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All-American honors pouring in for Pitt football team

We're fully into college football award season and plenty of Panthers have been named to All-American teams, which is a pretty big honor.

First, guard Dorian Johnson and specialist/return man Quadree Henderson were named to the Sporting News' All-American First Team. Next, both also got Walter Camp All-American Team honors as well - Henderson made the first team while Johnson landed on the second. Johnson was joined on the second team by defensive end Ejuan Price.

And on a network level, here at SB Nation, Henderson and offensive tackle Brian O'Neill made the first team.

All of those players are deserving, obviously. O'Neill and Johnson helped pave the way for Pitt running back James Conner and his big season. Price was a defensive terror and one of the best pass rushers in the nation. And on special teams, Henderson should be a lock for a consensus All-American. It's hard to imagine anyone in the nation being better than him as a return man.

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.

James Conner wins Disney Sports Spirit Award, Brian Piccolo Award

Pitt running back had a pretty special season for Pitt's football team by any measure. With 1,080 yards on the ground, 299 receiving yards, and 20 total touchdowns, Conner was one of the best running backs in the ACC. But considering everything he battled this offseason, it made his year even more special. Recently, he was awarded with both the Brian Piccolo Award and the Disney Sports Spirit Award. On Thursday night, he formally received the Disney award.

Conner first was knocked out for the year in the 2015 opener against Youngstown State. But before year's end, he learned his battle to get back onto the field was just beginning as he was diagnosed with cancer. Conner's career wasn't just in doubt, but his life was at risk.

How did he respond? In a superhuman way.

Conner amazed by not only participating in some spring drills in between chemotherapy treatments, but he did approximately 90% to 95% of what the regular team participants were doing. After his treatments this year, he was declared cancer free and the rest is history.

The Piccolo Award is given to the ACC's most courageous player and Conner won that award last week. Conner seemed like a slam dunk for that but he also got respect on a national level by winning Disney's Sports Spirit Award, given to the most inspirational figure in all of college football. When you look at all of the people (and teams) who have won the award, it's an impressive list.

It goes without saying but it's great to see Conner get the recognition he deserved after going through so much this offseason.

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.

Pennsylvania State Championship Primer

Previewing the Pennsylvania state football championships

The PIAA state football championships will be held this weekend in Hershey, Pennsylvania. As usual, there are many important recruits that will be participating in the event. The games will be shown like on the Pennsylvania Cable Network. In a new move this year, the state expanded from four classes to six. So there will be six games this weekend instead of the usual four. There are high level division one recruits in all six games, and some serious talent will be on hand.

Class A

Friday 1:00

Clairton (14-0) vs. Bishop Guilfoyle (14-0)

Clairton returns to Hershey for the first time since 2014, when they lost to Bishop Guilfoyle 19-18. If you are a high school football fan in Pennsylvania, you know all about the success this program has had. They have won 9 of the past 11 WPIAL Class A championships, and have won four state championships with three of those fueled by Pitt great, Tyler Boyd. Now Pitt fans are hoping another Clairton star will take his talent to Oakland. Lamont Wade is one of the top ten recruits nationally according to Rivals.com, and has Pitt in his final list of schools. He plays running back for the Bears and plays just about anywhere on defense, but projects as a cornerback at the collegiate level. Pitt is right there for his services. The Bears also feature Noah Hamlin, an intriguing senior prospect Pitt seems to be monitoring. Hamlin is on the smaller side, but as you will see in this game, he can really play. Pitt may offer some time in the next few weeks.

Bishop Guilfoyle doesn’t have any players Pitt is after, but they are one of the best dynasties in recent history. Bishop Guilfoyle has won the past two state championships and is currently riding a 46 game winning streak. They haven’t lost a game since 2013, and while they may not have a Wade or Hamlin, they are still talented. Bishop Guilfoyle features four players committed to play at the FCS level, and a massive offensive line. The story-line with this team is the return of Evan Chadbourn. He was the class A player of the year last season and tore his ACL in the offseason, and has now returned to the field. It’ll be interesting to see how much he plays.

Class AA

Saturday 11:00

Steel Valley (14-0) vs. Southern Columbia (15-0)

Pitt fans should have their eyes set on this game big time. The crown jewel of Pat Narduzzi’s recruiting class is Paris Ford, and he is the leader of the Ironemn. He will be coming to Pitt as a safety, but he’s a big offensive piece for this team. Steel Valley has been one of the most dominant teams in WPIAL history. They have put the running clock on their opponent in all fourteen games, that’s absurd. They also feature talented senior running back, Dewayne Murray. Pitt showed interest early on, but never offered him.

Southern Columbia is perhaps the best program in Pennsylvania. They are making their 15th appearance in a state title game, and they have won seven of them, the most in state history. They are led by legendary coach Jim Roth, who has been leading the Tigers for 33 seasons. They beat Aliquippa last season in the state championship and are riding a 31 game winning streak. They aren’t loaded with any known division one prospects, but they start some freshmen and they could develop over time. This is the alma-mater of former Pitt fullback, Henry Hynoski.

Class AAA

Middletown (14-0) vs. Beaver Falls (12-1)

Saturday 3:30

Beaver Falls has never made it this far in program history, and they will be in search of their first ever state championship. The Tigers have produced tons of talent throughout their program and this year isn’t any different. Donovan Jeter is a four-star prospect that is committed to Michigan. He is the younger brother of Pitt basketball player, Sheldon Jeter. He had a whirlwind recruitment, and many expected Pitt to be his landing spot. Beaver Falls has talented junior receiver, Malik Shepherd as well. Pitt hasn’t offered yet, but they may.

Middletown isn’t a traditional powerhouse, but they are riding into the title game with a perfect 14-0 record. They have won all four of their playoff games by at least 28 points. Middletown is just outside of Harrisburg, and should have a strong fan presence in Hershey this weekend.

Class AAAA

Erie Cathedral Prep (13-0) vs. Imhotep Charter (13-0)

Thursday 7:00

Erie Cathedral Prep is making their sixth appearance in the state championship game, and will be going for their third state title in school history. The Ramblers are one of the top programs in the Northeast part of the state. As usual, Prep has a number of division one recruits on their roster. Matthew Baurer is one of the top junior linebackers in the country, and is already committed to Notre Dame. Fredrick Scruggs is a four-star junior offensive linemen with a number of offers already. Pitt hasn’t offered, but they may soon.

Imhotep Charter won last year’s AAA state title game over Erie Cathdral Prep 40-3, and many may expect similar results this season. Imhotep has developed into one of the more regarded programs in the state in a short amount of time. They have division one players year in and year out. Their top player is junior safety, Isheem Young. He is a four-star talent and Pitt and just about everyone else has offered him. Justin Johnson is a massive 6’7” 330 pound junior linemen that has multiple offers as well. They will half about a half dozen or so other division one players.

Class AAAAA

Archbishop Wood (10-2) vs. Harrisburg (11-3)

Friday 7:00

Since the Philadelphia Catholic league joined the PIAA in 2007, Archbishop Wood has been a frequent visitor to Hershey. They have been to the state championship five times, and won three of them. The Vikings always put players into the next level, and this year is no different. They are led by four-star wide receiver Mark Webb. Pitt offered, but he has already committed to Georgia. Raheem Blackshear is another receiver committed to Temple. Kyle Pitts is a three-star junior tight end that holds a Pitt offer. Wood will likely be the favorite in this game.

Harrisburg dominated West Allegheny to get themselves into the state championship game. They are led by a pair of Penn State commitments. Damion Barber is a senior defensive end committed to the Nittany Lions. They also have the top junior in the state in Micah Parsons. He is also a defensive end, but they use him as a running back. Parsons may be the most talented player playing in Hershey this weekend, and that’s saying something. Also on Harrisburg is junior wide receiver Shaquon Anderson-Butts, who holds offers from Pitt, Penn State, and WVU among others.

Class AAAAAA

Pittsburgh Central Catholic (14-1) vs. St. Joseph’s Prep (13-0)

Saturday 8:00

Pittsburgh Central Catholic is the defending state champions at the AAAA level, but now have been bumped to 6A. The Vikings have four state titles in program history and routinely produce some of the most talent in the state. They sent three kids to Pitt last year, including Damar Hamlin. This year is also a talented year, but it hasn’t been kind to the Panthers. David Adams and Kurt Hinish are committed to Notre Dame, while CJ Thorpe is pledged to Penn State. Pitt offered all three, but came up empty. They do have two talented juniors Pitt could be after, nose tackle David Green and quarterback Troy Fisher do not hold Pitt offers, but they may receive offers in the Spring. Aside from the high-end talent, Central has many FCS level players. This game is loaded with talent. Panther-lair.com’s Ryan Donnelly posted this stat the other day.

When @PCC_FOOTBALL & @SJPREP play on Saturday night, their players combined will have at least 116 Division I college football scholarships— Ryan Donnelly (@RDonnellyBG) December 5, 2016

Saint Joseph’s Prep is ranked 15th nationally by USA Today, they are the real deal. The won the state title in 2013 and 2014, so they are not strangers to this game. They feature arguably the best running back in the nation in D’andre Swift. He is currently committed to Georgia, and was recruited by all the big names. Darryle SImmons is a four-star junior receiver with a Pitt offer.

Pitt wins with lackluster second-half effort against Buffalo, 84-79

Pitt played an incredibly strong first half racing out to a 26-point lead at one point in their game against Buffalo. For 20 minutes, it looked like the rout was on. The problem, as it was in the last game, is that basketball games (well, most of them, anyway) consist of two halves. Pitt not only allowed Duquesne back in the game their last time out after building a nice first-half lead, they lost entirely. Tonight against Buffalo they managed a win ... but it wasn't easy.

Buffalo got the lead all the way down to one point and played Pitt closely the rest of the game. The Panthers were able to gut out an 84-79 win.

Pitt's loss to Duquesne was bad. Catastrophic? Nah. The team was without its second-best player, Jamel Artis, who's not only good but could be All-ACC first team good. And facing a rival who always gets up for the game, a loss was disappointing but not entirely inconceivable. Flukes like that happen. A 4-5 Indiana State team beat No. 16 Butler tonight. Those games happen to everyone from time to time.

But to build a massive lead in this game to prove to everyone that things are fine ... and then to lose it all, I mean ...

The problem is that this was against a bad team. At home. Immediately after the Duquesne debacle. This was tailor made for a 25-30 point win. How this game happens right after the Dukes contest is sort of ridiculous. You can find plenty of excuses for that Duquesne game, but I'd love to hear even the most ardent Pitt supporters explain this one away.

I maintain that head coach Kevin Stallings still deserves time to prove himself, recruit, etc. No coach should be run out of town before his team has even begun conference play in his first season. But this type of unacceptable, lackluster play in the second half has to stop. There's absolutely no reason this shouldn't have been a 20-25 point win. Xavier beat them by 33. Creighton won by 21. Even St. Bonaventure beat the Bulls by a bigger margin, winning by six.

It hasn't just been the past two games, either. Pitt got out to a big lead against Maryland before allowing the Terps to cut into it before holding them off at the end. Pitt has had all sorts of problems with the second halves of games.

One of the knocks on Stallings after the hire was announced was his postseason track record. Despite recruiting relatively well and landing some NBA talent, his teams. In 17 years at Vanderbilt, his teams made only two Sweet 16 appearances (and none since 2007). In seeing some of the play from the team (a team not without talent) lately, it's easy to see why some of his teams have underachieved.

One of the bright spots for me was seeing a balanced scoring effort. Michael Young was again key with 17 points and Jamel Artis added 16. But Pitt got 17 from Cameron Johnson, 12 from Chris Jones, and 11 each from Sheldon Jeter and Ryan Luther. Now, nobody else contributed a single point, so there's that. But Pitt did something I mentioned in the last game.

In that Duquesne game, the Panthers got next to nothing from guards Damon Wilson, Justice Kithcart, and Jonathan Milligan. While those guys played some in the first half when the lead was big, I didn't see them much in the second. In theory, Pitt's first six is so much better than its remaining bench that I think they could get away with playing those guys almost exclusively. Sub Luther in when Young needs a rest and give Kithcart minutes when Artis needs spelled at the point. But it's become pretty clear that Pitt's best bet is as a six-man show.

Are those six guys good enough to lead this team far into the postseason? That remains to be seen. But given what they're getting from the other guys, I don't know how you justify continuing to give them minutes.

There's no doubt that Pitt needs to up the intensity for a full 40 minutes. How they started tonight's game was encouraging but it can't just be about coming out hot - the team needs to finish games.

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.

Against the Odds: Pitt opens as a favorite against Buffalo

Pitt tries to bounce back after a stunning upset to Duquesne and Vegas is betting that they do it.

Pitt suffered a significant upset last week in The City Game to Duquesne and will take the court for the first time, trying to bounce back this evening. Pitt stands at 6-2 on the young season, after their setback. They will play host to the Buffalo Bulls, of the MAC Conference. The Bulls are 4-4 so far under second year head coach Nate Oats.

Pitt will look to gain Jamel Artis back from suspension and will have the the familiar setting of The Pete to help them try and bounce back. Vegas has set Pitt as an 11 point favorite over the Bulls, as of this writing. The smart money says Pitt will bounce back and history says they will as well, thanks to being at home, against a non-conference opponent. They will have to work for it though.

Buffalo does not have any victories of great importance, so they will be hungry to gain one over a power five foe, in Pitt. The Bulls have tangled with some of the best of the best though, after suffering losses to highly ranked Xavier and Creighton. Therefore, they are well tested this season, despite the .500 mark.

Oats took over for Bobby Hurley last season and despite some big obstacles pulled of a run to the NCAA Tourney. They pulled an upset in the MAC post-season to get there and did it without some of their main players, who were not on the roster by the time the regular season was over last season. They eventually bowed out in the first round, but not before throwing a scare into Miami. They gave Hurricane fans fits and will look to do the same against Pitt tonight.

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@BrunoPittsburgh

UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast w/ Corey Cohen (S2 Ep11)

Corey and Jim discuss Pitt Football's Pinstripe Bowl selection and Pitt Basketball's loss to Duquesne.

In this episode of UnScripted: The Cardiac Hill Podcast, Corey Cohen welcomes Jim Hammett to discuss Pitt Football's Pinstripe Bowl selection and Pitt Basketball's loss to Duquesne. They also answer the 3 Rivers Pack of Questions and name a Panther of the Week.

Please subscribe to UnScripted on SoundCloud and iTunes and let us know if you have any thoughts or comments!

Panther of the Week: Michael Young

In a week that many Panther fans would like to forget, senior Michael Young, continued to have a strong campaign for Pitt.

This past week was one that Pitt fans would like to forget and who could blame them?Just when it seemed that the Panthers were coming together and starting to get after upending favorite Maryland, Panther fans experienced a let down. With senior Jamel Artis sitting out for disciplinary reasons, the Panthers ended their 15 year wining streak over Duquesne. The Dukes took out Pitt for the first time in a good while, 64-55.

Fortunately, for us, here at Cardiachill.com, it made choosing a Panther of the Week a little easier. That’s because Artis and fellow senior Michael Young, both had strong games in the win at College Park, MD. Artis’ absence against Duquesne, however, allowed for an easy decision on our end. Young ended up running away with the award this past week.

Young started out by hitting for 25 points, nine rebounds, 1 assist, and 1 block against the Terps to help Pitt to a 14 point win. The highlight was a dunk, as time was winding down, followed by a Young shushing the Maryland student section. The Terps’ students did not appreciate it, but as anyone who has spent time around the DC area will tell you, they probably deserved it.

Friday was not so kind to Pitt. With Artis out, Young tried to will the Panthers to a victory, but fell short. The senior led all Pitt players with 19 points, six rebounds, three assists, one steal, and finally one block. Without Artis running the point, the young Panther guards did not do Kevin Stallings, and Pitt, any favors. After dropping 22 points on Maryland, Artis sat out due to violations of the Pitt program. Stallings indicated that Artis would be back in Pitt’s game Wednesday.

Artis could have made this a tough call, and given Pitt a chance at extending their streak over Duquesne. Instead they sit at 6-2 on the young season and have a damaging loss on their resume. Hopefully the dynamic duo will be back next game and Pitt can continue to gel together. This column will be tougher to write, but I prefer that, instead of having a runaway winner.

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@BrunoPittsburgh

Pinstripe Bowl Odds/Spread: Pitt early favorite against Northwestern

It's early and with the game about three weeks away, the line could fluctuate. But for now, the Panthers look to be the early favorite.

One line has the Panthers as three-point favorites. Thanks to one of the readers in the comments section who mentioned this.

Frankly, I expected a bigger line. Pitt was nearly a 25-point favorite against Syracuse and big favorites against Duke the week before. While Northwestern is better than those teams, how much better is what I'd ask? For example, is Northwestern really 21 points better than Syracuse? Obviously the line goes by head to head matchups, so perhaps Vegas just thinks the WIldcats match up better than those teams because of their passing attack.

Northwestern, for the record, does boast a great passing attack, led by Austin Carr with nearly 1,200 yards on the season. So against Pitt's secondary, he could be primed for a big day. Still - seems a little low to me. What say you? Too low, too high, or just right?

Vote in the poll below.

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 What do you think of the early line on the Pitt-Northwestern game? Too low - Pitt should be favored by more Too high - Pitt should be favored by less About right   21 votes | Results

Sorting out the ACC Bowl slotting mess, Pitt missed good chance to slide into elite bowl game

Usually at some point every year, I revisit the ACC football bowl game selection process. Part of that is because it's confusing and I have to remind myself of it and the other part is I'm flat out getting old and my memory is no longer my strong suit.

After Pitt's selection into the Pinstripe Bowl, I wanted to go back and take a look at the ACC selection process. In doing so it became pretty clear that Pitt missed out on a good opportunity to sneak into an elite bowl game this year for two main reasons.

Before I mention those, here's a great resource for the ACC Bowl selection process (I mean, assuming it's correct and everything). In a nutshell, the ACC doesn't send teams purely on how they finished in the standings. Bowls are about making money and getting opposing fans to come, so that makes sense. It's a bit unfair to teams (especially as we saw last year with Pitt getting passed over by teams that made Tier One Bowls that they were ahead of) but also helps to ensure that bowls get a good chance to sell tickets and stay affiliated with the ACC. Play nice, everyone.

So since the slots aren't automatically in terms of conference standings, there's always a bit of a mess. But essentially, things work like this.

If an ACC team gets selected into the College Football Playoff, that's where they go, obviously. While the ACC is a good bet to get into there, with only four spots and five P5 conferences, at least one conference always gets left out (Looking at you, Big 12). The key thing here is to make sure you get at least one team into the CFP. Beyond getting a chance to win your conference a national championship, it's important that your best team not eat up a slot in your conference's bowl lineup. That forces everyone down a peg and is just a bad deal. Get two teams into the CFP? Even better.

After that, you've got the Orange Bowl. Now, if the Orange Bowl is not in the CFP lineup (like this year), the good news for the ACC is that they get to send a team there next. That happened this year, and they got Florida State.

Next up is the Citrus. The Citrus Bowl is typically an SEC-Big Ten Game. But in years that the Orange is not in the CFP, they can also replace the Big Ten with the ACC if the Big Ten gets into the Orange Bowl. That scenario happened this year with Michigan getting in there, so you had Louisville get into the Citrus Bowl - a New Year's Day Bowl.

Finally, remaining in the conference's top four bowls this year is the Russell Athletics Bowl. They get the second pick of the ACC (behind the Citrus after the CFP and Orange Bowl ACC teams have been taken). So instead of getting one of those three teams, they settled on Miami - not a bad settle since they're in Florida.

Now, we can talk about Pitt being hosed all we want. But if you're Virginia Tech, you're probably not real happy. They were the Coastal Division champ and runner up in the title game - yet they didn't even get into one of these four games. Them? They're headed to the Belk Bowl. Despite having a better record than Miami and winning head to head, and having an identical record to Florida State and Louisville, they were passed over by those three other bowls by those teams. Perhaps they wanted to go to the Belk over the Russell because of proximity, but they also were bested by Clemson and Florida State, and then passed up by the Citrus. Essentially, they were the conference runner up (and not all that far away from being conference champion) and ended up in the ACC's fifth-best bowl option this season.

From a Pitt perspective, there were three reasons that made this such a great year for them to get into one of these bowls. First, the ACC sent Clemson to the College Football Playoff. Had they lost against Virginia Tech, perhaps no one from the ACC gets in and that pushes everyone down a notch. But if you're Pitt, you wanted to get them in there and that's what happened. And again, it's also the reason why it's so vital for conferences to place at least one team there. Otherwise, you've got Clemson eating up one of the other three bowls.

Second, Notre Dame had a down year. That's important because if they are bowl-eligible, they can eat up a slot in the ACC's lineup. And not only that, but they can knock a better team down a peg. With them not being bowl-eligible this year, they left one of those bowls open for a team like Pitt.

In other words, Pitt had a great chance of getting into a major ACC bowl this year without winning the conference. Not that they were realistically better than teams like Florida State and Louisville - only that because the conference sent a team to the playoff and didn't have Notre Dame in the way, there were just better bowls available to more ACC teams.

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.

College bowl teams, schedule announced

The official 2016-17 bowl schedule and matchups were announced Sunday, a slate of games that will include the College Football Playoffs and some big matchups on New Year’s weekend.

>> Read more trending stories

 Traditionally the major bowl games — Orange, Rose, Cotton and Sugar — are played on New Year’s Day. But because Jan. 1 falls on a Sunday, there is a full slate of NFL games scheduled. So the major bowl games will be played on Dec. 31 and Jan. 2.

The bowl schedule begins with six games on Dec. 16 and will end on Jan. 9 with the CFP national championship game in Tampa, Florida.

One of the more attractive matchups will be played Dec. 30 in Miami, when sixth-ranked Michigan faces No. 11 Florida State in the Orange Bowl. In another big game, Big Ten champion Penn State, ranked No. 5, will face ninth-ranked USC in the Rose Bowl on Jan 2.

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