August 4, 2006

A few areas to build around

On Wednesday the Pantherlair took a look at five key questions that the Pitt football team and coaching staff will have to answer in training camp. Those five questions ranged from the impact of freshmen to the team's chemistry and the Panthers' success in 2006 will depend largely on how those issues are resolved.

Today is the flip side, though, as the Pantherlair now takes a look at five aspects of the team that are question-free, or at least as question-free as a football team can be in the days leading up to training camp. Nothing is set in stone, nothing is guaranteed, and anything can change, but here are five areas where the Pitt football team may already have the answers.

1. Sometimes there's a man, and, well, he's the man

The question of "who's the man?" can be applied to a wide variety of situations and circumstances.

On the Pitt football team, there are probably a few answers to that query, but one player sits head and shoulders above the rest in terms of being "the man," and that's quarterback Tyler Palko. As he enters his fifth year at Pitt, the phrase "as Palko goes, so go the Panthers" has become almost as common for Pitt fans as saying "Hail to Pitt" or "bring back the script."

In 2004 and 2005, the team's fortunes directly reflected Palko's. His improvisational, on-the-fly, no-he-can't-really-make-that-play style willed the Panthers to several victories in 2004 and he made a name for himself on a large scale with nationally-televised game-winning drives against Notre Dame and West Virginia.

His performance two seasons ago was so impressive that his name popped up on a number of pre-season Heisman Trophy watch lists heading into the 2005 campaign.

Only 2005 didn't go so well and, as Palko's performance hit some rough spots (albeit aided by a porous offensive line and a virtually invisible running game), the Panthers finished 5-6. Still, through the Notre Dame pounding and the Ohio University embarrassment and the Nebraska miscues, not to mention the falls at Rutgers, Louisville, and West Virginia, Palko was the solid leader of the team.

He took the blame when it needed to be taken, he called on his teammates to step up their play when they had dropped a step, and he never sank into the trap of feeling sorry for himself.

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