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August 14, 2013

Chryst names a starter

Prior to training camp, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst joked that he might not name a starting quarterback until the Panthers' season opener against Florida State on Sept. 2. On Wednesday, he opted to end what little suspense there was and formally announced that Tom Savage will be the starter.

"Tom is going to be our starting quarterback," Chryst said after practice Wednesday. "I like what he has done to this point. It's a reflection on where Tom's at…

"It was a culmination of everything, and I think that right now he gives us the best chance for our team to win."

Savage's anointment as starter marks the beginning of what should be a punctuation mark on his college career, which took a circuitous path across the state of Pennsylvania by way of New Jersey and Arizona.

A redshirt senior from Cardinal O'Hara, Savage was ranked as a four-star quarterback prospect in the class of 2009 when he committed to Rutgers, and he started 11 games as a true freshman for the Scarlet Knights. He competed 52.3% of his passes that season for 2,211 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he opened his sophomore season of 2010 as the starting quarterback.

But injuries and the emergence of Chas Dodd put Savage on the bench late in the season, and he opted to transfer to Arizona, where he began his year of ineligibility due to transfer rules. Then, when his year off was nearly up, the Wildcats brought in Rich Rodriguez and his zone-read spread offense, which doesn't fit Savage's decidedly pro-style game.

So Savage hit the road again and finally landed at Pitt, where he had to sit out a second season due to the transfer rules, even though he never played at Arizona. Now, after sitting out two seasons and not attempting a pass in a college game since November 2010, he is ready to finish his college career as the starting quarterback of the Pitt football team in its inaugural ACC season.

"I was excited (when Chryst announced the starter), but I'd be a fool to take it any more than that, especially with what's happened to me in the past," Savage said. "I can't become complacent with it, but it's a privilege and I have to keep working and I have a lot of room to improve.

"Every day is a competition, whether it's against someone or it's against yourself. Now we just have to go out there and play."

Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik entered training camp in a competition for the starting job left vacant after three-year starter Tino Sunseri graduated. While Pitt would inevitably be breaking in a new starter for 2013, the coaches' handling of Sunseri offered some encouraging signs. Under the tutelage of Chryst, Rudolph and quarterbacks coach Brooks Bollinger, Sunseri bounced back from a 10-touchdown/11-interception performance in 2011 to post a stellar 21-touchdown/3-interception stat line last season, including a remarkable streak of 271 pass attempts without an interception.

If Savage is going to put up similar efficiency numbers, he has a lot of work to do between now and Sept. 2.

"Just staying consistent," Savage said. "That's the biggest part of being a quarterback, moving the chains and becoming a leader and grasping the leader role and going from there."

"He's talented," Chryst said, "and we just have to keep maximizing these opportunities we have to keep getting better and keep getting comfortable with the receivers and tight ends and the run game; there are so many things, but he certainly is talented."

"We're halfway through and we're about halfway there," offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph said. "So we've got a lot of growth to still experience and we need to keep pushing in that. It's really the details of those plays now, and it's all in the details."






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