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DiPaola: Can Pitt win 8 games? Well, actually, yes


It’s  September (well, almost), and that’s a good thing.
School is back in session, the grass soon will stop growing and it’s football season. (I’ll take the last two anytime.)
Pitt coach Paul Chryst loves this time of year nearly as much as his family. Actually, he was raised in a football family, with two older brothers and a dad who was a coach.
Now, Chryst is the coach — the only head coach in his family; brother Geep coaches quarterbacks for the San Francisco 49ers — and he is once again given the daunting task of winning football games at Pitt.
Don’t laugh. It can be done. And not just six or seven of them.
Fans who will fill the parking lots surrounding Heinz Field on Saturday for the opener against Delaware demand more.
I’m here  to tell you, it can happen. Maybe as soon as five days before you carve this year’s Thanksgiving turkey.
Chryst has Pitt pointed in the right direction. He recruits players who love the game, and he doesn’t worry about how many stars recruiting services place next to their names. He demands accountability and respect for the game. He has no sympathy for those players who believe they can get by on talent and don’t work hard enough to nourish it.
Football is a heartless master. It can beat up the most physically gifted player, and it will rudely spit out anyone who doesn’t come prepared.
That’s why Chryst loves training camp. He loves the game prep, watching video with coaches and players and instructing (guiding is a better word) in a dark film room or in the bright sunshine of an August morning.
Chryst also loves coaching because of the bond he shares with his players.
Most of them genuinely like him. There was a player at Pitt not long ago complaining to me about a member of Chryst’s staff. The player found it necessary to add this: “Not Chryst,” he said. “Coach Chryst is the man.”
I found it interesting and instructive that the player spent only one season under Chryst, really didn’t know him all that well.
But Chryst has a way of reaching kids (again, most of them), and that’s coaching.
All of this is a long road to my original point: Pitt will win eight games this season.
There, I said it. Doesn’t sound like much, but Pitt has won that many games only six times in the past 24 years. On average, once every recruiting class. See what I mean?
I looked at the schedule and found a few almost certain victories (Delaware, Florida International, Akron and Virginia), a couple of maybes  (Georgia Tech, Duke and Syracuse) and one upset (Virginia Tech on a Thursday night at Heinz Field).
A reach? Maybe, but not an outrageous one.
I think the offensive line will play well. Other than a few camp experiments, the starting five players have taken a vast majority of the snaps. If they stay healthy, there’s plenty of potential there.
The defense will benefit from the senior influence of Ray Vinopal, Anthony Gonzalez, Todd Thomas and David Durham. Plus, I can’t wait to see how Shady Side Academy graduate Reggie Mitchell, a former safety,  plays at cornerback. He was the fourth option as recently as a month ago, but no one had a better camp. Chryst appreciates — and rewards — such players. Coaches like to call him “a football player.” If  you’re around coaches long enough, you realize they can offer no greater compliment.
On the other side, quarterback Chad Voytik will be smart enough to follow his progressions, remember what Chryst taught him and tuck it and run occasionally. If the line can protect him (and I think it can), Voytik will have an edge Tom Savage never had in a seven-victory season last year. He also will have a bigger, stronger James Conner at running back.
And, of course, there are a couple games Tyler Boyd will win by contorting his body to make a catch, running past slower corners and, perhaps, returning a punt or two for a touchdown.
Sorry, but it adds up to 8-4. If Pitt falls short, it will be perceived as a lack of progress, and that will be hard to argue.
Pitt knows how to be 6-6. Pitt knows how to be average.
I get the feeling that, finally, enough Pitt players would fight you if you called them average.



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