Pitt picked to win Big East
Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NEWPORT, R.I. The Pitt football team is the clear choice to win the Big East title this season, but don't tell that to the five Panthers sitting inside a tony Rhode Island conference room Tuesday.

"We're still the underdogs," senior tackle Jason Pinkston said, "because we haven't won it yet."

The Pitt football contingent at the annual Big East Football Media Day was underwhelmed by the distinction as the team to beat. The Panthers received 22 of a possible 24 first-place votes in the media poll, released yesterday, becoming the most prohibitive preseason favorite since Louisville in 2005.

But running back Dion Lewis, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, defensive end Greg Romeus, safety Dom DeCicco and Pinkston, all of whom made the trip to New England, were level-headed amid the August honors.

[IMGR]http://files.pittsburghlive.com/photos/2010-08-03/lewis-a.jpg[/IMGR]"Preseason," Lewis said, "doesn't mean anything."

The players, who begin training camp Saturday, remember last season. Pitt was the preseason favorite, but the Panthers lost their final two games to West Virginia and Cincinnati blowing their title chances.

This time, Pitt received 190 points, clearly outdistancing West Virginia and Cincinnati, who tied for second place with 142. West Virginia and fourth-place Connecticut (131) received the other first-place votes. The bottom four teams in the poll are Rutgers, South Florida, Syracuse and Louisville.

"It's just preseason," Baldwin said. "It's not based on any playing. The last two years, Cincinnati won the Big East. We are chasing them."

Connecticut received its highest preseason ranking since joining Big East football six years ago. Randy Edsall believes the league is more balanced than Pitt's runaway preseason pick would suggest.

"I still think it's wide open," he said. "I think all of the coaches would say the preseason stuff doesn't mean anything."

Injury reports

For the first time, the Big East will issue weekly injury reports this year.

The league will announce each Monday any players who are out for the season or headed for surgery. Each Thursday, the Big East will release a report based on reports sent in by the schools with injured players listed as probable, questionable, doubtful or out.

The injury reports, similar to those used by the ACC, will allow coaches to avoid weeklong questions about players' health status and will give everyone the same information at the same time.

Edsall said the coaches pushed for the new method.

"It's a policy we are putting in place," he said.

Devine bows out

West Virginia senior tailback Noel Devine missed Big East Football Media Day after reportedly having a bad reaction to shellfish he ate at the conference's annual clam bake Monday night.

Devine, a two-time All-Big East tailback, remained in his hotel room. Senior wide receiver Jock Sanders and senior linebacker J.T. Thomas represented the Mountaineers during the media activities.

Sanders, who ranked second in the Big East last season at 5.5 receptions per game, took exception to Pitt's lopsided preseason ranking. He noted that the Mountaineers return 19 starters, while the Panthers bring back 12 starters.

"Politics," Sanders said. "That's all it's about. ... For them (Pitt) to get all those votes, and we've got just as much back as them, it's crazy. End of the year is when it will all come down. They will regret it."

Pressure valve

Pinkston, a Sporting News preseason first-team All-American, said the veterans will shoulder the load while first-year quarterback Tino Sunseri gains experience.

"Take the pressure off Tino and put it on us," Pinkston said. "Put the pressure on me. I've played. Put it on me.

"I'm sure Tino is going to make a couple mistakes. He's new. It's going to be a lot faster."

Sunseri, who has completed 10 of 17 career passes, gets the nod to replace first-team All-Big East selection Bill Stull. It marks the first time since Tyler Palko's senior year in 2006 that Pitt will enter training camp with a de facto starter at quarterback.

"Tino is the starter," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "He's earned that ... and I feel good about where we are at right now at quarterback."

New faces

The Big East welcomes three new coaches this season, the biggest turnover since 2001.

Former Central Michigan coach Butch Jones replaces Notre Dame-bound Brian Kelly at two-time league champion Cincinnati. Charlie Strong, the former defensive coordinator at Florida, takes over at Louisville, and Skip Holtz, a former UConn coach, is the new leader at South Florida.

Jones worked on the same West Virginia staff as current WVU coach Bill Stewart under Rich Rodriguez in 2005-06.

"We've been through the wars together," Jones said.