PITTSBURGH (AP) -Pittsburgh has lost one of the nation's best running backs, one of the top tacklers in school history, and its leading receiver. The very reliable kicker and punter, they're gone, too.
So, if nothing else, this proves how much parity exists in the Big East Conference: The Panthers were picked by reporters covering the league to win the conference championship.
Perhaps it's a compliment to coach Dave Wannstedt's recruiting - this is the first of his five Pitt teams that will be made up entirely of his recruits. Or the Panthers' excellent defense. Or the talent lost by schools such as West Virginia or Cincinnati. Or the depth the Panthers have at running back, where there are four possible replacements for former star LeSean McCoy.
It certainly wasn't because of that dreary 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl that dropped Pitt out of the final Top 25 poll, a defeat that followed impressive regular-season victories over West Virginia and Connecticut.
e if everything works out right,'' Wannstedt said Monday as the players reported for preseason physicals. ``But I think right now, there are four other coaches who could be standing here saying the same thing. So it's nice that we're recognized as a team that has a chance to win it, but I think the voting is an indication that it could go a couple of different ways.''
Pitt begins camp Tuesday with several pressing issues that Wannstedt hopes to get resolved before the Sept. 5 opener against Youngstown State.
The first one is obvious: Who replaces McCoy, who ran for 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns in two seasons? The answer: It's a tossup among sophomore Shariff Harris, whose 13 carries last season were the most of any returning player; redshirt freshman Chris Burns; and incoming freshmen Dion Lewis and Ray Graham.
Lewis enrolled early and may have taken the lead with a strong spring camp, but Burns had a good camp a year ago and Harris, at 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, may be the best equipped physically to handle numerous carries during a long season.
``We have to run the football and we will run the football,'' Wannstedt said. ``But getting that player or committee of players ready to go at the level they have to be, in three weeks time, that's a challenge.''
sustaining a midseason concussion against Rutgers. Or if he will be the quarterback who could barely complete a pass and looked lost against Oregon State.
``It wasn't the greatest experience,'' said Stull, whose 2008 statistics (nine touchdown passes, 10 interceptions) were pedestrian even for a quarterback in a run-driven offense. ``I've tried to get bigger, stronger and faster to take those bumps and bruises, and (will) try not to let little things affect the way I play. But I don't know what you can really do to try to not get a concussion.''
According to Wannstedt, Stull re-established himself as the best prepared of Pitt's three quarterbacks - junior Pat Bostick and redshirt freshman Tino Sunseri also got a shot during spring ball - to start the season.
``From a production standpoint - completions, mental mistakes, interceptions - Billy had the best spring and Bill is the starter going in,'' Wannstedt said.
Wannstedt's other major worry is on special teams now that kicker Connor Lee, punter Dave Brytus and long snapper Mark Estermyer are gone.
``The first time we go out to kick a field goal, Kevin Harper or Hutch (Dan Hutchins) it's going to be the first time they're lining up and performing when it counts,'' Wannstedt said. ``Some of these things in the kicking game that people take for granted are things that make a difference in winning and losing football games.''
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