Notre Dame at Pitt, Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC
Notre Dame (6-3 SU, 2-7 ATS, 1-1 SU on the road, 0-2 ATS on the road)
No. 9 Pitt (8-1 SU, 6-2 ATS, 5-0 SU at home, 3-1 ATS at home)
Pitt –7, over 58.5
The Fighting Irish always seem to be the public’s team but after a week of hearing how Charlie Weis’ time may be running out in South Bend and to mull over the embarrassing loss to Navy at home, most of the public is jumping ship.
Pitt has gained plenty of attention after shooting up to as high as No. 9 in the latest polls and the public has taken notice. With Cincinnati, undefeated and ranked even higher, the Big East is gaining plenty of respect and that has started to show with their performance in out of conference games.
Truth be told, Charlie Weis is reeling. His loss at home against Navy was a stunner. His coaching record at Notre Dame is 35-24 but in the last three seasons he is 16-18, a record that cannot sit well with Notre Dame bureaucracy. However, he will be going up against Dave Wannstedt, whose tenure at Pitt has been a miserable five years. He would not have survived at most programs. His teams have yet to score a point in a bowl game. He seems to have things turned around this season but his past cannot be forgotten. In the NFL he failed miserably at Chicago and in Miami.
His career has paralleled that of Charlie Weis. They both made their collegiate coaching debut on Sept. 3, 2005 at Heinz Field. Notre Dame rolled over Pitt, 42-21.The coaching matchup is a push here.
Pitt 4-1 ATS as a favorite
Pitt 5-1 ATS at home
Notre Dame 1-7 ATS in last eight games
Notre Dame 1-6 ATS against the Big East
Least of the East
As mentioned above Notre Dame has struggled against a watered-down Big East. Last year as 20-point favorites it squeaked by Syracuse 24-23 and was upset by Pitt in overtime, 36-33, as four-point underdogs. Looking at Pitt, it has fared well against out of conference teams this year including a 27-14 win over those pesky Midshipmen from Navy.
In terms of the game atmosphere Notre Dame has been dealt a bad hand. The schedule makers at Notre Dame had the Irish play only two road games up until this point in the season. ESPN moved the game to an 8 p.m. primetime kickoff under the lights. And also Pitt enters the game at 8-1, creating what should be an intimidating atmosphere in a usually dreary and dull Heinz Field.
When Notre Dame has the Ball
The Panthers have the 21st-ranked defense in terms of yards allowed and 19th in terms of points allowed. Notre Dame has played a tougher schedule though. The Pitt defense is equally as strong against the pass as they are against the run. The Irish have put up gaudy numbers in the passing game and total yardage game, fifth and sixth in the country respectively, but they are only averaging 138 yards per game on the ground (72nd in the country) and they are 36th in the country in points scored.
When Pitt has the Ball
Dion Lewis running the ball, Bill Stull passing the ball and Jonathan Baldwin catching the ball; for the first time in recent memory, Pitt has the skill position players to play with the Irish. The rushing attack churns out 187 yards per game. While the yards per game is only 38th in the country, Pitt is scoring 34.6 points per game (16th best in the country. The efficiency of the Panthers offense will be a big difference).
The pick is Pitt giving the points
Alabama at Mississippi State, Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
No. 3 Alabama (9-0 SU, 6-3 ATS, 2-0 SU on the road, 2-0 ATS on the road)
Mississippi State (4-5 SU, 5-3 ATS, 1-4 SU at home, 2-2 ATS at home)
Alabama -12.5 over 43.5
For a team ranked as high as Alabama the public is only slightly leaning towards the Crimson Tide. Close calls against LSU and Tennessee the last few weeks are the main reason for the slight skepticism.
Mississippi State has quietly put together an impressive year, although the win-loss record does not necessarily show it. A tough out-of-conference slate featured a win at Vanderbilt, a close game against Georgia Tech and Houston and a 21-point win at Middle Tennessee State. Its best two games have come the last two weeks. They stayed close with Florida as 23-point underdogs before losing, 29-19, and won at Kentucky as road dogs.
The Crimson Tide has done it with a stifling defense. The 24 points Virginia Tech scored in the season opener against Alabama looks more impressive each week for the Hokies. Since then only one team has reached 20 points and four have failed to score more than seven.
Alabama 5-0 ATS as a road favorite
Alabama 7-1 ATS last eight games
Mississippi State 4-0 ATS against SEC
Mississippi State 7-1 ATS as a home dog
The View from the Top
Going on the road as a Top 3 team is no easy task and Alabama has experience, doing it twice this season. In both instances Alabama had an easy time, beating Kentucky 38-20 as 16-point favorites and pounding Ole Miss 22-3 as 3.5-point favorites. Alabama was just as strong last season on the road in hostile locations. It won 27-21 at LSU, 29-9 at Tennessee, 41-30 at Georgia and 49-14 at Arkansas, covering the spread each time.
Playing in the SEC, Mississippi State has had plenty of chances to welcome Top-10 teams to Starkville and two weeks ago against Florida, the Bulldogs played one of their best games of the season.
Alabama delivered a thorough 32-7 beatdown last season in the clash between these two teams that took place nearly a year to the day of Saturday’s meeting.
When Alabama has the Ball
Mark Ingram has shot to the top of the Heisman watch lists and it is no secret why. His 1,148 yards and 11 touchdowns lead the countries’ 14th-best rushing attack. He has done most of the damage against stifling SEC defenses. Mississippi State’s defense will be one of the weakest that Ingram and the Alabama attack has seen. They are yielding 147 yards per game on the ground.
When Mississippi State has the Ball
The Bulldogs will live by their ground game, too. Anthony Dixon surpassed 1,000 yards for the season last week. As a team Mississippi State averages 219 yards per game, 12th best in the country. The passing attack has been well below average, it is the 105th best unit in the country. Tyson Lee has completed 59-percent of his passes but has thrown 11 interceptions to four touchdowns.
The Saban Factor
Nick Saban used to be notorious for colossal letdowns of his team. He would always win the big game but struggled when it came time to get his team ready to take care of business. It was that way at LSU, that way for his abbreviated stint with the Miami Dolphins and it was like that his first season at Alabama. After last season it is safe to say Saban has dropped that tag. His team overlooked no one during a 12-0 regular season last year and this year after a near hiccup against Tennessee, Saban’ team looks as determined as any team that takes the field on Saturday.
The pick is Alabama giving the points