First a programming note -- My weekly chat will begin at 11 AM today because of a commitment I have to fulfill at 12:30. So we will open the queue for questions about 8:30 AM and I will answer them from 11 to about 11:50 or so.
This is just for this week and next week we will go back to doing it at noon.
** The offensive line juggling is likely going to continue as Spencer Leftwich said yesterday that the left guard spot is going to be manned by Ryan Schlieper, Cory King or Junatez Hollins. Obviously this is going to be a weekly competition and I don't see how that is going to change in the near future unless one of those three really takes the bull by the horns and becomes clearly the best option. It seems like Schlieper is the one who has had an edge, but you never know until Saturday night. But here is the bigger concern - Lucas Nix (knee) is practicing and he appears to be healthy enough to play and Todd Graham said he expects him to play but - and there is always a but - behind the scenes the coaches are holding their breath and hoping Nix will play. Again, as is always the case with seniors, Nix has to be the one who says "OK" before he gets back on the field, even if he is cleared. We've seen this in year's past with guys who have the NFL at least partially in mind and it is just something that is a part of it. Seniors with NFL potential don't want to jeopardize their future by coming back to soon and risk getting re-injured. So if Nix doesn't play, then it will probably be Gaskins-Schlieper-Turnley-King-Gibbs. Incidentally, Turnley has again been sitting out of practice for the most part with two sore feet but he will play Saturday. Both Todd Graham and Leftwich have called him a warrior for fighting through his injuries to play and both said given that he is the only one who is really good at snapping the ball, it is the ultimate act of selflessness.
** Chas Alecxih said that Zach Collaros and Isaiah Pead are the best quarterback-running back combination Pitt will have faced since Pat White and Steve Slaton. Of course, this was a little bit of hyperbole seeing as Alecxih never played against either of those two West Virginia stars and also because the Panthers have played 47 games since they faced that duo. And then when we asked offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, who coached White and Slaton, about that comparison he said Collaros and Pead are very good, but those two West Virginia guys were special. At any rate, the point is the Bearcats are certainly a team loaded with skill position fire power and the Panthers will have their hands full trying to deal with Pead and Collaros and don't forget receiver D.J. Wood, who is a game-breaker as well. Alecxih also talked about a renewed energy with the team now that the Panthers control their own destiny again. I'm always skeptical when players talk about things like renewed energy and excitement because I've seen this team lay too many eggs in big games that I'm of the "show me" crowd. But it is good to hear that that the players at least recognize what is at stake, here.
** Magee talked about the running back rotation and basically echoed what I had written the other day - that Corey Davis is more of a scat back and slot guy while Isaac Bennett and Malcolm Crockett are bigger and more traditional running backs. He said it will be probably impossible to preserve their redshirts and both will have to be ready to play but that doesn't necessarily mean they will get into the game if they aren't needed.
** We asked defensive coordinator Keith Patterson about the disappearing acts of players like EJuan Price and Shane Gordon in recent weeks and he said it is all a part of simplifying the defense. He said the coaches realized they were trying to do too much, with too many different formations and too many different players and moving parts. So they've simplified some things but in doing that it has meant using less players - or at least settling in on a core group of guys - and the result has been less confusion. That by no means signals that coaches have lost faith in those younger guys, it is just that they have gotten good production from the older guys and frankly it is hard to argue with results. The defense has been much better in recent weeks than it was early in the season and guys like Max Gruder and Greg Williams have really shown up to play. Patterson said he'd like to get some of those other guys some experience when he can but the bottom line is this is a short-term race to the end - four games left - and the only thing that matters is winning games.
** The West Virginia lawsuit against the Big East has been a hot button topic of conversation this week and has produced plenty of opinions. And in some case, we've been given a good laugh, like with this YouTube Clip someone sent me of CBS College Football Analyst Rich Rodriguez - yes, that Rich Rodriguez - giving his opinion about West Virgina's attitude towards contracts a few years ago versus now.
Now Rodriguez is trying to be funny, sort of, I think, but his path to Michigan is probably the path that West Virginia will follow if the powers that be in the Big East don't come to their senses and just let it go. What do I mean?
I mean this - the lawsuit is a smokescreen and an attempt to give the conference some chance to save face but the outcome isn't particularly meaningful if it doesn't produce a settlement. If the Big East tries to stick to its guns, in talking to a few people, it sounds as if West Virginia is prepared to leave anyway and deal with the consequences in court for years to come if necessary.
And while that sounds crazy, the more I think about it, the less crazy it sounds - what West Virginia be guilty of and short of a military action, what could the Big East do about it?
If West Virginia joined the Big 12 the school would be in violation of some sort of "breach of contract" and at that point the Big East would have to sue for damages, but if there are already six schools on their way to the Big East - and if the television money is intact for two more years due to the current contracts not being expired until 2013 and if the conference's BCS berth is intact for the next two years --- what really are the damages? West Virginia would have to pay some fine perhaps but could push back, tie this up in court with a wave of motions for years and the Big East would be tied up in a lawsuit it wants no part of and likely at some point, do what it should have done all along - just punt and settle the thing.
Again, I'm not a lawyer, I don't know the intricacies of how these things work but after watching coaches, schools and teams all prove annually that a "contract is not really a contract" despite what people say, it really wouldn't surprise me if this is what happened. Like I wrote - if West Virginia leaves, short of military action, what is the Big East really going to do about it?
At the end of the day, West Virginia could either reach a settlement with the Big East and be free to go with no hitches or the school leaves without a settlement and the thing ends up in court - a judge or arbitrator or mediator steps in and there is still some sort of settlement reached.
Let me be clear - I'm not saying this will happen, I'm saying this is a possibility that some of the folks in Morgantown are contemplating......
This could be really fun to watch, so grab some popcorn and get ready.....
** Now, that being said - West Virginia's case, regardless of what happens, won't be applicable to Pitt or Syracuse because West Virginia is claiming that the actions of Pitt, Syracuse and TCU have forced its hand and left it with no choice but to leave. But again - I'd be willing to bet if Pitt and Syracuse wanted to leave and were willing and able to write a fat check, John Marinatto could hold all of the news conferences he wants and it would just be a lot of hot air and posturing - although, it is not like that isn't the case already. At the end of the day the reality is contracts are breached and broken every single day and when that happens there are almost financial settlements reached and the cases never see the light of day.
I think the most frustrating part of this for those of us who would love to see the Big East succeed is all of this tough talk and proactive expansion from Marinatto and company is way too little, way too late and this conference could have been saved had this approach to the football conference been taken years ago. Instead, the conference leadership buried their basketball head in the sand and acted like what was going on around them in the world of college athletics with regards to football driving the bus was fiction and a media creation and that everything that was ailing the conference was magically cured by Madison Square Garden.
I have built a lot of good relationships with people at the Big East and around the conference and I've covered the league for so long, I've come to really enjoy it and the people who built it. It frankly disgusts me that there will be a Big East without Pitt, West Virgina and Syracuse but having listened to the pleas for football conference help of the presidents and athletic directors of those schools for years, I don't blame them for finally leaving when they got an opportunity to go.
Life does and will go on for all involved but like I wrote in the aftermath of Pitt and Syracuse's announcement of joining the ACC in September - it is really sad to see the fractured relationships, the hard feelings, the embarrassing way with which so-called adults are behaving and everything else that is going on because, from where I sit, it all could have been avoided.