Can the ACC revoke its invitation to the University of Pittsburgh?
Obviously not, as the Panthers will head to that conference from the Big East (along with Syracuse) for next season. But already things look rather grim for first-year head coach Paul Chryst after his Panthers (as 18.5-point favorites) were stunned 31-17 by FCS school Youngstown State in their opener on Saturday. And it was no fluke as Youngstown State never trailed, outgained Pitt and held the ball for more than 10 minutes longer.
Pitt had never lost to an FCS school before, and in two previous meetings with the Penguins had outscored them a combined 79-3. It also ended a 57-game winning streak against FCS teams for schools from the Big East.
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Cincinnati, meanwhile, didn’t play on the opening weekend and was picked by the media to finish fourth in the Big East in 2012 (Pittsburgh fifth). Last season at Heinz Field, the Bearcats overcame a 10-point deficit to beat Pittsburgh, 26-23, as the Panthers missed a 50-yard field goal with 14 seconds left. UC also lost its two best players off that team, quarterback Zach Collaros and running back Isaiah Pead, the 2011 Big East Player of the Year. Those two accounted for more than 68 percent of Cincinnati’s total offense. UC has won three of the past four in this series but Pitt has a 3-1 all-time edge at Nippert Stadium.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Betting Storylines
Chryst suspended six players before Saturday’s game and it’s thought all six will be back for this one, but that hasn’t been decided as of this writing. There was only one starter among that group: defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell, although highly-touted freshman running back Rushel Shell also sat. The Panthers had eight first-time starters on defense in their opener, including six of whom didn’t play last season. YSU rushed for 204 yards and the Pitt defense didn’t have a single sack for the first time in two years.
Saturday’s game also marked the return of Panthers star running back Ray Graham. He was among the nation’s leading rushers last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee. He wasn’t a lock to start the opener but did and had 71 yards on 14 carries and a costly lost fumble at the Youngstown State 10-yard-line. Graham didn’t play vs. the Bearcats in 2011. Chryst said Graham’s amount of carries this week depends on how he does in practice this week and how the game unfolds.
The guy tabbed to replace Collaros under center for UC is junior Munchie Legaux. He beat out senior Brendon Kay for the job. Legaux played in six games and made three starts last year, going 2-1. He threw for 749 yards, five touchdowns and four picks, and had 185 yards rushing on 41 carries and two rushing scores. Legaux didn’t see the field in the Pitt game.
Overall, UC returns 13 starters from last year’s 10-3 club. Eight of those are on defense, which was surprisingly good last season. The Bearcats led the nation in tackles for loss, were second in sacks, sixth in rushing defense and 20th in scoring defense. But UC was No. 105 nationally in passing by allowing 261.1 yards per game. Pitt’s Tino Sunseri threw for 218 yards with a TD and a pick in the loss. He also rushed for a season-high 64 yards and a score.
This is the third season for Butch Jones on the UC sideline and he’s likely to be a hot commodity if the Bearcats win the Big East even though he just signed a contract extension through 2017. Both Mark Dantonio (Michigan State) and Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) left for bigger jobs after their third season as Cincinnati’s coach. Illinois made a run at Jones after last season.
Needless to say, UC didn’t want an opening-week bye. The Bearcats thought they would have TCU on their schedule, but then the Frogs backed out of joining the Big East. Cincinnati had trouble filling that spot and tried to move its Sept. 15 game against Delaware State to Sept. 1, but apparently Delaware State couldn’t do it.
Cincinnati is 3-2 all-time in season-opening league games and has won five consecutive Big East openers. Pitt has won four consecutive Big East openers and five of its past six. It is 7-10 all-time on ESPN Thursday night games. With Pitt’s impending move to the ACC, this will be the final meeting in the River City Rivalry for the foreseeable future.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Betting Odds and Trends
UC opened as a 3.5-point betting favorite, according to college football odds, with the total at 49 on BookMaker. Pitt was 7-6 ATS a year ago and 2-2 on the road. Cincinnati was 7-5-1 ATS a year ago and 3-2-1 at home. Last year’s “over/under” records: Pitt 5-7, Cincinnati 5-7.
Pittsburgh is 6-1 ATS in the past seven meetings. The home team has covered four of the past five. The under is 10-1 in UC’s past 11 Thursday games. The under is 5-1 in Pitt’s past six road games. Cincinnati has covered seven of its past 10 Thursday games. Pitt has covered 15 of its past 20 after a loss.
Thursday College Football Predictions: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Picks
This game is tough because these two usually play close and now Pitt is desperate and it’s only Week 2. The key for Pittsburgh might be whether its defense can score a touchdown. The Panthers have won their past 20 games when scoring at least one defensive touchdown. Cincinnati had the benefit of preparing all offseason for the Panthers, who I am sure simply overlooked Youngstown State last week.
I’d probably recommend waiting around to see if this line drops to three points, but that doesn’t appear very likely with UC drawing a vast majority of action. Still, go with the Bearcats and the under.
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