Analyzing the opponents: Pitt and Delaware State

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With Camp Higher Ground only three weeks away and the opener against Pitt approaching on the horizon, the time is now to take a closer look at the teams that will be gracing the 2012 UC football schedule. 

We'll analyze their returning players and the narrative following the teams as they approach the year. Also, I'll rank the opponents from 1-11 and delve into the storylines for each week. Today, we open with the first two games of the season at home against Pitt and Delaware State.

Pittsburgh Panthers
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Sept. 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Returning Offense: 8/11
Returning Defense: 5/11
Returning Specialists: 2/2
Last year: Oh, the Todd Graham era. What a legendary time for Pittsburgh football. It takes quite an effort to make Dave Wannstedt look capable. Graham bolted for Arizona State after one season with all the grace of a Tino Sunseri deep ball (Hint: Not a significant amount of grace there). Pitt finished 6-7 in Graham's only season including a 26-23 loss to UC in the Tony Miliano game. 
Player to watch: RB Ray Graham returns after tearing his ACL midseason. Assuming he's full strength after the injury, he'll be the top projected RB in the conference. He has Pitt NFL back (Curtis Martin, LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis) written all over him. Running in the offense of former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst only further places the onus on Graham's return. The Panthers are confident enough in his recovery to bring him to Big East Media Days at that end of the month, so all signs point to Graham driving the success of Pitt in 2012.
Stat of note: Five coaches in 18 months. The Kardashians think Pitt football needs stability.
Why they're dangerous: Talent rarely lacks at Pittsburgh and that will be the case again this year. Say what you will about Sunseri, he's a veteran QB with a talented running back to boost him. Of their 10 returning offensive lineman, the Panthers average 6-5, 318 pounds. Inexperienced? Yes. But they will attempt to steamroll opponents all season.
Media storyline: Pitt will open the season the week prior with a tuneup against Youngstown State whereas this will be the first game for UC. Few bigger measuring sticks for a season where the two teams combine for 21 new starters than national TV rivalry game on ESPN Thursday night. Welcome to 2012.
Schedule Rank: 2. Pitt won't be the best team UC plays this year (Virginia Tech), but considering the stage and timing, they represent the most anticipated. If you are fan of UC football and The Nipp, a must-have ticket.

Delaware State Hornets (FCS)
Location: Nippert Stadium
Date: Sept. 15
Time: 7 p.m.
Last year: There wasn't much for the Hornets to remember in 2011. They finished 3-8 overall and didn't win one game in the MEAC. Five of their losses came by at least 17 points. That includes a 69-0 drubbing endured at South Carolina State.  
Player to watch: KR/All-purpose Travis Tarpley, Sr., led the conference in all-purpose yards per game last season. Granted, returning 6-10 kickoffs per game didn't hurt, but he also set a school record for receptions (66). Not bad for the school where former 49ers star John Taylor played.
Stat of note: The Hornets haven't had a winning season since 2007.
Why they're dangerous: In a week coming off the high of the Pittsburgh game, finding the focus to face an FCS opponent could catch the Bearcats overlooking an opponent.
Media storyline: A quick start and chance to test much-needed depth early in the season will be paramount for the Cats.
Schedule Rank: 11. The Hornets look to be better than last season and they won't be the worst team UC plays this year.

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