When former Gateway standout Cam Saddler decided to commit to Pitt five years ago, the Big East was one of the attractions, he said.
Times have changed.
“It’s not the same Big East,” Saddler said on the eve of his last Big East game Saturday night at South Florida. “If I was getting recruited (now), I don’t think it would be as appealing to come to Pitt.”
Five of the eight teams that were members of the Big East during Saddler’s freshman season in 2008 have either left or will leave the conference in the next year or two. Including his own school.
The Big East was/is a conference with an automatic-qualifying status for a BCS bowl (until 2014), but one that Saddler, 5-foot-7, figured was built for him. Plus, Pitt was coming off a stunning upset of Big East champion West Virginia the previous season, and Saddler and the 19 members of his recruiting class — 13 of whom ended up making significant contributions to the program — figured they could win at least a couple of conference titles.
That never happened, but the Class of 2008 (38-25) still can reach 40 victories (for an average of eight per season) by beating South Florida, advancing to a bowl and winning there.
“The Big East wasn’t a conference with (especially) huge guys, so I felt like I was able to a pounding,” Saddler said. “But I still took a (bigger-than-expected) pounding. It was worth it though, man.”
He does have one regret: He won’t compete in the ACC, which Pitt will join next year.
“They are going to play all the cool teams,” he said, “and now I don’t get a chance to play them.”
Born five years too soon.
– Saddler said he took the hardest hit of his life last Saturday when Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene collided with him on a punt return.
Several days later, Saddler had ice on left shoulder and said he was having trouble getting into a comfortable sleeping position. But he said he will return punts at South Florida.
Greene also was injured on the play, and stayed on the Heinz Field turf for several minutes after the hit while trainers tended to him. Greene, who is Pitt running back Ray Graham’s brother, recovered in time to play Thursday night in the Big East title-deciding game against Louisville.
“Ray said (Greene) is feeling good, so that’s good,” Saddler said. “I want to send my best wishes out to him.”