Kovacevic: Why not talk Pitt-Penn State? My untimely pick!


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Pat Narduzzi puts Pitt's players through the paces. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Brief and to the Point ...

On maybe the 15th or 20th time Monday that anyone at Pitt's Week 1 press conference pushed the concept that "no one is thinking about Penn State," as linebacker Matt Galambos put it, I almost allowed it to seep in that, hey, no one was really asking about Penn State. Certainly not at a pace that matched all the answers about how no one was thinking about Penn State.

But yeah, I got it. The Panthers are thinking Villanova. As they should. This is, after all, a program that opened 2012 with a loss to Youngstown State.

I get it from the Penn State perspective, too. The Nittany Lions are all about Kent State. As they should be. Because in that same year, 2012, they opened with a loss to Ohio. Not Ohio State. Just plain Ohio.

But since there are no such restrictions on my planning for the coming weekend, if all concerned will just plug their ears, I'll go right ahead talk Pitt-Penn State.

Complete with score prediction: Pitt 34, Penn State 27.

James Conner and Saquon Barkley will each run for three touchdowns, and Nate Peterman and Trace McSorley will duel to a similar draw at QB, but the difference will be the Panthers' voracious defensive line against the Nittany Lions' offensive-line-by-committee. That will force McSorley into uncomfortable positions, and Jordan Whitehead will create at least one turnover in the Panthers' secondary.

Now, that doesn't mean Pitt will be the better team by season's end. Penn State is a lot less experienced and could be elevated by a higher level of competition in the Big 10 over the ACC Coastal. But this game isn't being played at season's end. It's in Week 2.

And now, back to Week 1.

• I'm trying to think of any coach I've covered with a genuinely energetic magnetism comparable to that of Pat Narduzzi. I might come up with one, but I might not. The man is a bear hug waiting to happen.

• Contrary to recognized logic and math, all baseball wins and losses are not created equal.

That was tough.

But that also was a tough, tough group of Pirates mounting rally after rally, thwarting rally after rally until they finally ran out of Jeff Locke and fell to the Cubs in the 13th inning. They're the toughest team Clint Hurdle has managed. And they're tough enough to bounce right back.

But that won't shower off. Not for a while. Those burn.

• The story of Gerrit Cole's starcrossed summer, expertly told by our Matt Gajtka from Wrigley, underscores in every way that the primary focus of baseball evaluation -- beyond the rudimentary -- should be on projecting a pitcher's health. At least as much as that's possible.

Cole had a spotless career in that regard. Neal Huntington has told me over the years that few baseball parents he'd ever encountered were as careful with their son in terms of managing his arm, his innings and more. And Cole was the recipient of the same care at UCLA and through the Pirates' system. On top of that, he's always had that big, sturdy build that scouts love in a starter.

But it's all terribly imperfect, and this might be Exhibit A. Because all it takes is one altered arm angle, as with Cole, and all that care and expertise is for naught.

Scary stuff. And like no other sport in that regard.

• Since Major League Baseball's trading deadline, the three pitchers Huntington acquired have done as follows: Felipe Rivero has a 0.52 ERA and a stupendous 23 strikeouts in 15 innings. Antonio Bastardo has allowed four hits in 32 at-bats and been charged with a single run. And Ivan Nova, whose expectations might have been the lowest, has won four of his five starts with a 2.78 ERA, 22 strikeouts and one walk!

A month is only a month, and there's still plenty that's unsavory about dumping off prospects for cash, not to mention moving one of the game's best closers while in contention ... but ... man, the early return on these deals -- and the early return very much counts when contending -- has been excellent.

• As this wild card race shakes out, it'll be the Pirates vs. the Cardinals down the stretch.

Which means that it'll be the Pirates against a franchise that's made the playoffs 13 times in the past 20 years, each of the past five years, won the World Series in 2006 and 2011, and basically beat the Pirates in every meaningful head-to-head between the two since the dawn of time.

They'll meet the Cardinals six more times, including the season's final three games.

Don't kid yourself: Cole needs to come all the way back to pull this off.

• Has there been any more overrated player in the majors over the past half-decade than the Cubs' Jason Heyward?

• Apropos of nothing, but whatever happened to the woo?

(Ducks for cover.)

• Shower several times afterward, if needed, but it's hard not to agree with John Harbaugh's assessment when asked after the Ravens' exhibition the other night how many preseason games he'd like to see in the future.

"If I had my druthers, I'd go none," he said. "That might be an extreme point, but we can run scrimmages and we can run practices against other teams and all figure it out. We'd all be in the same boat. But that's for people higher up than me to decide."

People higher than Harbaugh should decide exactly that.

And sure, he spoke up right after his tight end, Benjamin Watson, went down with a torn Achilles, but the point undeniably applies across the board. The Steelers saw Cam Heyward and Marcus Gilbert go down Friday in New Orleans, and they've lost other players in preseason games. A year ago, we saw the Packers' Jordy Nelson crumble at Heinz Field, lost for the year. The Cowboys just saw Tony Romo break his back.

Maybe those injuries happen in practice. Maybe they don't. Maybe the injury count would actually rise if Roger Goodell has his way and subtracts two preseason games and replaces them with two more regular season games. That actually seems highly likely.

But if the first part of any plan is to cut down the preseason, it's off to a promising start.

• Seriously, what's not to like about Sean Davis at safety?

That he's young and can only get better?

• None of the lower-wattage names in the Steelers' camp has impressed me more than Daryl Richardson, who's rightly seeing duty over Fitz Toussaint at running back. Richardson set that stage in backs-on-backers in Latrobe and, although he hasn't exactly run up big numbers with 79 yards on 30 carries, he's shown terrific blocking and made four catches out of the backfield.

He also hasn't ... you know.

• Not one starter should touch the turf Thursday night in Charlotte.

• One underappreciated aspect of Phil Kessel's career has been his durability. Now, a cynic might -- and many have -- pointed out that one great way to avoid getting hurt in the NHL is to avoid contact. There's merit to the thought. But there also are doubtless injuries and ailments that get tolerated along the way to any streak of 528 regular-season games played.

Well, here's hoping all the adults with the Penguins let it be known that the default mode for Kessel's streak, now that he's known to be gradually recovering from July hand surgery, should be that it's over. We've seen with other players in the recent past -- notably Blake Comeau -- that anything inside the glove can't be rushed. Scorers need to score, and they need their hands.

• Headed to Morgantown this morning for a West Virginia column, then it's off to State College tomorrow for a Penn State column. Football beckons.

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