The Importance Of Utah-Pittsburgh
By Paul Myerberg // Sep 2, 2010
There are 18 games on tonight’s docket, though only seven featuring two F.B.S. teams. U.S.C. opens its season at Hawaii — watch the Trojans make a statement, or at least try to score as many points as humanly possible. Ohio State opens its season on a Thursday, a rare occurrence for the Buckeyes. Northern Illinois and Iowa State is a game to watch, particularly with the Huskies looking to make a statement against a B.C.S. conference opponent. Likewise with Southern Mississippi, traveling to a distracted South Carolina; also with Middle Tennessee, which takes on Minnesota without Dwight Dasher, its all-Sun Belt quarterback. The game of the night, however, features No. 15 Pittsburgh at Utah, with both teams looking to start the 2010 season on a strong note. Why else is this game important?
Pittsburgh enters this game with a new starter under center: Tino Sunseri outplayed Pat Bostick throughout the spring and fall, making his ascension to the starting role a foregone conclusion. It’s not exactly an ideal situation for a debut starter, as Utah hasn’t lost a game at Rice-Eccles stadium since Sept. 8, 2007, when it dropped a 20-12 affair to Air Force.
Sunseri will surely have his hands full, particularly with Utah’s terrific front four, but he’ll have help. We all know of Dion Lewis, last year’s breakout star who is surely due to see an even bigger role in 2010. This is partly due to his development as a rusher, his progression in the weight room and elsewhere, but also because Pittsburgh cannot rely upon Sunseri as the standard-bearer for this offense until it sees the sophomore in live game action.
Obviously, Sunseri’s play will dictate — at least somewhat — Pittsburgh’s success on offense. He’s an unknown, however, and a potential liability should Utah stand tall against the run. There’s one reason this game is important to the Panthers: they will begin to see what level of play Sunseri will bring as the starter. Likewise, though this really isn’t much of a concern, Pittsburgh will find out against a top-notch opponent just how successful Lewis can be while being the clear focus of the offensive game plan. Not that he wasn’t a year ago; in 2010, he won’t have Bill Stull helping to carry the load offensively.
On a larger level, this game presents Pittsburgh with the opportunity to earn some respect on a national stage. It’s a new year, yes, but the Big East still lacks the credibility given as a birthright to the five remaining B.C.S. conferences. There is a very distinct possibility that Pittsburgh wins the conference, landing its automatic B.C.S. bowl berth. A win over Utah, while only occurring on the season’s first weekend, would grant the Panthers a feather in their cap, a resume-building win to show the rest of the nation they are more than just the best team in a second-tier B.C.S. conference.
What about Utah? I’m under the impression the Utes, like Pittsburgh, aren’t receiving enough respect on a national level. Yes, the rest of the Mountain West surely respects Utah; the rest of the M.W.C. might be gunning for the Utes even more so than usual this fall, given Utah’s move to the Pac-10 in 2011.
Again like Pittsburgh, the Utes enter this game with their eyes on building their resume: a win over a Big East team, particularly one considered by many to be the best team in the conference, would do just that. What if I take this statement one step further?
Utah has a tough schedule: Pittsburgh is joined by Iowa State and Notre Dame in non-conference play, with the usual cast of characters — Air Force, T.C.U. and B.Y.U. — coming during Mountain West play. In my mind, this difficult slate does not automatically prevent me from believing Utah capable of running the table; yes, 12-0, once again.
Not that it will be easy. The Pittsburgh game, though coming at home, is a toss-up — I’ll touch on this in a moment. The Irish will be much improved. B.Y.U. will take a step back, though T.C.U. looks like a top five team nationally. Still, I think Utah needs to be included in the small group of non-B.C.S. conference teams capable of landing in a B.C.S. bowl: it’s a four-team list, in my opinion, with Utah joined by the aforementioned Horned Frogs, Boise State and Houston.
It all starts tonight for the Utes. The quest for a 12-0 season goes through Pittsburgh, just as it goes through U.N.L.V. on the following weekend, Notre Dame and T.C.U. in November, B.Y.U. to end the year. On paper, this looks like a terrific game: Pittsburgh will try to dictate the tempo on the ground, limiting Sunseri’s role in the offense — as a passer — while avoiding turnovers; Utah can combat Pittsburgh’s running game with a wonderfully talented defensive front.
I’m leaning towards Utah. Not that I don’t like Pittsburgh, but I think Utah’s strengths defensively combat Pittsburgh’s strengths well; on the other hand, Utah’s perceived weakness, the secondary, won’t be challenged greatly by a quarterback making his first career start. Pittsburgh also has a terrific front seven, with potential all-American defensive end Greg Romeus leading one of the nation’s best pass rushes. If Utah can offset Pittsburgh’s speed off the edge with a few quarterback runs, the zone read, what have you, the offense can still have success.
Don’t look for an offensive explosion. Instead, look for two teams looking to set a tone early, both in terms of this game and each team’s respective season. Both Pittsburgh and Utah have big goals in 2010; it all starts tonight.
Tags: Dion Lewis, Greg Romeus, Pittsburgh, Tino Sunseri, Utah
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