Panthers selected as Big East favorites
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NEWPORT, R.I. — Forgive Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt if he treated the selection of the Panthers as the preseason favorite to win the Big East Conference in a media poll as a kiss of death for his football team.
"I'd just as soon be picked last," Wannstedt said Tuesday at Big East media day here at the Hotel Viking. "It gives you a little shot in the arm, saying we're in the mix, that we're in the group. ...
"We don't deserve to be first."
Pitt, which finished 9-3 overall and 5-2 in Big East play last year, received eight of 24 possible first-place votes and 161 points for its first No. 1 preseason conference ranking. West Virginia was second, with five first-place votes and 151 points, followed by Cincinnati (eight, 144), South Florida (three, 130), Rutgers, Connecticut, Louisville and Syracuse.
"It's an indication that people have respect for what's on with our program," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. "They know we've recruited well, that we've got good people and we made a big step last year. Nobody has any higher expectations for what's going to happen than the players and coaches. It's a good momentum sign."
Yet, if it were up to Wannstedt, defending champion Cincinnati would have received the honor.
The Panthers have never been chosen to finish higher than second — in 2003 and '05 — and were predicted for third in '04, when they won a share of their only league title in a four-way tie.
Only six of the 16 preseason favorites have won the Big East since full conference play started in 1993, and nine-time champion Miami and five-time winner West Virginia claimed the lion's share of league titles. Since the Big East reconfigured in 2004, four different teams have reigned.
"Without a doubt, I came to the University of Pittsburgh dreaming about winning a Big East title," Pitt senior tight end Nate Byham said. "As we've seen the past few years, preseason rankings really don't mean much until November.
"This is just the first step of what we need to do. We haven't even started camp yet. We have a full season ahead of us. We appreciate it, but at the same time, we don't want to get too excited."
Pederson said Pitt scheduled games against Utah in 2010 and '11 after discussions with California and Michigan fell through because both schools wanted to split the series instead of playing in successive seasons.
"We had some teams that could fill it now and return later or something like that," Pederson said, "but I felt we needed to get the 2010 and '11 games back-to-back."
Pitt already is dealing with that scenario in 2010, as it's looking for a home game to fill an open date despite a full slate from 2011-2013. Pederson said the Panthers still are exploring the possibility of a series with Michigan, but they likely wouldn't meet for at least five years.
From White to Brown
West Virginia coach Bill Stewart has high hopes for quarterback Jarrett Brown, a 6-foot-4, 221-pound fifth-year senior who spent three years in the shadow of Big East all-time yardage leader Pat White.
"He's the same guy," Stewart said of Brown. "He comes to practice every day to get better. The players all like him. From what I heard, he had a great summer. He's always got that smile. He is who he is.
"I like what he brings to the table. He's not Patrick White, but who is• It's his turn to shine, and I hope it's going to be a neat journey for him -- and for us."
Also, West Virginia junior running back Noel Devine was named as a candidate for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back.
Saying Bill Stull was the "most efficient" in spring drills and "the best quarterback giving us the chance to win," Wannstedt proclaimed the fifth-year senior Pitt's starting quarterback heading into training camp. ... The Panthers are expected to announce a university-wide apparel contract with Nike and unveil new uniforms at their football media day Monday.
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