A couple of programming notes before we get started:
** You can log in at the Post-Gazette web-site during the Syracuse game Saturday and join a live chat with Ray Fittipaldo about what is happening in the game. This live in-game chat is a new feature we have started this year and they have gone very well.
** Tonight we have our weekly look at Pitt athletics on the Subway Nightly Sports Call at 10:35 on the CW Network (WPCW -- KDKA's sister station, 15 on a lot of cable systems). It will be Bob Pompeani and I and we talk Pitt sports every Thursday night from 10:35 to 11.
** Also my weekly Pitt chat will go from noon until 1 p.m. today.
Now onto the team:
** The mystery surrounding the linebacker group has been interesting this week if it weren't so ridiculous. I know Jason Hendricks got a little banged up in the last game and so Dave Wannstedt and Phil Bennett are trying to be secretive about what Dom DeCicco is going to play. I happen to be of the belief that Hendricks will be available to play so I don't think it will be an issue in the decision making, but it has been a little bit of this cat and mouse game being played by the coaches. Phil Bennett even went so far as to say "well we have to see who is available" when asked about DeCicco. The key with this is that Syracuse plays a traditional offense - a lot like Pitt's, which has me really excited at the prospects of covering an exciting 13-10 game - so the Panthers will need to play more of their base defense. So the coaching staff must decide whether they think Tristan Roberts, Greg Williams at outside linebacker and DeCicco at safety give the Panthers the best chance of stopping the run out of power formations or if playing Hendricks and DeCicco and leaving one of the other linebackers off the field is still the best option. Interestingly enough it seems like Roberts may be slowly but surely moving back ahead of Williams. And then there is Shane Gordon, who coaches have been trying to get ready to play some. At any rate, this is really something to watch because it will give you some very good insight into how the coaches are going to approach this issue the rest of the season. My guess is we will still see a lot of DeCicco at linebacker because coaches have made a point of saying "we need to get the best 11 on the field" and DeCicco and Hendricks are clearly among the best 11. Also, Syracuse will go with three wide receivers and one back a lot and the coaches would clearly rather have DeCicco and Hendricks on the field to play against those formations.Again, this is just something to watch because it gives some good insight into what the coaches are thinking in certain circumstances.
** Both Dion Lewis and Ray Graham talked this week about not being able to really get comfortable and into a rythm when they are alternating every series. But it seems clear this arrangement, which I think takes away from the effectiveness of both guys, is going to continue for two reasons - one, I don't know that there is a good plan in place to make sure both players enough to keep them both happy and two, as David Walker said this week, Dion Lewis has earned a lot of capital with the way he played last year and you just don't throw that out of the window that because Ray Graham had a few good performances this year. I wrote earlier this week that I happen to be in the camp that says this - both are good players, play them both but pick one or the other to feature. At this point it looks like Graham is playing better but if coaches decide they want to stick with Lewis, I'm OK with that if it means giving him more than one series at a time. Go back to giving him three series before he takes a break. It is one of those tough decisisons that coaches have to make but it has to be made and the sooner a decision is made, the better off the team will be. Like I said, in talking to both players, they both say it is tough to get into a groove when you only play one series at a time.
** The Pitt versus Syracuse game is a great example of how meaningless records are in college football at this time of year because scheduling is so random. Yes, Syracuse is 4-1 and while there is all of this feel-good stuff being written about the program being back on the rise. Meanwhile, Pitt is being crushed because it is 2-3 and therefore the sky is falling. But let's be honest do you think if the Panthers first five games were against Akron, Maine, Colgate, Washington and South Florida they might have a chance to be 4-1 at this point? And conversely, do you think if Syracuse played Utah, Miami, Notre Dame, FIU and New Hampshire, they might be 2-3 like Pitt is? I'm not discounting that Syracuse isn't much improved because they appear to be, but let's not make them into the Orange of Donavan McNabb and Marvin Harrison fame just yet either. This is a game Pitt should win, even on the road, if the Panthers want to be taken seriously when they talk about winning the Big East. Syracuse is better than they've been, but they are still a year or two away from being a legitimate contender - unless, of course, the Big East is really that bad.