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Pitt softball adds Amanda Buchholz to staff

The ex-Husker is known as a defensive and recruiting specialist

Pitt head softball coach Holly Aprile announced on Tuesday that Amanda Buchholz, who most recently served on Ohio State’s coaching staff, will be joining the Panthers as an assistant coach for the 2018 season, according to a press release from the university.

“She brings a wealth of experience in both recruiting and in the day-to-day operations of a Power Five softball program,” Aprile said. “Amanda has a track record for developing top-notch defensive teams and strategies. Without a doubt, she has the experience and expertise to help us continue to build a consistent winning program.”

Buchholz’s defensive prowess goes back to her days as a standout shortstop at Nebraska, during which she led the Cornhuskers to a College World Series appearance in 2002 and earned first-team All-Big 12 honors. She eventually became an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio), where her team set a program record with a .975 fielding percentage in 2010.

She achieved similar results at Ohio State, as her Buckeyes put up a .969 fielding percentage in 2017 and a .974 fielding percentage in 2016. For comparison, Pitt’s fielding percentage was .975 in 2017, which ranked 16th in the nation. So this addition should allow the Panthers to stay the course in that respect.

With that said, this move doesn’t address two of the more glaring areas of need for the Panthers, such as their .261 team batting average, which ranked an abysmal 201st in the NCAA in 2017, and their 4.11 ERA, which ranked 191st.

If the goal is to catch up to ACC rivals like Florida State (which batted .329 in 2017 with a 1.47 ERA) or even Syracuse (.307 batting average, 3.07 ERA), then the Panthers are going to have to do more to step up their performance at the plate and on the mound.

However, as Aprile noted, where Buchholz could really make a difference is on the recruiting trail, and that’s of vital importance to Pitt.

The Panthers attracted a solid recruiting class after a stellar 37-21 season in 2015, but they quickly regressed. While that 2016 class ranked 14th in the nation, according to FloSoftball, Pitt followed that up with a class that didn’t rank among the top 70 in 2017.

Since then, Aprile has shown improvement by assembling a 51st-ranked 2018 class and a 42nd-ranked 2019 class. But considering conference rivals like Notre Dame, Florida State and Boston College have consistently ranked above Pitt in recruiting, the program still needs to strive for better results.

During Buchholz’s tenure, Ohio State regularly reeled in impressive recruiting classes that ranked among the best in the nation. Its 2018 class is currently ranked 29th by FloSoftball, and 2017’s ranked 33rd.

While recruiting student-athletes at Pitt is traditionally more difficult than it is at Ohio State, if Buchholz can provide the Panthers with even a modest boost in their recruiting efforts, it could give them a leg up on teams like Syracuse and Louisville that haven’t excelled in recruiting lately but have bested Pitt in conference play over the past two seasons.

And with Pitt finishing 10th out of 11 ACC teams in 2017 despite having the seventh-best overall record in the conference, gaining ground on beatable conference opponents should be the goal heading into 2018.

That alone could be the difference between finishing one game above .500 and posting a 30-win season — which is another thing teams coached by Buchholz have a knack for.

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S3 Ep1)

Corey and Jim wrap up the entire summer of Pitt news before football season starts

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen and Jim Hammett wrap up the entire summer of Pitt news including the NFL Draft, Pitt Football suspensions, the Cam Johnson transfer saga, the NBA Draft, and Heather Lyke's tenure.

We apologize for some brief technical glitches in the opening.

Pitt’s receiving corps begins to take shape

A pecking order appears to be forming among Pitt’s wide receivers

On Wednesday, Pitt head football coach Pat Narduzzi was asked which wide receivers stood out behind presumed starters Jester Weah and Quadree Henderson, and his answer provided some long-awaited clarity on the situation.

Earlier in camp, freshman Dontavius Butler-Jenkins was a player that was standing out. Only two weeks ago he was being heralded as a player that was ‘going to really help’ the team this year, according to Narduzzi. But now, others have risen to the top, it seems.

“You look at (Rafael) Araujo-Lopes, he has done a great job. He works his tail off. He’s been very consistent, maybe the most consistent of all,” Narduzzi said, according to a press release from the university. “Maurice Ffrench has done a nice job. Those are the guys that stand out to me and are probably the top four at this point.”

This section of the depth chart has been something of a question mark since Tre Tipton went down with a season-ending knee injury in July. Until then, Tipton, who amassed 142 yards and a touchdown on 12 catches last season, was presumed to be Pitt’s No. 3 receiver, leaving only the No. 4 spot in question at that point.

Ffrench seemed to be in the mix for one of the jobs as of last Friday. That day, Narduzzi was asked if the receiver would play a bigger role in the offense with Tipton out, and his answer was fairly unambiguous.

“No question about it,” he said. “Maurice is a great player offensively and defensively, and anytime a guy goes down, it’s that next-guy-up mentality. Whether Maurice beats out Tre Tipton in camp or Tre is not there and the job is there for the taking, Maurice is going to hopefully have a major part in this offense.”

Ffrench also earned himself some praise from Henderson, who described him as “electric” and “another explosive player that you should watch out for this year.”

With that said, it was somewhat surprising that Araujo-Lopes’ name was the first one out of Narduzzi’s mouth Wednesday, since so little had been mentioned about him to that point.

Araujo-Lopes was only involved in nine plays on offense last season in addition to three kick returns. Of course, he also happened to excel in everything he did, averaging 32.7 yards per return, 12 yards per reception and 5.3 yards per carry, so it’s unsurprising that one of his many talents caught Narduzzi’s eye.

Still, considering Narduzzi said on Tuesday that the depth chart had yet to be finalized and this revelation came after the 14th day of training camp, there may be more movement to come. But for now, it’s good to see a few receivers pulling away from the pack with the season opener less than three weeks away.

Pitt Softball: Q&A With McKayla Taylor

August is an exciting month if you’re a fan of America’s past time. Is there anything that captivates even the most casual of sports fans more than the Little League World Series, which ramps up at the end of the week?

At the professional level, some teams are jockeying for position in their respective divisions after last months trade deadline. Others will be calling up promising young prospects over the next month or so in hopes of getting a glimpse into their future.

While the Women’s College World Series ended over two months ago, the Pittsburgh Panthers are already gearing up for next spring. I had the opportunity to ask senior shortstop McKayla Taylor a few questions about what we can expect from Pitt in 2018.

Q1: What are you currently doing in the offseason to prepare for your senior season?

“This offseason I have been doing whatever needs to be done in order to put myself in the best position to get better for the team. Whether it's taking ground ball reps or consistently going through the drills Coach Holly individually gave us to help improve our offensive and defensive game. Along with the drills on the field, I have made sure I kept up with our lifting and conditioning schedule that we were given because I feel that is a very important factor in order to excel on the field.”

“Aside from the physical aspect, I have been reflecting a lot on the mental and leadership aspect of my game. Just taking the time to figure out what areas I need to improve on and how I can come out this season a better leader and teammate.”

Q2: As a senior, are you looking to add more facets to your game or at this point is it just polishing the skills you have?

“Even though I am a senior, I feel there is always room for growth. With that being said, I have the mindset of going out to work every day to improve every aspect of my game. I will be ready to do whatever is needed of me that is best for the team.”

Q3: As a shortstop but also a consistent hitter, would you rather go 0-4 in a game or commit an error in the field?

“While both of these sound like a very unproductive game, throughout the years I have come to learn that an 0-4 day at the plate or committing an error at shortstop doesn't always mean you didn't contribute that game or didn't improve either. Even if you go 0-4, it doesn't mean you didn't have productive at-bats or have a quality at-bats as we like to call them. We are taught to not look at how many errors we commit or our batting average for that game. As long as you are failing forward and learning from these mistakes.”

Q4: What can we expect from the Panthers this upcoming season?

“This upcoming season the Panthers are ready to build on the things that didn't quite go our way last season and just come out ready to compete at our full potential. Expect us to be work hard day in and day out in order to reach our goals that we talk about together as a team and work to figure out how we can achieve them. We know what we need to do to get things done moving forward and I am excited for what this season has in store for us.”

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author @Stephen_Gertz

Cardiac Hill Poll of the Week: Where will Pitt finish in the ACC Coastal

Like most seasons, fans expect Pitt to contend in the ACC Coastal Division. And like most years, I've got my reservations about the team actually winning it.

Until they actually win one of these things, I don't feel real comfortable in expecting that they will. They absolutely won the lottery with Syracuse when the two teams were added to the conference and are in, for now, the easier Division. But teams like Miami and North Carolina have had a leg up on Pitt in recent memory. Georgia Tech will be difficult this year and Pitt also travels to Virginia Tech.

Based on the schedule, where you think Pitt will finish in the Division next season.

Among the seven teams, do you expect the Panthers to finish near the top, in the middle, or towards the bottom?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.
Poll Where will Pitt football finish in the ACC Coastal in 2017? 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th 7th   0 votes | Results

Nathan Peterman states his case for the No. 2 spot in Buffalo

The former Panther saw his first NFL action Thursday

Former Pitt quarterback Nathan Peterman made his NFL debut in the Buffalo Bills’ 17-10 preseason loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Thursday night.

While he only completed 52 percent of his passes, he got the bulk of the playing time under center. He also happened to score the team’s only touchdown when he lobbed a beauty of a pass to the corner of the end zone for wide receiver Dezmin Lewis in the fourth quarter.

If that wasn’t enough, he also ran for 26 yards on four carries and was the only Bills quarterback to avoid getting sacked.

When all was said and done, Peterman had thrown for 112 yards and earned a quarterback rating of 77.4, which was just shy of Tyrod Taylor’s 78.1 and an improvement on T.J. Yates’ 65.7. That’s a decent result, considering this was Peterman’s first game and the Vikings defense ranked third in the NFL against the pass last season.

Coming into the game, Peterman had been battling with Yates for second-string status behind Taylor. Yates was the presumed No. 2 on the depth chart when he was brought in, since he played under Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison in Houston and is entering his seventh season in the league. However, the battle has gotten a bit more complicated.

Peterman was practicing with the Bills’ second team on July 29, according to Kyle Silagyi of Bills Wire. By Monday, Joe Buscaglia of WKBW reported that Peterman’s second-team reps had significantly diminished, making him the likely third-stringer.

In addition to that, Dennison gave his take on Peterman during a press conference that same day, and although much of it was complimentary, one line stood out above the rest.

“His progression is a lot like T.J.’s when he was a rookie,” he said.

Aside from that being something of a backhanded compliment, it also revealed exactly how Dennison envisioned the pecking order for his group of quarterbacks at that time.

With that said, Peterman’s performance Thursday night may have given Dennison something to think about, and he’ll get a chance to prove himself against softer defenses than Minnesota’s in the Bills’ next three preseason outings.

If you’re a fan of Peterman, this is relevant because Taylor has yet to play a full 16-game season in his career, meaning his backup may actually see some meaningful playing time.

2017 College Football Playoffs Revenue

How much money is at stake for the ACC?

Recently, the College Football Playoff Committee released its annual revenue distribution plan for the 2017-18 season. When you factor in the Orange Bowl contract, the ACC is guaranteed at least $81.5 million, but could realistically split over $100 million.

2017-18 CFP Payouts

There is quite a bit of money at stake in the postseason, and the ACC would certainly like to get a slice of that pie! Here are some highlights of the projected revenue distribution numbers from the official College Football Playoff website. College Football Playoff Revenue Distribution Policies (The following estimates of the CFP revenue distribution are based on preliminary calculations for the 2017-18 season and are only approximate projections of potential revenue distribution from each component):

Each conference will receive $300,000 for each member school who’s football team meets the NCAA’s APR for participation in a post-season football game.

Conferences that have contracts for their champions to participate in the Orange, Rose or Sugar Bowl will receive a base amount of approximately $54 million.

A conference will receive $6 million for each team that is selected for the semifinal games. There will be no additional distribution to conferences whose teams qualify for the national championship game.

A conference will receive $4 million for each team that plays in a non-playoff bowl under the arrangement (in 2017-18, the Cotton, Fiesta and Peach Bowls).

Each conference whose team participates in a playoff semifinal, Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowl, or in the national championship game will receive $2.25 million to cover expenses for each game.

source: College Football Playoff Revenue Distribution Policies

Thus, if every ACC team meets the minimum APR requirements (likely) and there is at least one ACC team in the playoffs (likely), one in the Orange Bowl (guaranteed), and a third in a New Year's Six "Access" Bowl (plausible), then the conference will receive:

* presumably the travel expense reimbursements will be passed on to the participating team, but I show it here simply for completeness.

So payout plus travel reimbursement is worth $8.25 million for a semi-final game, $6.25 million for a non-playoff NY6 bowl.

BOTTOM LINE: Big bowl games are big business for college football teams. Let me put this in basketball terms... each team the ACC places into the College Football Playoffs is comparable to having a team make it all the way to the Final Four in basketball. Each team in a New Year's Six "Access" Bowl is like a team that makes it to the Elite Eight. Yes, the competition is stiff - but the payouts are very, very good.

New to the Zoo: Kenechukwu Chukwuka commits to Pitt

Pitt adds a late player for this season.

Dreams do come true— Kenechukwu Chukwuka (@kene_96) August 8, 2017

Pitt added a late player for the 2017 recruiting class this afternoon, as Kenechukwu Chukwuka committed to the Panthers. He is a 6’9” forward that played for New Mexico Junior College this season. Chukwuka actually recently reclassified to this year, and will have three years of eligibility.

Since his reclassification, he was flooded with a slew of offers, albeit mostly mid-major programs. Chukwuka chose Pitt over the likes of New Mexico State, Eastern Michigan, and Iona along with a few others.

Kenechukwu Chukwuka is a native of Sweden, and plays a Euro-style of game. He shows the ability to hit shots outside of the paint, and can spot up for three-pointers. Here is a better look at his game.

Chukwuka did not have a highly productive freshman season for New Mexico JC, as he only averaged 3.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Still, he managed to pick up 11 scholarship offers a few weeks ago, so there must be optimism that he can grow into a productive player.

So that’s it. Pitt has 13 scholarship players believe it or not. I have to give Stallings and his staff credit, trying to find 11 new players in one recruiting cycle is borderline ridiculous. We’ll see how it all comes together, some of the new recruits look pretty good, while others seem like projects. This basketball season does not have a lot of promise, but with a lot of young guys in the fold, it will be worth monitoring to see if they struck gold on any of their recruiting endeavors.

Cardiac Hill Poll of the Week: Gauging Excitement Levels for 2017

Pitt's football season is only a few weeks away. The Panthers have had two solid eight-win seasons under head coach Pat Narduzzi and we're finally moving into a phase where he's going to have a good chunk of his own players on the roster.

Expectations seem pretty low this year as a whole. The schedule is strong with non-conference games against ranked Penn State and Oklahoma State teams. Pitt is also dealing with some suspensions, too. As if all of that wasn't enough, the Panthers are trying to replace five NFL Draft picks and breaking in a new quarterback.

From a home field standpoint, I'm also not sure how exciting the schedule is. Oklahoma State is a draw but there's no real rivalry there. Miami and North Carolina, two of the better teams on it, are at the very end. If Pitt is struggling by then, there won't be much luster on those games. Youngstown State and Rice are fillers and North Carolina State and Virginia don't do much as far as drawing fans, either. Most of that isn't really Pitt's fault but, without going on a tangent, it's why I said back when they signed the Oklahoma State series that West Virginia made more sense. Can you imagine both West Virginia and Penn State on the schedule this year? A home game against the Mountaineers would be a much bigger draw.

2018 seems like the year for more optimism, but what say you about 2017? I think we're all excited to some degree about football season but are the expectations/off-field issues/home schedule dampening your enthusiasm a bit?

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.
Poll How excited are you for the Pitt football season this year? Practically camping out at Heinz Field already Very excited Excited Somewhat excited Meh   1 votes | Results

Pitt Football Training Camp: Texas Transfer Brandon Hodges competing for spot on the Panthers' offensive line

Last month, a surprise late addition to the 2017 Pitt football roster was made with the news that former Texas starter Brandon Hodges was transferring to the Panthers with immediate eligibility.

I wrote at the time that Hodges should have a strong chance to start since it would make little sense for him to come here if he didn't when he could go elsewhere and do that. At the very least, he would get considerable playing time. Hodges is just getting his feet wet with the team but by the sound of things, starting is a real possibility.

Brian O'Neill, the de facto leader of the offensive line, was impressed with him today in camp. "I think that he's going to come in and give us a game-ready option right now," O'Neill said. "He looked really good out there today."

O'Neill was asked about Hodges some more and added to his earlier assessment. "He's done a great job so far of picking up stuff," said O'Neill. "He's picked up stuff really quickly, so we're really happy about that and he's done a great job for us.  I'm excited about what he can do because that's an extra addition that we didn't have in the spring or summer. Some guys have to pony-up and see what they can do."

Hodges can play guard but Pitt looks slightly more set there with experienced starters Alex Bookser and Alex Officer. Now, Pitt could have kept Officer at center and that would have opened up a spot at guard for Hodges. But Officer has moved to guard and the team is breaking in a new center with either Connor Dintino or Jimmy Morrissey. Part of me wonders if they would have went with that plan if they knew that Hodges was coming sooner. Regardless of that, though, if Hodges is going to start, his best possibility would seem to be at right tackle where the Panthers have been relying on Jaryd Jones-Smith, who has only four career starts.

Another possibility for Hodges would be to start for Bookser, who is suspended in the first game, and see where that goes. Maybe he remains a guard or maybe he moves to tackle. Heck, maybe he plays both all year.

But as I said, even if he doesn't start, he should see plenty of playing time. You just don't get guys of that caliber to transfer to your program to ride the bench.

Be sure to join Cardiac Hill's Facebook page and follow us on Twitter @PittPantherBlog for our regular updates on Pitt athletics. Follow the author and founder/editor @AnsonWhaley.

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