Oltmanns: Pitt football will improve

By Alex Oltmanns

I think it’s safe to say that this is not the way Pitt football fans envisioned their team… I think it’s safe to say that this is not the way Pitt football fans envisioned their team starting off the season.

A 1-2 record, fresh off a 28-point beating at the hands of Miami, All-American defensive end Greg Romeus out for the foreseeable future with an injury and preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Dion Lewis struggling to find any kind of running room. And they’re not the only problems.

But what fans seem to have forgotten amidst Pitt’s struggles through its three nonconference games  is this: the Big East schedule hasn’t even begun yet.

In a league that is as up for grabs as the Big East is this year, the Panthers still have a great chance to win the league and automatically qualify for a coveted BCS bowl game if they can improve and make some changes before the Oct. 16 league opener at Syracuse.

And changes are already in the works. It’s looking like senior safety Dom DeCicco will be moved to strong-side linebacker to shake things up there. The coaches seem confident with redshirt freshman Jason Hendricks starting at safety after he started in that position during DeCicco’s injury.

In an attempt to fix the problems along the interior of the offensive line, which has been a major site of the team’s glaring weaknesses so far, starting right tackle Lucas Nix might be moving inside to take over at right guard for Greg Gaskins, while Jordan Gibbs would step in at right tackle.

Yes, quarterback Tino Sunseri has struggled this season, but he’ll only improve as he gets more game experience. He’s a smart player with a strong arm, and as the season goes along, Pitt fans will see marked improvement from him.

Pitt struggled against Utah and Miami, two teams ranked in the Top 20 in this week’s poll. But from here on, the Panthers won’t face any teams that are currently ranked.

There isn’t a Big East game on their schedule that isn’t winnable.

Syracuse has been terrible for the last decade and that hasn’t changed this year. Pitt should hand them a beat-down in their league opener.

Then Rutgers comes to town. The Scarlet Knights already lost to a North Carolina team that’s missing about half its starters due to suspension, so that tells you all you need to know about Rutgers. Another win for Pitt.

After that, the Panthers play Louisville, a team which has actually kept close with some quality teams early this season after having produced some bad teams the past few years.

But Pitt beat the Cardinals 35-10 last season and Panther fans can expect more of the same this year.

Then the Panthers travel to Connecticut to take on the Huskies who, after getting some preseason hype, have fallen flat on their faces after getting embarrassed by Michigan and Temple.

Losing to Temple? Enough said. Pitt’s a better team than the Huskies and should beat them in the Thursday night primetime game.

In case you’re counting, that would push the Panthers conference record to 4-0.

Their fifth league game will be against South Florida, which has been average at best the last few years. They have a lot of athletes, but not enough to beat Pitt. 5-0.

That will set the stage for the Backyard Brawl against West Virginia, the toughest game remaining on Pitt’s schedule.

At this point, WVU looks better than Pitt, but in a rivalry game like that, you can throw all the stats out the window. Just ask the Mountaineers about their infamous 13-9 loss to Pitt in the 2007 edition of the Brawl when they were clearly a better team that year.

So that game could go either way, setting the Panthers up at either 6-0 or 5-1 in Big East play heading into the season finale at Cincinnati.

The Bearcats are not the same elite squad they were last year. They still have offensive weapons, but the loss of former coach Brian Kelly seems to have really made an impact, as Cincinnati already has three losses.

Add to that how Pitt wants revenge after the Bearcats edged them out to win the Big East crown last year, and the Panthers should leave Ohio with either their sixth or seventh league win.

Pitt might lose a game or two that it shouldn’t, but that happens to almost every team. So five wins is a possibility, but I would put my money on six wins and a Big East crown for the Panthers.

So cheer up, Panther fans. Wins are on the way.