Post-Gazette sports reporter Paul Zeise blogs about the world of sports, and Pittsburgh sports in particular, with an assist from Seth Rorabaugh and his Morning Links. Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulZeise and Seth @emptynetters.
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Well, the weekend is here, let’s try to make some sense of the sports scene and break it down as easily as possible. It is a big weekend locally as college football kicks off and the Pirates are in Milwaukee for a big series.
This will be a weekly feature on Fridays, I'll build on it as I figure out what works and what doesn't but here is sort of a weekend preview for you…
Pitt vs. Youngstown State, Saturday, 6 p.m. , Heinz Field – The Paul Chryst era will begin and I think for Pitt fans it can’t get here quick enough. That’s how bad of a taste Pitt fans have in their mouth from the Todd Graham era. Chryst is more of a “Pittsburgh guy” and I think people will appreciate his understated, meat and potatoes approach – especially if he wins. Graham was the kind of guy who had alienated so many people so quickly, he was a hard guy to root for. Chryst is going to take Pitt football back to the Dave Wannstedt era from the standpoint of the Panthers are going to play old school football, the program will be run with no bells and whistles and no frills. There is one difference, though, and that is Chryst is extremely creative and innovative on offense so the Panthers should be fun to watch. In this game, YSU will be a tougher out than you might think and mostly because they are an experienced team that knows how to win. They have a veteran quarterback and a veteran tailback but the difference between I-AA teams and I-A teams is depth as YSU is working with only 62 scholarships and Pitt has 85. That depth will be the difference in the second half and Pitt will wear them down and win.
Penn State vs. Ohio, Saturday, noon, Beaver Stadium – I’m not sure if it is possible to handle the mess at Penn State any better than Bill O’Brien has. I mean, you want to talk about the right guy at the right time and winning the battle of press conferences, this guy has been amazing. Really, truly has hit every right note – including his explanation of why he wanted to put the names of the players on their uniforms. And once the Nittany Lions take the field, it really will be the first step towards the healing process beginning, at least with respect to the football program regaining its respect nationally and its profile. O’Brien doesn’t have to win a game and he’s already done wonders to get this process started for Penn State to rebuild itself. The Nittany Lions will win just by taking the field and playing football again. Now, that being said this is not going to be an easy game by any measure. Penn State lost a lot of key players, the Nittany Lions still don’t have a good quarterback and they are going to be relying on a lot of underclassman. And the opposite is true of Ohio, as the Bobcats are picked by some to win the MAC. They have an uptempo, no-huddle attack, a boatload of players returning from the first team in school history to win a bowl game and they will certainly give the Nittany Lions everything they can handle and more. I won’t predict an upset but won’t be surprised by one, either.
West Virginia vs. Marshall, Saturday, noon, Milan Puskar Field - Marshall is 0-11 all-time in this “rivalry” and frankly, this game could ugly quick. West Virginia in year two under Dana Holgorsen should take a big step forward on offense and that is scary considering they scored 70 points in the Orange Bowl against Clemson. WVU is picked in the Top 15 by just about every poll I’ve seen and frankly, with a lot of guys returning – including Heisman candidate, QB, Geno Smith – it isn’t surprising expectations are so high. But here is a word of caution – it is one thing to pick a team to win ten or 11 games when they are in the Big East – they are stepping way up in class to the Big 12, however. That means they will see Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, TCU, Baylor, Kansas State as opposed to Rutgers, Connecticut, Cincinnati and, sorry, Pitt….That’s a huge difference and so don’t be surprised if the Mountaineers fall short of the lofty record and season people seem to be predicting for them.
Pirates at Brewers, three games (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) at Miller Park – The Pirates have Jeff Karstens, A.J. Burnett and James McDonald going this weekend, the Brewers have Mark Rogers, Marco Estrada and Yovanni Gallardo. So we should see three well pitched games. Karstens shut out the Brewers last week and Rogers shut out the Pirates, so tonight’s game could be a situation where runs are at a premium. Interestingly, however, Aramiz Ramirez has hit Karstens well while Andrew McCutchen has hit well at Miller Park – so something will likely have to give. This is a huge series – as all of them are – because the Cardinals, who the Pirates trail by a half game, are playing Washington and have three tough pitching matchups and could lose two or three of them. That means the Pirates could put themselves back in the wild card position with a couple of wins. Miller Park has traditionally not been kind to the Pirates but they have seemingly excorised those demons with some wins earlier this year though the Brewers are healthier now and seem to be playing good baseball of late. I expect three well –played, tight baseball games – and keep this in mind as well: If the Pirates are trailing late, they may have an advantage as they beat up Brewers closer John Axford the last time they faced him.
The best of the rest:
Mylan Golf Classic – Ok, it is not that big of a deal but it is a local event and it is a professional golf tournament so if golf is your thing, go down to Southpointe Golf Club over the next two days and watch this tournament. There aren’t many recognizable names but these guys are still among the best 500 golfers in the world and you’ll see some guys who are shooting 64 and 65 and making some amazing putts and shots. And who knows, if you are bored, and just want to heckle someone, put on your Penguins gear and go down and give the current leader, Brad Fritsch, a hard time. Fritsch, who is from Ontario and is an Ottawa Senators fan, did his best to endear himself to fans as he walked out of the media room when he quipped, “by the way, the Penguins suck…”
Alabama vs Michigan, 8 p.m., Saturday, ABC – Boy the fans at the Big House are going to enjoy a game of this magnitude, I’m sure. Oh wait a minute, the game is at a neutral site (Cowboys Stadium) so neither fan base can enjoy the atmosphere of having a huge home game like. This is really depressing to me – money, television, more money and now coaches unwilling to play on the road in nonconference games, are going to take more and more of these big-time games off campuses and to neutral fields. Regrardless, this is a great matchup between the defending national champion and a team coming off a BCS bowl win. That being said, I think Michigan is a little overrated and the Wolverines success last year was a bit of smoke and mirrors as they were the victim of some good fortune. I do think the program is in great hands with Brady Hoke and will get there, but this could be a classic example of a team coming off a magical season being overrated on the basis of having one key player – Denard Robinson – back. Alabama lost a ton but they just reload under Nick Saban and they don’t seem to lose these kinds of games often.
Notre Dame vs. Navy, 9 AM, Saturday, CBS – This game is taking place in Ireland, hence the early start time. Brian Kelly, needless to say, in year three seems to be on a hot seat, so the Irish need to show some tangible signs of improvement. But this is a tougher game than people know because of the offense that Navy runs. You talk to coaches they will tell you, the week after preparing for Navy is difficult because you have to get your defense back into a completely different mindset. Navy will give the Irish everything they can handle – as they almost always do – and the key will be turnovers. You can’t turn the ball over against Navy because they will hold it for six or seven minutes at a time.
Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech, Monday, ESPN, 8 p.m. – There is a very good chance the winner of this game will win the ACC’s Coastal Division. That’s a tall order for both teams, really, to come right out of the gate and play perhaps the most important game of the season. Georgia Tech under Paul Johnson is a lot like Navy – the Yellow Jackets run that triple-option attack and thus are a real pain in the rear end to deal with and mostly because so few teams play that offense any more. Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer, the active wins leader among FBS coaches, does the same thing year in and year out – win with defense and special teams and control the ball with offense. It isn’t sexy, it isn’t always fun to watch but Beamer has made a living doing that. He is really, really good at what he does and the Hokies just keep on rolling.
That should get you started for now and I’ll be checking back in and posting throughout the weekend depending on what happens.
Then Tuesday I will have a big college football notebook-type post. It will usually run Mondays but next week, with the holiday and the fact that there are some games on Monday, I will post it Tuesday.
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