Pitt’s coach, compiling a winning record eight times. When he retired, he worked as a dentist in Pittsburgh for the next 50 years. If he ever worked on your teeth, tweet me @JDiPaola_Trib.
When Flint resigned, he was replaced for one season by Andrew Kerr, who was replaced by the legendary H.C. “Doc” Carlson, who coached Pitt from 1922-1953, winning a school-record 367 games and two national championships. Only Jamie Dixon (328) comes close to Carlson’s victory total.
Moral of the story and good advice for aspiring sports journalists: Always read your media guides.

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January 7, 2017
by Jerry DiPaola


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The day Le’Veon Bell and Pat Narduzzi became friends

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When Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was asked to convey his best Pat Narduzzi story, he just smiled.
“There are too many,” he said.
This was Friday, and Bell had a big game in two days, so he didn’t have time to relate them all.
He settled on the first time the two men got to know each other.
It was Bell’s freshman year at Michigan State and he admits, “I’m a guy who loves talking trash.”
Meanwhile, there was the current Pitt coach and then-Michigan State defensive coordinator challenging his defense to stop Bell during practice one day.
“This is the one time where I figured out how much energy he had,” Bell said. “He was going crazy, (telling the defense), `You better not let him get another yard. You better not let him get another yard.’ ”
From that day forward, Narduzzi and Bell became friends and now they’re neighbors at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.
“I put questions in his head,” Bell said, ” `Why does the defense play like this? Why does the linebacker play this technique?’ He helped me understand the defense a little bit more.
“At the same time, he was asking questions: `Why does a running back line up at this depth? Why do you run a route this way?’ ”
They went from trash talkers to friends to advisors.
“He’s my guy,” Bell said. “I’m glad he’s over there. He’s going to change that program.”

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December 12, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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LSU interested in Canada, but Pitt working to keep him

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The news Pitt fans have been dreading came Sunday night when the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate reported that offensive coordinator Matt Canada is among three serious candidates to get the same job with LSU.
But there is no reason to panic — or start blaming Pitt administrators — because Canada is no lock for the LSU job and Pitt is making moves to keep him.
LSU coach Ed Orgeron (as you can see by reading Advocate reporter Ross Delenger’s story) wants to hire Alabama OC Lane Kiffin, who has been a candidate for many head coaching jobs so far this off-season, but hasn’t landed one yet.
Orgeron and Kiffin are good friends from their time together at USC and Tennessee, and that might be reason enough for the two to reunite at LSU.
Aside from Canada, others on LSU’s list are former Southern California and Washington coach Steve Sarkisian (an offensive analyst at Alabama) and former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, according to the Advocate.
What about Canada?
After leading Pitt’s offense to a record-setting season (42.3 points per game), Canada will be high on many coaches’ lists if they are looking for an offensive coordinator. But Pitt wants to keep him, and isn’t just talking about it, according to athletic director Scott Barnes.
Barnes said recently on 93.7 The Fan (KDKA-FM) that contract extension talks have begun with Canada.
“There’s those calls (from other teams),” Barnes said. “Some time ago, we stepped up and had conversations with Matt about keeping him longer term. We’ve got it moving in the right direction.”
Barnes didn’t say those talks have yielded a new or richer contract for Canada, but the fact they are talking is a good sign.
If LSU lures Canada from Pitt, that would be two OCs in two years leaving for the SEC. Jim Chaney left last year at this time for Georgia. I don’t think Pat Narduzzi wants to subject his offense to three different coordinators in his first three seasons.
Some SEC schools can pay more than Pitt has been accustomed to paying for assistant football coaches. But that could be changing on Pitt’s side, given the talks with Canada and recent developments that include the Panthers beating two teams that finished in the Top 5 this season.
One more thought: Heaven help the OC who replaces Canada at Pitt. Fans will expect the new guy to have the same offensive imagination — and success — as Canada. That will be difficult to replicate in any season.

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December 10, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Browne could fit at Pitt and many other places

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News broke Thursday night — through ESPN and my good friend @PantherLair – that USC quarterback Max Browne was visiting Pitt this weekend.
Big news, for sure, because Browne of Skyline High School in Sammamish, Wash., was the No. 1 quarterback in the nation in the Class of 2013. Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi is trying to improve the experience factor in his quarterback room with Nathan Peterman and Manny Stocker graduating. The 6-5, 220-pound Browne, who figures to be on the wish list of many schools, might fit.
“Somebody is going to get a fantastic quarterback,” Browne’s coach Mat Taylor said
Taylor loves Browne like he’s one of his own, and he is not happy with how Browne was treated this season, having the starting job yanked away after three games. Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold replaced Browne and led USC to a 9-3 record and No. 9 national ranking.
“For a kid of his character and integrity to stick with the program through all the turmoil (previous coaching changes), be named starter and be named captain and then lose his job after three games … Max would have done the same things (Darnold) is doing,” Taylor said.
Taylor said Browne has several decisions to make, including where to go and when to enroll. “Does he go in January or wait and see what is out there?” he said.
“It’s pretty stressful. He has to find the perfect fit. He only has one year.”
Taylor pointed out that Browne’s original recruitment was “refreshing.” He only visited USC before committing.
“For the national player of the year, he only took one official visit,” he said. “He’s not going to just go and take a visit to waste anybody’s time.”
What are Pitt’s chances? Hard to say, but Browne is serious about Pitt or he wouldn’t have flown cross-country to see the campus. He may want to enroll in January, too, because he’s graduating this month from USC. He may make up his mind sooner rather than later.

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November 30, 2016
by Jerry DiPaola


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Is Pitt vs. WVU in the Backyard Brawl Bowl too far-fetched to consider?

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Pitt was included in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night, sliding into 25th place and gaining an important boost for its resume five days before bowl bids are issued Sunday.
What does that mean for Pitt’s postseason destination?
Pitt, which is in a tie for 24th with South Florida in the AP Top 25, is the fifth-highest ACC team in the CFP rankings, after No. 3 Clemson, No. 12 Florida State, No. 13 Louisville and No. 23 Virginia Tech. (By the way, that’s precisely how I listed all five ACC schools on my AP Top 25 ballot.)
Back to the point, the four teams ahead of Pitt (8-4) likely will get the most prestigious berths, led by Clemson which probably will return to the Final Four if it defeats Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game Saturday.
That may leave the next-highest ACC team — Florida State — for the Orange Bowl, possibly sending Louisville and Virginia Tech to the Citrus and Russell Athletic games in Orlando, Fla.
How can Pitt go to Orlando for a possible Backyard Brawl Bowl with West Virginia?
Virginia Tech is only two slots ahead of Pitt. If it loses big to Clemson on Saturday night, could idle Pitt vault ahead of the Hokies in the final CFP rankings Sunday?
If not, Pitt would have to settle for one of the ACC’s five Tier One bowls — Belk, Sun, Pinstripe, Music City or Taxslayer.
I’m hearing the Orlando Chamber of Commerce likes Pitt, which hasn’t played a postseason game in that city since 2001 and is opening up some national eyes with its amazing ability to score points.
The 300-person (that’s right, 300 people in one room) Florida Citrus Sports committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the Citrus and RA games.
If enough of them are infatuated by Pitt …
And if they are convinced the Panthers will bring lots of tourists to Orlando …
And if Virginia Tech is embarrassed by Clemson, a team Pitt defeated in Death Valley in front of CFP committee member Dan Radakovich, the Clemson AD …
Wait, that may be too many ifs. But if this season has taught us anything, things aren’t always as they seem.

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