New conference will speed up Pitt's new direction

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- It is still a sore subject for obvious reasons but the previous head football coach at Pitt often spoke about the need for the Panthers to get "speed, speed, speed" in recruiting.

Todd Graham is gone but that actually seems to be sound advice for the current coaching staff at Pitt as the Panthers transition from the Big East Conference to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

At least that is the advice Maryland coach Randy Edsall would give to new Pitt coach Paul Chryst. Edsall is as qualified on the matter considering he made the transition from the Big East to the ACC a year ago and found out the league is much better than advertised.

Edsall, who is entering his second year with the Terrapins after a stint at Connecticut (1999-2010), said that depth of top teams is much greater in the ACC than the Big East, and a big reason is the number of high-level athletes who play in the conference.

He said adjusting to the talent level and overall level of athleticism was his biggest challenge a year ago. He suspects the staffs at Pitt -- and Syracuse -- will find the same challenge when they officially join the league July 1, 2013.

"This is a very talent-rich league in terms of the number of guys you have to go up against on a weekly basis," Edsall said Monday at ACC media day. "And the numbers kind of bear that out in terms of the NFL draft. That was something that maybe I wasn't aware of being in a different league, but then coming into the ACC and finding out that there is a lot of talented athletes each and every week -- that was one of the biggest issues.

"You have the speed and the athleticism of the Clemsons, the Florida States and those teams like that, whereas in the Big East, there is only one team like that and that team is gone -- West Virginia."

Edsall said it is a pretty simple reason why the conference is blessed with so much speed and so many more athletes than the Big East -- the majority of the conference is located in the southeastern part of the country.

But he said since Pitt will be playing more games in southern states the coaching staff can adjust its recruiting.

"There seems to be a lot more speed [in high school football] south of the Mason-Dixon line," Edsall said. "And if you look up North, there just aren't as many prospects. Pennsylvania doesn't produce as many players as it used to, for example, and that's one of the states in that geographical area [Northeast] that traditionally has.

"So I would think that those schools will have to rethink their recruiting areas and expand their territories down South. They will be able to because they will be playing in states and areas that maybe they never got to play in before in the Big East -- like Georgia or South Carolina or even North Carolina."

Pitt and Syracuse obviously will have to make some adjustments in recruiting, but Edsall said getting the right kinds of athletes is only half the battle, the other half is learning how to navigate through the league and learning the tendencies of new opponents.

The Panthers will be placed in the Coastal Division, mainly competing against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia, Miami and Duke.

The Hokies, a former Big East team, have dominated the ACC in recent years (they have won three ACC titles in the past five years). The Yellow Jackets are coached by former Navy coach Paul Johnson, who runs the triple-option offense.

Edsall said you can watch film but until you play them you can't fully understand how to handle them.

"I think getting to know the personnel and overall dynamics of each team is always a challenge when you jump from one league to the next, but there are some things unique to individual programs as well," Edsall said. "[Pitt] will have all new opponents that you have to prepare for, and if you don't have the people who have experience playing them that can be an adjustment. When you play teams in your conference you have that book, you pretty much know what you have to do and you have a really good idea about personnel, but you have to play them a few times first.

"For instance, you are not going to see a team as physical as Virginia Tech in the Big East and you have a team like Georgia Tech, who runs the option and that requires extra preparation and days of practice to prepare for."

Longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, who coached the Hokies in the Big East until they jumped to the ACC in 2004 (along with Miami and Boston College), said that Big East was a different conference than it is today, so the transition for his team wasn't as great as maybe it will be for Pitt and Syracuse.

"I don't know that they have to change how they do things necessarily," Beamer said. "We were fortunate to be in the Big East but for us -- and I would think [Pitt and Syracuse] would feel the same way -- the ACC is where we belong. This is a great league with great people and this is a league that is getting better all the time, too.

"I think both schools add something from an academic perspective and from an athletic perspective, they add strength to our league and you want to be the league where people are trying to get into."

Edsall added: "I like [Pitt and Syracuse] joining our league, they are two good programs with two good coaches, and I think the ACC will enhance even what they are doing now. And having competed against both, it enhances our league."

NOTE -- Beamer considered former Penn State coach Joe Paterno a friend. Beamer was delighted in 2010 when he became the first recipient of the Joseph V. Paterno Coaching Award. The award was handed out by the Maxwell Club and was set to go annually to the coach who best exemplified "Paterno's dedication to the development of student-athletes and the advancement of the university beyond just athletics." Beamer had the award on display in his office but last week, after the Freeh Report was announced, he put it in storage. "It just felt like the right thing to do," he said. Beamer will be the only recipient of the award, however, as the Maxwell Club discontinued it in 2011 after Paterno was fired for his role in the scandal at Penn State.

pittfball

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1720.


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