ACC College Football Preview – Pittsburgh Panthers

Pittsburgh Panthers

The Panthers regressed substantially last year after two consecutive winning seasons finishing with a 5-7 record, 3-5 in the ACC, and 5-5-2 against the spread. The most significant performance was a season ending upset over the #2 ranked Miami Hurricanes at home as 11 point underdogs. Two years ago Pitt scored another major upset with a road win as 21 point underdogs at then #3 Clemson. Perhaps Pitt can pull off another miracle this season in one of their tougher games, so keep an eye out for overinflated lines.

The bad news for Pitt for the 2018 season is two-fold. First, they are faced within one of the 20-25 toughest opponent’s schedules. Second, they return only 4 starters on Offense. They lose their starting quarterback, almost the entire offensive line and several receivers. In essence, the offense is a complete rebuild. On the bright side, the program is very high on new starting quarterback Kenny Pickett due to his leading the season finale victory against Miami with both his arm and on the ground. He completed 62 percent of his passes in the game and ran for 60 on the ground with two rushing touchdowns. Reports from the Spring suggest he is progressing further and may be a surprise talent in the ACC. Pickett may be talented, but could be limited by those around him. The receiving core is below average and lacks a big play threat. The backfield has two capable backs in Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison, but neither is a star. We can see this unit being effective against some of the more defensively challenged teams in the conference like North Carolina and Syracuse, but will struggle in some spots (i.e. Virginia Tech in the ACC and out of Conference opponents Penn State and Notre Dame). In addition, expect Miami to be much more prepared at home this year in the finale.

On the defensive side of the ball, the unit was respectable, especially against lesser opponents, holding Rice to 10 points, Duke to 17, and Virginia to 14. They also held Miami to 14 in the season finale upset. Unlike on the offensive side of the ball, the defense returns a substantial amount of starters. The defensive front and the linebacker core remains substantially intact. Two members of the secondary were drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft, but one of their redshirt freshman is highly touted. Overall, we expect this unit to be good and keep Pitt in games.

The season win total for Pitt is over/under 5.5 and the odds to win the ACC are +4000. We do not expect Pitt to contend for the ACC crown. With respect to total wins, we think the line is fairly accurate. If the offense clicks and the defense meets or exceeds last year’s numbers, Pitt will win 6-7 games by picking off the lower levels of ACC competition. However, an over play would be dangerous considering the schedule difficulty, with out of conference games against UCF, Notre Dame and Penn State, as well as in-conference road games against Miami and Wake Forest, which will be difficult. Therefore, we will not advocate a play on the season total.
What we do like is to focus on unders in Pitt’s games. We anticipate the offense will struggle at times, but the defense will be even better than last season. We will keep a close on the game totals and provide email updates when we anticipate strong plays on Pitt totals.

The season kicks off with a home game against Albany, who is an FCS School. The teams have never met. We expect Pitt to win this game, but there will likely not be a line. Nevertheless, it will be a good spot for Pickett to get some experience as clear starter.

Week #2 is a home game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Penn State will be a top 25 team out of a very tough Big Ten Conference and possibly top ten by the time this game takes place. Penn State was a total of 4 points away from being undefeated last season with a 1 point loss at Ohio State and a 3 point loss at Michigan State. Penn State defeated Pitt at home last season by 19 and we think the number could be higher this year. Look for Penn State to be a dominant force this season and to cover a 10 to 14 point line at Pitt in Week #2.

Week #3 is a home conference game against Georgia Tech. At this time, we rate Georgia Tech to be slightly better than Pitt overall, although Georgia Tech’s offense is not so powerful that a tough Pitt Defense will not keep them in the game. With the point spread expected to be very low in this spot, we anticipate a close game with Georgia Tech winning on the road. If the game was later in the season and the Pitt offense had more time to gel, we may think otherwise.

Week #4 is a winnable road game against North Carolina. North Carolina was 3-9 last season and 1-7 in the ACC. Two of the three wins were against very bad out of conference foes. However, the one conference win was an upset as 9 point underdogs at Pitt. Expect Pitt to return the favor on the road this season. By Week #4 we expect the Pitt offense to have made strides and we expect the Pitt Defense to perform very well against an inept Carolina squad. We expect to be laying the points with Pitt in Week 4 and will provide email updates to subscribers as we get closer to game day.

Pitt closes out the month of September with a difficult road contest against the University of Central Florida. UCF was one of the bigger stories of 2017 as they finished 13-0, including a bowl victory against #7 Auburn while getting 10 points as underdogs. UCF is led against by an outstanding Quarterback in McKenzie Milton who finished the season with over 4,000 passing yards and 37 touchdowns. He also ran for over 600 yards and 8 touchdowns. UCF lost considerable amounts of starters on both sides of the ball, four of which were NFL draftees. Nevertheless, UCF has become a much better recruiter in a state that is choc full of talent, so there will be enough talent on the reload to keep UCF relevant. We expect UCF to handle Pitt in this spot, but will wait for the publication of a line before releasing a pick.

Pete Rinato