Pittsburgh's Inside Slant


Sometimes, a coach is excited and happy when his team is selected the preseason favorite in its conference. The media did just that with Pitt this season, by a large margin.

But it also puts a lot of pressure on the team, and when you are breaking in a new quarterback ... well, let's just say that Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt wasn't exactly accepting the favorite's role graciously.

"It makes no sense to me to be quite honest with you," Wannstedt said of wearing the preseason crown. "Cincinnati is the two-time reigning champ, and that is who we are all chasing."

But Pitt returns the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year in running back Dion Lewis and the Defensive co-Player of the Year in end Greg Romeus. Lewis figures to only improve on his freshman year, when he gained more than 1,800 yards.

Wannstedt, however, sees question marks due to youth.

"Out of 85 scholarship players on the roster, only nine are seniors," Wannstedt noted. "We have only four senior starters. We have a lot of holes to fill."

Wannstedt admits that in Lewis, Romeus and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, who went past 1,000 receiving yards last season, his Panthers have a galaxy of stars. That, however, doesn't always translate to victories in a team game where the moving parts have to mesh seamlessly.

"It's not an individual game," Wannstedt said. "It's a team game."

And it's a game in which the most important player is the quarterback, and like everywhere else in the Big East Conference, Wannstedt is using a player short on experience. That would be sophomore Tino Sunseri.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on the quarterback, but to win a conference championship at this level, you have to have good quarterback play," Wannstedt said. "We're not a quarterback-driven offense. With that being said, we will have to throw the ball well when called on. It isn't that we'll go as he goes, however. We can find ways to score points."

The main option, of course, is to give the ball to Lewis, a runner who is short of stature but long on talent and effort.

"Dion Lewis does not play like a small back," Wannstedt said. "He benches what linebackers bench. He's not like a 165-pound back."

Indeed, although he is only 5-8, he weighs more than 200 and is more out of the Ray Rice school of runners, which isn't a bad school to come from.