Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt has been lauded for his recruiting efforts over the past four years, thus raising expectations for the Panthers. But all that stockpiled talent has not yielded much success.
Wannstedt has been patiently building a foundation, focusing most notably on the offensive and defensive lines.
Now, on the eve of his fourth season, the Panthers finally seem to have enough experience and depth to become annual contenders for the Big East title. An indication of that might be the lack of true freshmen on the two-deep roster, as only three of them -- receiver Jonathan Baldwin, offensive tackle Lucas Nix and safety Andrew Taglianetti -- are expected to play, none as starters.
Wannstedt, whose Panthers play host to Bowling Green tomorrow, said the situation could change because of injuries, but he's thankful he finally has enough depth to redshirt players. It is a trend that began last year, when only five true freshmen played.
The next step, he said, is for the Panthers to get to the point where the majority of the players are in their third, fourth or fifth year.
"It is a good sign that we are getting there," Wannstedt said. "I look forward to the day where we are like Bowling Green, who has like 18 seniors or whatever, but we're closing in on that. We still don't have a big senior class, but, at least, we have a lot of guys who have played. And I think there is a big difference between playing a freshman that has never played and a redshirt freshman who at least had a taste of it."
Wannstedt's greater point -- that Pitt now has many highly touted players with some experience holding down key spots -- is likely an even better indicator of the program's strength. And given the fact there are so few actual seniors, the program seems to be in good shape for the long haul.
Consider that the Panthers have only seven senior starters (four offense, three defense), while they have 12 starters who are redshirt sophomores, juniors or redshirt juniors (third- or fourth-year players). The other three starters are true sophomores.
The bulk of the second string is made up of second- and third-year players as well.
Wannstedt said he knows there are some areas where he'd like to build depth, but he believes that the Panthers should start to see his recruiting pay off in the next few seasons. He also noted that this season, unlike the last one, the Panthers have two backup quarterbacks with experience should something happen to Bill Stull.
"I think we're comfortable at a lot of positions right now," Wannstedt said. "But I think the offensive line is still the No. 1 spot [where depth is an issue]. Building this thing is a process."
NOTES -- Weakside linebacker Shane Murray (knee) is still listed as day to day but is not likely to play. "He's running around better, but we'll see what happens," Wannstedt said. ... Whether redshirt sophomore Kevan Smith and sophomore Pat Bostick play as the backup quarterback will be determined by injury and game circumstances, Wannstedt said, making it fairly clear that coaches would like to redshirt Bostick if possible. If there is mop-up duty to do or a short-term injury substitution situation, it likely will be handled by Smith.
Paul Zeise can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1720.