Senior Rod Rutherford (6-3/220) returns as the starting QB. Rod was easily the most improved player on the team last season. He finished 2nd in the Big East conference in total offense to Heisman candidate Ken Dorsey from the Miami Hurricanes. Rod completed 192 of 367 passes for 2,783 yards and 22 TD’s in his first season as a starter. He averaged 214.1 yards passing per game for a 52.3 completion percentage. Rod also made many big plays with his legs as he rushed for an additional 398 yards. If he continues his improvement in the areas of accuracy and decision-making, he should be among the top QB’s in the country this year. Rod will have plenty of weapons to work with this season also, with the return of his two-deep at the RB, FB, and TE positions, as well as his superstar receiver.
The battle for the backup QB position will be one to watch this spring. True sophomore Tyler Palko (6-2/210) saw limited time in 6 games as a backup last season. He completed 2 of 3 passes for 13 yards and also had a rushing TD against Oregon State in the Insite Bowl. Tyler has all the tools to be an excellent QB in time. If it is an even battle with redshirt freshman Luke Getsy (6-2/225) this spring and fall, coach Harris may decide to redshirt Tyler this season. Luke is an excellent athlete who turned the coaches’ heads in practice last season. Luke has added 20 pounds of muscle since he has been in Pitt’s strength and conditioning program and looks to put up a fierce battle for the backup position this season.
Last year, our running backs struggled until mid-season. Senior Brandon Miree (6-0/235) didn’t play for almost two years after transferring from Alabama and then suffered a knee injury in fall camp. After shaking off the rust, he was outstanding in several of our biggest games. After out-rushing higher profile RB’s in games against VT, WVU, and Oregon State, Brandon finished the season with 943 yards on 214 carries for a 4.4 average per carry. He also rushed for 4 TD’s. Brandon has an excellent combination of size, speed, and strength, which is tough to stop. After a full season under his belt, Brandon should be among the best RB’s in the Big East, if not the country, this season.
The battle for the backup running back position this spring, and if the winner can push Miree for playing time, will be interesting also. The leading candidates are sophomore Jawan Walker (5-10/190) and junior Raymond Kirkley (5-10/215).
Jawan actually had pulled even with the other RB’s for the starting position in fall camp last season before suffering a knee injury. He saw only limited action in three games last year and probably should have been redshirted. Jawan has the size, speed, moves, and vision to be a star player in time. We’ll see this spring how far he has come along with a year in the system under his belt.
Raymond Kirkley rushed for 161 yards on 45 carries for a 3.4 yards per carry. Raymond had a very good true freshman season, but struggled last year as a sophomore. He hopes to rebound this spring and show how affective his tough, slashing running style can be. Sophomore Abdur Abdullah (6-0/235) also looks to push for playing time.
The fullback position should be as strong and deep as it’s been in a long time. Senior Lousaka Polite (6-0/240) is one of the top fullbacks in the country. He is an outstanding blocker and physical runner, yet can still be a weapon catching the ball out of the backfield. Lousaka rushed for 216 yards on 52 carries for a 4.1 average per carry. Polite also made 9 catches for 76 yards.
Another fullback who looks to see more playing time is sophomore Tim Murphy (5-10/230). Murphy is a converted RB who showed flashes of his outstanding running ability last season. He carried the ball 3 times for 58 yards for an 18.7 yards per carry average. If he continues to improve his blocking, he should be a standout player in time. A.J. Schneider (5-11 245) was forced into action as a true freshman last season due to injuries and should be much improved with a year's experience with the system.
It has been a long time since the Panthers have been this set at all three of the backfield positions. They finally have talent, experience, and emerging depth at all three positions.