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Realignment Endgame?

How might the final ACC look?

A favorite topic of offseason discussion every Summer it seems is conference realignment. The prevailing opinion at this point is that, while the ACC will likely survive, the Big XII will eventually be absorbed into the other power conferences. However, due to geography, most people have doubts that the ACC would be in a position to take in more than one Big XII team - namely, West Virginia.

So then, what might the ACC look like in its final configuration? About three weeks ago I examined this question on ACCFootballRx [see ACC Endgame]. Since then I’ve gotten some interesting suggestions which I’d like to consider here as well.

First, in my initial article, I assumed that once the Big XII was dissolved there would be a “champs only” playoff model - at which point Notre Dame is all-in. That leaves one spot for the one Big XII team in the ACC footprint: West Virginia.

How would the divisions line up at that point? If we assume the conference tosses out those crazy Atlantic / Coastal divisions and goes more Old ACC / Old Big East, we might see something like this:

(Don’t worry about cross-over games - there would only be two: Virginia / Virginia Tech and Florida State / Miami).

This is a kind of “getting the band back together” alignment for us fans of former Big East teams, and it would restore some great rivalries, such as

  • Pitt vs. Boston College, West Virginia
  • Virginia Tech vs. Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville
  • Boston College vs. Pitt, Miami, West Virginia
  • Syracuse vs. Virginia Tech, Miami, West Virginia

In addition, with Notre Dame all in, they would play teams like Pitt and Boston College even more regularly than the current alignment allows.

For fans living in the Mid-Atlantic states, those are some great rivalries restored which would be welcomed with open arms!

However, some have commented that they just don’t think there will ever be a scenario which results in Notre Dame joining the ACC for football... it just isn’t going to happen (or so they say). If true, what else could the ACC do to keep up with the SEC and the Big Ten?

Another alternative which I have examined on ACCFootballRx is the possibility of adding Texas - either as a partial, or along with one or more other Texas teams [see Longhorns and Texas Expansion]. In this scenario, the ACC would add Texas (possibly as a partial member), along with TCU and possibly Houston as well.

This expansion could possibly lead to a North / South division split, like this:

Even this would restore the BC / Pitt game, as well as create some good and very drive-able games between Pitt / Louisville / Virginia Tech. For recruiting purposes something would have to be done to insure annual games in either Florida, Georgia, or Texas for all North division teams - but that really isn’t difficult to do. The league could even sweeten the pot by giving North division teams preferential treatment when scheduling Notre Dame (maybe making that game come around more often for North teams - say every other year instead of every three years).

BOTTOM LINE: Realignment is likely not over, and as long as the Big Ten is looking to add more teams it behooves the ACC to be proactive and make sure the conference is not boxed in - like it was to some extent when the Big Ten acquired Maryland and Rutgers. However, I believe that as long as expansion options exist - whether regional, like West Virginia and Notre Dame, or into the #1 football state - Texas - the ACC should be able to keep up with the Big Ten and the SEC long-term.

What are your thoughts? Would you prefer a West Virginia/Notre Dame expansion, a Texas/TCU expansion, or stay with 14.5 teams?

.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Pat Narduzzi talks freshmen running backs

Pitt's football team has two true freshmen running backs trying to get onto the field in a cluttered stable. We've talked about this quite a bit in the offseason but head coach Pat Narduzzi gave a little bit of clarification to their status for this year on Wednesday.

Typically, most of a team's freshmen will be redshirted and that's especially true if the players are in a unit that is considered deep with other talent. But the Panthers' freshmen are highly-regarded. A.J. Davis was a four-star recruit wanted by numerous major programs and Todd Sibley, while a three-star guy, was a former Ohio State recruit that also had an offer from Michigan, according to Rivals. In other words, both are very skilled guys and could play for any number of teams.

For either to get on the field this season, aside from injuries, they'll seemingly need to be in the team's top three backs. When asked about the freshmen being redshirted, Narduzzi was mostly clear. “If they are going to be fourth or fifth on the depth chart, then yes. But if we feel like they can help us win a game, we are going to play the guys to help us win."

However, he also offered this, too, which sounds like it's opening the door for one of them. "You would like to pick one—redshirt one and play the other—and find out who is close enough to help you."

I'm not terribly sure how to interpret this. Say that one is clearly ahead of the other but not in the top three. Does that mean he won't play barring injuries? Now, perhaps the team doesn't sustain a major injury and if one player goes down for a week, the other two guys may be able to carry the load. But anything beyond that could easily force one of these guys into action.

And as I've stated before, don't undersell the importance other guys Pitt uses as running backs. In addition to the experienced trio, Pitt also has any number of 'other' players that should get carries on sweeps and trick plays, including Quadree Henderson, Jordan Whitehead, and Maurice Ffrench. Add those guys in and the number of carries you'd need from a fourth back (or even a third one with an injury) are minimal.

My overall feeling is that if Pitt doesn't sustain a major injury, one of those guys would have to be really impressive for it to make sense to play them this season. Aside from that, the Panthers just have too many options.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt Football Training Camp: Panthers shuffling offensive linemen to find best unit

Earlier this spring, Pitt was shuffling its offensive line and doing some experimenting. We're closer to the season now but the Panthers are still moving pieces around and trying to find the best fit.

Pitt offensive lineman and Texas transfer Brandon Hodges is still very much in the mix for a spot on the Panthers' offensive line. That's especially true for the first game with the team missing guard Alex Bookser, who is suspended for the opener. But what about the long-term plan for him?

So far, Pitt seems intent on using him at both guard and tackle. Hodges said after practice on Wednesday that he is splitting his time between the two positions. "I'm playing both [guard and tackle]," Hodges said. "You have to be ready for anything, any possible time. I'm ready to play whatever Coach [John Peterson] wants me to play."

Is he leaning towards any particular position? According to head coach Pat Narduzzi, nope. "50/50," he says.

The Panthers' overall plan seems pretty simple and is one that was mentioned earlier in training camp - get the best linemen on the field, regardless of position.

That sounds good in theory, but how is the team putting it into practice? By playing multiple guys at multiple positions.

The path for Hodges to earn playing time appeared to be at tackle where he was essentially competing with Jaryd Jones-Smith to start opposite Brian O'Neill. That's because the Panthers had two returning starters at guard in Bookser and former center Alex Officer. But that sounds less firm now because Officer continues to get reps at center and could be there instead.

"You have guys like Alex Officer, who is really improving at center," said offensive line coach John Peterson. "We're going into the season having multiple centers, and it's very reassuring." Connor Dintino and Jimmy Morrissey have both been the primary competitors there but Officer sounds as if he's back in the mix and that could be, in part, to accommodate Hodges to play guard.

In addition to Officer and Hodges, Pitt is working to cross-train the offensive linemen to play different positions. Bookser, for example, appeared set at guard but has taken reps at center as well. Peterson explained a little about the importance of moving guys around after practice Wednesday.

"It's really about building depth for the unknown factors," he detailed. "That's the thing when you can't predict what happens through the course of the game or the course of the season. Anything can happen and that's why you practice guys in cross-training, because it allows that flexibility and depth. Everyone has their weaknesses and strengths, so I'm just trying to put guys in a position where they can use their strengths."

All of that, of course, makes perfect sense. But how does it screw with practicing the week of a game? Well, there's less of that.

"You do less [cross-training] (during a game week), because the guys really get honed in on the game plan," Peterson added. "But just like anything, you could play right side, left side, guard, tackle. We have that versatility with guys that can snap the ball then play guard also."

The idea is to get them experience playing a lot of positions early on and in camp and then during a game week, they are mostly at the decided-upon position.

Overall, Pitt has seven guys that are in the mix to potentially start games. That, along with the added flexibility of being able to move around, should make them an incredibly versatile unit this season.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

ESPN's Robert Lee pulled from Virginia game because of his name, report says

ESPN broadcaster Robert Lee was scheduled to call an upcoming University of Virginia football game, but in light of recent tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, the network has pulled him from that assignment because of the similarity between his name and that of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

>> Charles Barkley offers brutally honest take on Confederate statue debate

Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch released ESPN’s statement on the situation, saying it was Lee’s decision to request a different assignment:

>> See the tweet here

>> Read more trending news

Lee’s decision to request a change of assignment comes on the heels of recent protests in Charlottesville, in which a counter protester, Heather Heyer, was allegedly killed by a white supremacist.

Read more here.

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (FB Season Preview)

Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett record a complete season preview for the 2017 Pitt Football season.

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett record a season preview for Pitt Football. Topics include Paris Ford becoming eligible, an extensive look at the depth chart, and predictions for the season.

Max Browne to start at QB, officially

The USC grad transfer will start for Pitt, Pat Narduzzi announces

It was assumed right when Max Browne announced he was transferring to Pitt, but he’s officially been named the start for Youngstown State by Pat Narduzzi.

Pat Narduzzi announces Max Browne as Pitt's starting quarterback— Brian Batko (@BrianBatko) August 22, 2017

Max Browne was the starter for USC going into the 2016 season, but after a rough few games, was replaced with now Heisman favorite Sam Darnold.

The reports from practice have indicated that Max Browne’s competition mostly came from RS Sophomore Ben Dinucci, who saw some action in last year’s bowl game after Nate Peterman got hurt. There is a certain amount of buzz about true freshman Kenny Pickett as well, but the logic is likely to redshirt him this year and compete for the starting job next year.

Browne is Pitt’s 3rd grad transfer quarterback to start in 4 years (Nate Peterman, Tom Savage). However, both of those former Pitt quarterbacks are on NFL rosters, and Pitt had good play out of both while they were here, especially Peterman. While it’s not great to have a new starter every year, Pitt has taken advantage of using grad transfers at a position it’s had very little depth at the last few years.

Hopefully, Browne’s season at Pitt goes as well as his predecessor’s did.

Cardiac Hill Poll of the Week: Will Paris Ford redshirt in 2017?

Pitt's football team got some great news that top recruit, Paris Ford, has finally been ruled eligible to play. Nearing the end of training camp, he's joined the team for practices this week, as JD wrote on Monday.

Should Pitt fans get their hopes up for this year, though? Head coach Pat Narduzzi downplayed his addition, at least in terms of this year. Narduzzi actually believes Ford will need to redshirt this season.

The head coach said on Monday, "We aren't going to say, 'okay Paris, let's go, you are the savior.' That isn't going to happen. In my opinion, he is going to redshirt, and if something else happens besides that, it's a miracle. It is just too hard to come in as a kid like that. We are just happy he is here, he's in school and that's the main thing."

That will be disappointing to some, especially with Pitt's secondary needing all the help it can get. That's magnified not only by the fact that the unit was abysmal last year but also that the team is missing arguably its top defensive back in Jordan Whitehead, who is suspended for the first three games.

Do you believe Narduzzi here or is this just a smokescreen? Even if he legitimately believes that Ford will need to redshirt this season, do you think that changes?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pitt soccer freshman Edward Kizza named to Top Drawer Soccer preseason All Freshman Team

Earlier, I wrote about a top 50 recruit that Pitt men's soccer coach Jay Vidovich landed for this season in forward Edward Kizza (name up for debate as I've seen him referred to as Kizza Edward and Edward Kizza - the Pitt website says Edward Kizza). It was an astonishing grab for a program that has been at the bottom of the ACC since they joined the conference.

Kizza is already gaining some early recognition and is primed for a big first year. Top Drawer Soccer recently named him to their national preseason All Freshman team. He is one of 11 players in the entire country to make the team and one of three forwards.

Pitt's soccer team has a long way to go, obviously. They are 1-1 in their two exhibition games this year, defeating American, 4-1, and losing 1-0 to VCU. The team was only 2-13-3 last year and in one of those victories, they needed double overtime to defeat Duquesne. It's hard not envisioning some kind of improvement this season. And as I said before, if Vidovich can land kids like Kizza and Chandler Vaughn (a 2018 top 20 recruit) without winning anything yet, imagine what he'll be able to do if the Panthers start to improve.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

Pat Signal: Marquis Williams commits to Pitt

Pitt lands a three-star corner from Florida

Pat Narduzzi left everyone guessing after tweeting out a “Pat Signal” late last night. It appears the mystery is now over as Marquis Williams committed live over Twitter just moments ago.

#CardinalGibbons HS (FL) 2018 DB Marquis Williams (@Williamsisland4) commits to the #Pittsburgh #Panthers pic.twitter.com/WvUembJEpt— Sleeper Athletes (@SleeperAthletes) August 22, 2017

Marquis Williams is a 5’9” 165 cornerback from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He chose Pitt over two finalists from the Big Ten, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Williams also held offers from Clemson, Ole Miss, Penn State, and Michigan State among others before narrowing his choices.

Williams is graded as a three-star by Rivals and 247Sports. He is ranked as the 35th best cornerback in the country by Rivals. He will play for Cardinal Gibbons High School this season after playing for Coconut Creek last year.

In an article by David Furones of the Sun-Sentinel, the Cardinal Gibbons coach had some high praise for his senior cornerback.

“They’re getting a really fast guy with a lot of speed,” Cardinal Gibbons coach Matt DuBuc said. “And a guy with ball skills because he can play receiver too, special teams guy. A guy that can do a multitude of things.”

The coach also mentioned about why Williams chose Pitt later in the article.

“Charlie Partridge did a great job recruiting him. We’re close with Charlie, and it ended up working out,” DuBuc said. “I think the ACC was better for him than the Big Ten.”

So in all, it seems like a solid commitment for Pitt. They are getting an athletic corner with good offers from a talent-rich program in a talent-rich state. Williams becomes the 13th recruit in the class of 2018. He is also the first commitment from the state of Florida, a bit surprising after Pitt brought in seven guys from the Sunshine State last year.

Here is a closer look at Williams as a player.

Marquis Williams is the second corner in this class, joining Judson Tallandier of Maryland. They appear to be two totally different players with Tallandier being an imposing 6’2” and Williams checking in at 5’8”. Obviously this is an important position for Pitt, and bringing in talent of any size is important for this program.

Sports teams poke fun at eclipse through social media

Several sports teams had some fun with Monday's solar eclipse, taking to social media to put their own spin on the celestial rarity. The Atlanta Hawks gleefully blocked out the Suns, who were only too happy to block them back. And there was a total eclipse of the Hart in Philadelphia.

>> Read more trending news

Let’s start in Atlanta, where the Hawks’ Twitter account noted that “in honor of the sun being blocked today, here are our best blocks against the @Suns over the past few years!”

The Suns were not about to have the Hawks throw any shade on them, so they responded in kind: 

The Philadelphia Eagles had some fun with the 1983 Bonnie Tyler song, “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” using defensive tackle Tyler Hart as their focal point: 

Was that Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo protecting his eyes during the eclipse? Only the Spartans know for sure.

There was plenty of creativity to go around in the sports world. Now, players have until 2024 to think of something new.

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