Sam Werner: All right! Let's get started.
Bill: Is it true that Dontez Ford can play Thursday? Thought he had to sit out this year.
Sam Werner: Yes. Ford, a redshirt freshman wide receiver transfer from Syracuse is eligible to play for Pitt on Thursday. NCAA rules stipulate that a player must be enrolled at a new institution for two full semesters before he is eligible for competition. Ford transferred in January, attended all of last spring semester at Pitt and also this fall semester. Since fall semester ended a few weeks ago, he's now eligible to compete for Pitt in all games going forward. Since he already redshirted for a year at Syracuse, this year was going to count against his four anyways, so might as well play him.
This situation differs from, say Reggie Mitchell or Manasseh Garner last year, both of whom transferred over the summer. They have to sit out the fall semester and then the following spring semester before they can play again.
Guest: Will Pitt fans travel well to the game? Did they sell out their allotment of tickets?
Sam Werner: Pitt has been pretty mum when it comes to how their ticket sales are doing, which tells me that it's not going great. They did not sell out their allotment, and I think that even though it's drivable in a day, a combination of the date (right after Christmas), the cold-weather destination and a non-brand name opponent will keep the crowd relatively sparse.
Evan: What do you feel are the keys in this game for Pitt to pull out a victory?
Sam Werner: I think the biggest one will be taking advantage of offensive opportunities. Bowling Green's red zone defense is very good (second-best in Division I-A), so it won't be easy. But I don't see Pitt's defense completely shutting down Matt Johnson and the Falcons' offense, so when the Panthers get the ball inside the 20, they need to come away with touchdowns, not field goals.
This is also a game where a couple of turnovers could help. Johnson was fabulous in the MAC Championship game, but had thrown a pick in his four games before that. Again, I don't think Pitt will be able to stop BG's offense consistently, so a pick or two could swing the field.
Pitt82: Whats your take on the matchup with bowling green. Im thinking running has to show up
Sam Werner: I think that's a fair statement. Bowling Green is good, not great, at rush defense (35th in Division I-A), so that's an easy way for Pitt to move the ball on offense if the Panthers can pull it off. As always with Pitt this season, if they can't run the ball, that allows the defense to pin its ears back and rush quarterback Tom Savage. The Panthers have been pretty dreadful at pass protection, and it only gets worse if you can't run the ball.
Mark: Honest thoughts on this staff's recruiting ability?
Sam Werner: I know this is going to seem like a boring/cop out answer, but it's still too early to tell. Yes, this class has certainly been disappointing from a WPIAL perspective, but keep in mind that Pitt also landed four of the top seven WPIAL guys last year. The only elite player they really "missed" on was Robert Foster to Alabama (the others were very early commits). Chryst and his staff right now are batting around .500 when it comes to high-level WPIAL recruits. It's not great, but it's also not as doom-and-gloom as some people would lead you to believe.
Also, looking at this class, I think both Montae Nicholson and Dravon Henry are good players (McKenzie is more of a wild card because of his injury), but I don't think either has the upside that Dorian Johnson and Tyler Boyd have.
I also think it's worth noting that WPIAL recruiting is not the be-all, end-all in this era. Yes, you want to keep the local recruits home, but the WPIAL isn't good enough anymore for Pitt to solely live off of it, so the staff has branched out in other directions. Guys like Adonis Jennings (New Jersey) and Jamil Kamara (Virginia) could be nice additions to the class still on the board.
JW: I made Pitt my No.1 confidence points Bowl Pool pick. Wise choice?
Sam Werner: Probably not. Even if you're getting the six points, Bowling Green is an explosive offense that can put up points on Pitt. Especially if the Falcons move the ball early and put the Panthers on their heels, this is an offense that Pitt could have a lot of trouble with.
Thad: Any chance Voytik sees some action? Really think it would be beneficial.
Sam Werner: I still only think the way Voytik sees action is if Tom Savage gets hurt or the game is out of hand, which I don't think it will be. I know it's tempting for fans to think towards the future, but the staff's main priority is to win this game, and Savage gives them the best chance to do that.
Voytik got plenty of work during bowl prep with an eye on next spring, but come game day, the priority is getting a win for seniors like Aaron Donald in the final game of their careers.
Brandt: Any names out there for S&C coach? Will there be any other changes to the coaching staff?
Sam Werner: I tried to ask Chryst about that this morning, but was swiftly denied. The two names I threw up on Redshirt Diaries last week were Buddy Morris and Ben Herbert. Pitt fans know Morris, who was the S&C coach at Pitt most recently under Dave Wannstedt. He's currently running a private gym up in Buffalo, so if Pitt wanted him the only question would be whether or not he wants to get back into college coaching.
Herbert, meanwhile, is the current S&C at Arkansas. He's a West Allegheny grad and a former Wisconsin guy who went to Arkansas with Bret Bielema. The problem there is that he's getting paid $300,000 by the Razorbacks, and I can't imagine Pitt would pony up that kind of cash for an S&C coach. They'd have to get a hometown discount.
As for other changes, the only thing I could see is a possible shuffling of defensive responsibilities, just because there's a lot of overlap. That may or may not include one or two guys leaving the staff, but those changes will likely come after signing day in February.
Faithful Panther: What have you found about the "Redshirts"? Who can we look forward to in 2014?
Sam Werner: The two names I heard last week were defensive lineman Justin Moody and wide receiver Zach Challingsworth.
Incidentally, both of those are good names to come out because both play at positions of need in 2014. Along the defensive line, Ejuan Price, Bryan Murphy and Darryl Render figure to be starters, but that still leaves one open spot along the line. I don't know if Moody will grab that starting spot (KK Mosley-Smith and Tyrique Jarrett figure to be contenders), but having him in the mix will be a good thing.
Looking at receiver, Tyler Boyd is an obvious starter, but beyond that there isn't a whole lot coming back. Kevin Weatherspoon is a nice slot guy, and I do think Dontez Ford will make an impact. The other wild cards are whether or not Pitt can land commitments from Kamara or Jennings, both of whom could push for time right away. Even still, Challingsworth will probably be in the mix. Without Devin Street, it will most likely be a replacement by committee.
Chico3: Any chance we look for a senior transfer quarterback to compete with Chad?
Sam Werner: I think there's a chance, though it's probably unlikely. I know Chryst has gone that route before with both Russell Wilson at Wisconsin and Savage here at Pitt, but both of those were sort of "perfect fit" scenarios and I don't really see anything like that out on the horizon. The staff is also very high on the quarterback talent coming in (especially Freebeck), and Chad has definitely shown flashes in practice. Nothing would shock me, but I don't think that's a route they're going to go.
Nate: Let's say Pitt loses the bowl game. Most likely staff change? If any at all?
Sam Werner: First of all, winning or losing Thursday will have zero impact as to what changes are made after the season. Those decisions are made on a two-season sample, not just one game.
Like I said earlier, I think the most likely staff change (if there is one) is a shakeup on the defensive side of the ball. Right now, you have Breckterfield coaching defensive line, Palermo coaching defensive ends, Haering coaching linebackers, House coaching the safeties and Poteat coaching the corners. I think the move might be to take safeties away from House to allow him to focus on the defense as a whole. There could also be some other movement and that could, potentially, lead to someone leaving the staff.
Bill: Will there be an equipment managers game, like happened in Syracuse, before the bowl game. If so, how do you like our chances?
Sam Werner: I don't know, but if they still have the leprechaun suit then I like their chances.
Jason: Is it still too early to make a judgement on the coaching staff (considering some poor in-game decisions and lack of being able to keep recruits home)?
Sam Werner: I think it's all about how you weigh things. Look at game/clock management, for instance. I think that's an area where Chryst has pretty clearly been learning on the job (or maybe just learning from Mike Tomlin HEYO!). But that's also something that's not a fireable offense at this point. It's really just something where all you can do is hope he gets better at it.
The most important aspects of being a head coach are talent development and creating a winning culture. Both of those are long-term ideas that you can't see after two years. I know it's not fun, but you won't truly know how good this coaching staff is as a whole until probably around 2015 or 2016, when the guys they recruited are upperclassmen. Now, you can certainly make micro decisions within that timeframe, and Pitt did that last week when it parted ways with strength coach Todd Rice.
As for recruiting, it's obviously an important part of the program and it'd be nice to keep the local talent home, but I really don't think that will be the ultimate barometer for Chryst's success at Pitt. His calling card at Wisconsin was talent development (something the jury is still out on at Pitt).
Matt: Are there any freshman we should keep an eye out for who may get an increased roll in the bowl game?
Sam Werner: I don't think you're going to see anything too different than you did during the season, mostly because there really aren't too many freshmen that are playing this year who aren't already an important part of Pitt's gameplan. The only real new guy would be Ford, who I do think will play a role on offense.
Gasman: The starting offensive line next year. Care to predict the starters?
Sam Werner: Good question. If I had to guess right now, I would say LT- Johnson, LG- Roberts, C- Rowell, RG- Rotheram and RT- Clemmings.
I know the staff also likes Carson Baker a lot, so he could be in the mix at that left guard spot. I don't think you'll see either Bookser or Grimm play next year, just because Pitt took a ton of offensive lineman last year and can use them as depth. Chryst would always prefer to redshirt an offensive lineman if its at all possible.
John: Hey Sam, John from Toledo here ... What opinion do Pitt fans have about their opponent, Bowling Green? Easy pickings? Overconfident? Somewhere in the middle?
Sam Werner: I honestly think Pitt has a lot of respect for Bowling Green. Keep in mind that the Panthers didn't have a game during championship weekend, so they were all free to watch the MAC championship game when the Falcons beat down a very, very good Northern Illinois team. The players definitely see themselves as underdogs going into this game, but they say they're using that as motivation.
Chico3: Saw a rumor ACC might look into realigning the divisions? Has there been any talk around Pitt?
Sam Werner: Well, any division realignment would certainly involve Pitt. The main goal right now would probably be to split up Clemson and Florida State, the conference's premier schools, but John Swofford has said many times over the past year that the league is happy with the current set up.
The one request I would have if I got a vote would be for Pitt to end up in Louisville's conference. That's a great road trip and it's a shame we only get it once every 12 years.
Sam Werner: All right, folks, that's all the time we have for today. Merry Christmas from Detroit! Pitt and Bowling Green kick off at 6 p.m. December 26 on ESPN. Follow me on Twitter @SWernerPG for all the latest on the Panthers