Midseason review: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Panthers

Record: 2-3 (0-0 Big East)

There is no more disappointing team in the Big East -- and few are more disappointing nationally -- through the season's first half than Pittsburgh.

The Panthers were coming off 19 wins the past two years, had the league's offensive and co-defensive player of the year back along with its best receiver, and were the overwhelming preseason conference favorite. Yet, after five games, Pitt has only beaten New Hampshire and Florida International while losing to Utah, Miami (in an embarrassing home blowout) and Notre Dame.

What has gone wrong? Let us count the ways:

  • The offensive line, which replaced all three interior starters, had trouble creating space for Dion Lewis to operate, and the lack of a push up the middle has bottled up the entire offense.

  • Quarterback Tino Sunseri, a sophomore playing important minutes for the first time in his career, has had a longer learning curve than expected and has had trouble establishing a connection with star receiver Jon Baldwin.

  • Linebackers looked lost in pass coverage, and middle linebacker Dan Mason suffered a season-ending knee injury against Miami. Star defensive end Greg Romeus never got going because of a back injury, then was shelved by surgery.

  • The team scheduled too aggressively, opening the season at a Top 10 team (Utah), playing a talented Miami team and going on the road to Utah in the first five games.

The Panthers' season isn't over by any stretch. They've made what look to be positive adjustments along the offensive front and at linebacker, and Sunseri showed progress last time out. Ray Graham has emerged as a potential star next to Lewis. This team is still talented enough to beat anybody in the Big East when it is playing its best.

So far, though, the best we've seen from Pitt has been very disappointing.

Offensive MVP, RB Ray Graham: Would the Utah game have gone differently if Graham had been healthy enough to play? He has been the team's best weapon and nearly set a school record with 277 rushing yards against FIU. Graham is averaging nearly nine yards per carry, almost tripling Lewis' output.

Defensive MVP, DE Jabaal Sheard: With running mate Romeus sidelined, Sheard has raised his game to another level and helped Pitt maintain a solid pass rush. He is among the league leaders with five sacks, and he's collected 11 quarterback hurries.