Bill Belton (1) gets a little angry when he’s not ranked among the best backs in the Big Ten.
Bill Belton (1) gets a little angry when he's not ranked among the best backs in the Big Ten. (GENE J. PUSKAR -- The Associated Press)

Of the dominoes that fell amidst the butterfly effect of Pitt's decision to fire Dave Wannstedt after the 2010 season, Bill Belton's fate ranks far down the publicized list of "what ifs."

Still, what if Belton had remained committed to Pitt?

Then a four-star athlete from New Jersey, Belton backed out of a verbal commitment to the Panthers, in part, because he had wanted to play for Wannstedt.

He ultimately chose to play for Joe Paterno at Penn State.

Little could anyone have known when Belton made his initial commitment to Pitt that both schools would go through five head coaches — counting interim — over the ensuing four years.

Secure in his decision despite the relative turmoil, Belton shrugs.

"I enjoyed the ride," he said. "At the end of the day, you're here to get your degree and to play meaningful football."

Belton's college career technically began as a receiver, although he was mostly used in 2011 as a wildcat quarterback. Bill O'Brien quickly moved Belton to running back when he was hired as coach in 2012. After an injury-marred sophomore season, the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Belton amassed 1,036 all-purpose yards last season.

Now a senior and team leader, Belton figures to be a versatile cog in the offense.

Belton has 1,131 career rushing yards, and his 25 receptions are more than any non-tight end on the roster. He is one of six PSU players with bowl-game experience.


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"He's played in a lot of games, a lot of big games," offensive coordinator John Donovan said. "He's got a lot of ability, and he's a senior. That's a pretty good combination right there. ... We are expecting big things."

Belton repeatedly tweets articles that rank, say, the Big Ten's top running backs or best players. When his name isn't included on top-10 lists, he often accompanies the link with a comment such as, "Underrated & overlooked" or "Got a HUGE chip on my shoulder."

"That's why I go and work out extra and why I go and do the extra things I do," he said. "That's all I use it as."

Though the two have a good relationship, Belton bristles at the notion that fellow senior Zach Zwinak is the power back and he is merely the speedster.

The two form arguably the Big Ten's top rushing tandem. They totaled 1,782 rushing yards last season.

But while he appreciates having a running mate the quality of Zwinak, don't make the mistake of assuming Belton is content playing the stereotypical "scat back" role to Zwinak's "bruiser."

"I'm a guy that can play all three downs," Belton said. "I can be a receiver out of the backfield and do everything that a good back can do."