Huerbin: Can Larry Fitzgerald’s prediction of a Pitt national championship come true?

By Jay Huerbin

Last Thursday, Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Texas Longhorns in the BCS… Last Thursday, Nick Saban and his Alabama Crimson Tide defeated the Texas Longhorns in the BCS Championship game. The game was all Alabama, with Longhorns quarterback Colt McCoy leaving the game early with a shoulder injury. Alabama came away with its first national title since 1992.

It was a tough loss if you’re a Texas fan, especially if you’re like every one of my friends who can’t seem to get enough of Longhorns receiver Jordan Shipley. And that’s not a knock on him because if you saw the championship game, you’d know why he’ll make a great player in the NFL.

But this game actually signified the end of an era — well, eras.

McCoy, despite his injury in the Alabama game, will be among the top quarterbacks selected in the 2010 NFL Draft. Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, who was also plagued with injuries this past season, will enter the NFL. And collegiate football poster-boy Tim Tebow will be out of Florida and into the NFL.

This exodus of college players leaves a lot up for debate in terms of which teams will be the favorites next season.

But there is one thing you can’t question: who Larry Fitzgerald expects to win that national title. In a Tweet following the Alabama-Texas game, Fitzgerald wrote:

“Congrats 2 bama on winning the national championship.Next year my Alum Pittsburgh is winning this thing!”

Strong words, but maybe he’s not all that far off. Fitzgerald, who was a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 2003 and who left for the NFL after his sophomore season in 2004, might be right.

Dave Wannstedt just wrapped up his most successful season at Pitt and is 19-7 over the last two seasons, including two bowl game appearances. He boasts two of the best offensive weapons in the country in Dion Lewis and Jonathan Baldwin, and he guided the Panthers to their first bowl game win since the 2002 Insight Bowl.

Tony Pike and the Cincinnati Bearcats might be the Big East favorite next season, but keep in mind that they barely escaped with a win in Pittsburgh and that the Panthers lost by a combined four points in their final two regular season games.

Maybe it’s me, but I feel that next season won’t have a lot of disparity — much like the 2007 season that saw 13 unranked teams defeat top-5 teams and the No. 2 team lose seven times.

That will be good news for the Panthers and their fans, especially if Pitt can peak at the right time next season. And unlike in past years, when the team’s nonconference schedule is normally ridiculed for its lack of difficulty, the Panthers will travel for games against Utah and Notre Dame while hosting former Big East rival Miami (Fla.).

But like every other team that is losing at least one star player, Wannstedt will need to rely on his recruiting — something he stresses is important to the success of Pitt’s program —to replace key losses like Mick Williams, Adam Gunn and Bill Stull.

It’s still early to look toward next season, but as the recruits file in over the next few months, predictions will as well.

And maybe Fitzgerald’s prediction will become more of a reality.