Rushel Shell Transfer: Where to, and What’s Next for Pitt’s Backfield?

Rushel Shell's Leaving Pittsburgh, But Where Could He End Up Next?

We Know Rushel Shell’s Leaving Pittsburgh, But Where Could He End Up Next?

As has been the news for nearly a week now, presumed starting running back Rushel Shell has elected to transfer out of Pittsburgh’s football program. SB Nation’s Cardiac Hill has a detailed breakdown of the various puzzling aspects of this move, so for discussion around that front, feel free to wander in that general direction.

What we’re interested in here is where he could potentially end up (touched upon over at CH as well), and then what’s next for the Panthers’ backfield as they continue with spring practice. With little information available right now, please keep in mind this is almost entirely speculation at the moment.

Where could Rushel Shell transfer to?

Just one year ago, Shell was in high demand as one of the top-rated running back prospects in the nation, and he was expected to deliver on those lofty goals as Pitt’s featured back in 2013. Now, he’s an impressive sophomore runner with 641 rushing yards and four scores under his belt, looking for a new home where he’ll sit out a year before regaining eligibility in 2014.

The top transfer choices are the ones in closest proximity: West Virginia and Penn State, but there’s chatter that Pitt would not allow him to head to either long-time rival program. Same goes for Arizona State, where former Panthers coach Todd Graham currently resides as head coach. The Cardiac Hill guys believe Pitt would block any move to those three schools, but is that the right move? Not siding with Shell here, but based on a recent tweet from the mother of Shell’s children, it would almost seem like he’s trying to run from some issues (purely speculation). However, rewind the clock a year, and let’s remember what happened when former Terps QB Danny O’Brien was trying to leave Maryland and head coach Randy Edsall was adamant about limiting his possibilities. The backlash was pretty far-reaching and ultimately, amounted to nothing since O’Brien failed to go to a future scheduled opponent or another ACC team (he went to Wisconsin).

So with that said, where could he potentially land? The top two choices are obvious:

Arizona State: Graham and his staff initially recruited Shell, and perhaps that was part of the initial appeal to the Panthers program (beyond just local tie-ins). The Sun Devils currently have a veteran backfield set for fall, giving Shell ample opportunity to contribute come fall 2014.

West Virginia: Still local, and like many Pitt players, Shell certainly knows plenty of Mountaineers players. With the Big 12 sort of lacking for an elite back, Shell could get an opportunity to really shine in that conference, though who knows how much opportunity he’d get in Dana Holgorsen’s air-raid offense.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Can Pitt Running Back Ray Graham Regain His Place As the Leader of the Panthers’ Rushing Attack in 2012?

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

2011 W-L: 6-7 (4-3)

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (first season)

Returning Starters: 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)

After another offseason of transition in the program, the Pittsburgh Panthers are once again trying to enter a new season with a clean slate. Out goes Todd Graham, the known carpetbagger now despised by Pitt fans everywhere. In comes Paul Chryst, who spent the last seven years as Wisconsin‘s offensive coordinator. And while the first-team head coach inherits a challenging job with the program as currently comprised, he may also spot some similar surroundings. With a strong defense and a deadly running game, the coach is already taking to his new team just like his old one. Now, with a skeptical senior class (three different head coaches), he just has to hope they take to him.

As mentioned, the Panthers’ offense will go primarily through the running game, which I think may actually be among the best in the country (O-line permitting). So long as he’s healthy, the bulk of the carries should go to senior Ray Graham, who makes a surprise return after an ACL tear last year. At the time of the injury last season, Graham was second in the country in rushing yards, and appears to have some unfinished business to attend to. He’ll also be spelled by sophomore Isaac Bennett. After some flashes of potential late in 2011, and a very strong spring workout, he’ll be the favored back if Graham fails to return at 100-percent. Carries may also get doled out to freshman Rushel Shell as well. The highly-touted recruit runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. If given an opportunity for extended touches, he has the talent to jump right in and produce. Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Pittsburgh Panthers

Will Pittsburgh Continue Its Fourth-Quarter Struggles Versus Cincinnati, Or Finally Hold On to a Victory in 2012?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: PIttsburgh Panthers

Opponent: Cincinnati

Last Year: Loss, 26-23 vs. Cincinnati

This Year: September 6, @ Cincinnati

In a struggle to keep their heads above water all season, the Panthers came in to their November game versus Cincinnati needing a win. With star running back Ray Graham lost for the season with a torn ACL, the wins were just as crucial, yet more difficult to come by than ever. Their first test without Graham started well enough. Managing three-point halftime lead against a 6-1 squad, which quickly turned into a 10-point lead in the third, Pitt looked like they had every intention of righting their season, and getting back in the driver’s seat for the Big East title. But the Bearcats’ offense would wake up, their defense would buckle down and the Pitt offense would fail to score again. At Cincy’s 33 with seconds to go, the 50-yard kick was way off the mark, sending the team to another rough defeat (in a season full of them). Continue reading

ACC Football Standout Senior 2012: Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham Returns From Injury This Season, Hoping to Make His Senior Season a Special One

While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.

We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

When healthy, Pittsburgh running back Ray Graham has been a force — arguably one of the best backs in the country last year, and the motor that guides the Panthers offense. But that key word, healthy, has also been a bit of an issue; or at least it was in 2011, which was supposed to be his last season in college before his assumed first-round selection. Now, 2012 is all about redemption for Graham. Both for him, and the team that desperately needs a full 12 games out of him if they hope to contend for a Big East title. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Pittsburgh Panthers

The Quarterback Position Is One of New Pitt Head Coach Paul Chryst’s Biggest Concerns This Spring

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh enters 2012’s spring practices disappointed, and employing their third head coach in as many years. Not surprisingly, those two items are also linked. As predicted by many around the game, former coach Todd Graham lasted just one season in the Steel City. He failed to truly change any part of a stagnant offense and the team he leaves behind is in a more confused state than the one he inherited. So new head coach Paul Chryst has his work cut out for him, needing role players on both ends to show themselves as leaders from day one of spring ball. First in line on that front is — of course — quarterback Tino Sunseri. Inconsistent as they come, he’ll enter camp with no guarantees about his job status, and will face stiff competition all around. Along with returning reserves Trey Anderson and Mark Myers, there’s additional buzz that redshirt freshman Chad Voytik could actually be the best quarterback on the roster. For this horrendous passing unit (77th nationally in 2011), any sure arm will do, even if there’s little to throw to. Devin Street and Mike Shanahan could improve, but should they fail to, Pitt will once again rely on the run. This is where incumbent starter Ray Graham comes in handy. Arguably one of the best backs in the game, Graham will be unavailable this spring, leaving initial reps to Isaac Bennett and Corey Davis. Come the fall, expect this rotation to be a fierce one-two punch of Graham and five-star back Rushel Shell, who’s certain to continue the schools’ recent tradition of pro-caliber rushers. Continue reading

2011 ACC Season Recap: Pittsburgh Panthers

If Pitt Hopes to Improve in 2012, it Starts With Quarterback Tino Sunseri

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

W-L: 6-7 (1-0)

Postseason: 28-6 BBVA Compass Bowl loss to SMU

Top Offensive Performer: Ray Graham, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Aaron Donald, DT

Looking back, it seems that the only good thing to happen to Pittsburgh football this year was the announced move to the ACC. Despite missing five of the team’s 13 games, running back Ray Graham was still its best offensive player, and now he’s headed to the NFL. While they beat Syracuse in dramatic fashion to clinch a bowl berth, they proceeded to get pummeled by SMU. And now-former head coach Todd Graham, after just one season in the Steel City, bolted for Arizona State to take a job most people view as on par with the Pitt position. For every close win, they had a close loss and for every step forward, it was a step back. it was a mediocre, frustrating year for the Panthers all around.

As an offense, Pitt only managed 24.2 points per game, including four different instances of scoring 14 points or less. The passing game, atrocious before Graham’s injury, continued to suffer under the guidance of Tino Sunseri, leading some to call for the quarterback to hit the bench. The inconsistent Sunseri was more maddening to watch than ever in 2011, throwing 10 touchdowns to 11 picks, and connecting on just 247 of 385 throws. Backup running back Zach Brown, while serviceable, would still fall short of 400 rushing yards and only score five times in Graham’s absence. The group’s top four receivers only caught 10 touchdowns (see Sunseri’s stats), and none caught more than 53 passes total (Devin Street). Continue reading

BBVA Compass Bowl Preview: Pittsburgh vs. SMU

Pittsburgh and SMU Square Off in the BBVA Compass Bowl

In a battle of two disappointing teams, the Pittsburgh Panthers take on the SMU Mustangs in the BBVA Compass Bowl. As is usually the case with a few of the lower-tier bowls, this one is oddly positioned amidst the BCS games and grabs very little attention in the lead-up to the National Championship Game. Still, the matchup of (soon to be) former and future Big East squads promises to be entertaining as both look to end tumultuous years on a high note.

Bowl Game: BBVA Compass Bowl

Location: Birmingham, Ala.

First Year: 2006 (as PapaJohns.com Bowl)

2012 Participants: Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) vs. Southern Methodist Mustangs (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1983, a 7-3 Cotton Bowl win by SMU

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Pittsburgh (previous bowl game: 27-10 win over Kentucky in 2011 BBVA Compass Bowl)

Following the sudden departure of head coach Todd Graham, the Pitt program appears to be in disarray. Failing to live up to the hype of an uptempo, spread offense, the Panthers managed to put up just 25.8 points per game — staying competitive by way of their defense. Though not overly spectacular, Aaron Donald and the front four allowed just 22 points per game, which was enough for their late rally to bowl eligibility. That group will not face the stiffest test in SMU’s offense, but Pitt’s own offense, without the benefit of injured star running back Ray Graham will likely struggle to establish any consistency. The keys to success will likely be the defense forcing turnovers, and the play of quarterback Tino Sunseri. When Sunseri played well down the stretch, the team’s results were directly related. Otherwise, fans can reference their three losses over their final six games.

SMU (previous bowl game: 16-14 loss to Army in 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl)

Amid the excitement of heading to a BCS league, and beating rival TCU, SMU stuttered down the stretch to a 7-5 finish, and third place in Conference USA‘s West division. Opening up with five wins in their first six games, the Mustangs were reminding fans of the Pony Express Southwest Conference days by racking up points and actually playing some great defense. Once the wheels came off though, they fell back down to earth rather hard. The passing game, while ranked 23rd in the FBS, is prone to turnovers behind quarterback J.J. McDermott. Their defense was also unspectacular, with teams scoring around 30 points per game over the final six. Their strength, as it ends up, was the rushing game — at least until stellar starter Zach Line was forced to hang’em up this year due to injury. Without that element of the offense, they stand little chance.

Verdict

Neither defense is anything to truly write home about, and both offenses have left much to be desired in the second half of their respective seasons. While Sunseri has never been overly impressive for Pitt, he has done what McDermott’s failed to over at SMU — put his team in a position to win late in the season. In spite of the Mustangs being the ones playing with a familiar face on the sidelines (June Jones), Pitt will ride its front four and the motivation to prove to Todd Graham wrong to a close, but still meaningful victory. Prediction: Pitt 23, SMU 21