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Pitt Football 2010

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Pitt had the chance to win the Big East title last year, but Tony Pike’s game-winning touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining gave Cincinnati the conference championship and stripped Pitt of a trip to a BCS bowl game.

The Panthers won’t easily forget the loss as they head into the 2010 season with high expectations and a chip on their shoulder.

Pitt is the early favorite to take home the Big East championship, as they are loaded with top talent, including three All-America candidates in tailback Dion Lewis, wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, and defensive end Greg Romeus.

Lewis is arguably the top player in the Big East, but he doesn’t have to shoulder responsibility in the backfield on his own. Talented classmate Ray Graham should be primed to handle more carries and the running game is going to be particularly important as quarterback Tino Sunseri adjusts to his starting job.

Sunseri’s top target will be Baldwin, one of the most physically imposing athletes in the conference. Baldwin returns for his junior season after catching 57 passes for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009 and becoming a daunting deep threat for the Panthers.

Offensively, the biggest concern for Pitt is in the interior offensive line, where the team must replace all three starters.

Pitt's BalwinRanked 23rd nationally defensively in 2009, the Panthers lost defensive tackles Mick Williams and Gus Mustakas, as well as Adam Gunn at middle linebacker and both starting cornerbacks.

But Pitt has plenty of players waiting in the wings, such as Dan Mason, who is ready to take over in the middle and Antwuan Reed, who showed promise at cornerback in the spring.

Most importantly, Pitt returns Romeus, the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2009. The 6-foot-6, 270 pound defensive end had 43 tackles and eight sacks last season.

A minor injury sidelined Romeus early in camp, opening the door for Brandon Lindsey, Shayne Hale and highly-rated freshman T.J. Clemmings to get reps.

Jabaal Sheard, charged with assault in the off-season, returned from a suspension and should team up with Romeus to form one of the best pass-rushing tandems in the nation. 

The Heat is On: Tino Sunseri, QB

Sunseri is expected to step in as starting quarterback for the departed Bill Stull and he enters the season with already high expectations, despite limited action last year. The more experienced Pat Bostick, a senior, will be waiting to take over should Sunseri stumble out of the gate, particularly in big non-conference games against Miami (Fl.) and Utah.

Sleep Depriver: Dion Lewis, RB

The Big East’s Rookie of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year last season, the Heisman candidate wreaked havoc on opponents last season, rushing 325 times for 1,799 yards, good for third in the nation.

New on the Scene: Saheed Imoru, CB

Pitt lost both its starting cornerbacks from last season and that opens the door for Imoru, a junior college transfer, to make an immediate impact. Imoru enrolled early and showed potential in the spring to step into a starting role.

Greg RomeusBig Man on Campus

At 6-6 and 270 pounds, Greg Romeus could have been a NFL first or second round pick following his junior season, when he was the Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year, unanimous first team All-Big East selection, and a finalist for the

Ted Hendricks Defensive Player of the Year award. He finished with 43 tackles, a team-high eight sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and three forced fumbles.

However, Romeus decided to return for his final year at Pitt despite his impressive junior season, seeking to improve this game further.

“Greg Romeus can get better and better,” defensive coordinator Phil Bennett said during spring camp. “For a guy that is probably going to be a very high draft pick, he came out and practiced like we thought he would.”

That Romeus, who only started playing football his senior year in high school, has yet to reach his full potential and is still working toward his high ceiling might be the scariest thought for opponents heading into the 2010 season. Romeus was already one of the most disruptive players in the conference last season.

Romeus possesses the lethal combination of strength and speed, improving each season that he’s spent at Pitt. He should have no trouble repeating at the Big East’s top defensive player and contending for other national individual honors. During the spring, Romeus was named to the watch list for the Lott trophy, which is awarded to the best defensive player in the country.

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