Pitt QB Sunseri pleased with senior season, despite team's record
He has ears, and he can hear.
He has eyes, and he can see.
Tino Sunseri knows his three-year tenure as Pitt's starting quarterback often left fans wanting more.
But when it ends Saturday against Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., with his 39th consecutive start, he promises this: He won't feel a need to apologize to anyone.
“This year,” he said, “I left it all on the field.”
Sunseri, a fifth-year senior, admits he was vulnerable to criticism during his junior season when he struggled to properly direct former coach Todd Graham's unfamiliar, speed-based, read-option offense.
He often took sacks when Graham demanded that he release the football quicker, and he threw more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes (10).
“You have to be consistent,” said Sunseri, who was the target of public criticism by Graham that was much more demeaning because of the source than anything from fans. “Whenever you are inconsistent, you can open up ways for people to say things. And the way I played my junior year, you could have said some things. Last year, obviously, I didn't play as well as I wanted to.”
But his career found a smoother road this year when Paul Chryst was hired to replace Graham and brought an offense better suited to Sunseri's skills. Chryst's offense gave Sunseri more time to read the defense and find open receivers, and it didn't force him to run as if he were RGIII or Cam Newton. As a result, his touchdowns jumped to 19 and his interceptions fell to two.
“This offense gave him a lot of comfort,” senior center Ryan Turnley said. “It was something he was looking forward to proving to people he could play, and he did that this year.”
The results weren't always positive. Pitt lost six of its first 10 games before winning the next two to become bowl eligible. But Sunseri is a career 20-game winner (20-18), and he will take a remarkable streak of 270 consecutive passes without an interception into the Compass Bowl. It's the longest active streak in the nation, stretching more than 9 games to Sept. 15.
Still, Pitt won more than three games in a row only once with Sunseri at quarterback, and he never led a successful fourth-quarter comeback.
“I feel like you can always win more games whenever you are 6-6,” he said. “There are games you want to go back and you want to be able to play better.”
Sunseri has football aspirations beyond college, and he said he will begin training after the Compass Bowl. He has been invited to play in the Raycom College Football All-Star Classic on Jan. 19 in Montgomery, Ala.
NFLDraftScout.com ranks him 23rd among quarterback prospects. ESPN draft analyst Kevin Weidl said Sunseri projects as a free agent.
“He doesn't have the elite physical skill set in terms of size and arm strength,” Weidl said. “He has improved this year and has done a much better job with decision-making.
“But a lack of elite size is going to warrant some concern.”
Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7997.