ACC, Big East Football: Saturday Key Games

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ACC, Big East Football: Saturday Key Games
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith adjusts a play before the snap

Pittsburgh at Rutgers (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Pittsburgh (-13)

THE PLOT

Pittsburgh’s win over Syracuse last weekend—a game in which the Panthers were underdogs—had a similar result to Rutgers' win over Connecticut a week prior. Both teams won their Big East openers after bad losses and unimpressive starts.

Rutgers’ net margin of victory this year—bar the Scarlet Knights’ opener against Norfolk State—is plus-four points. Margin of victory does not necessarily mean anything, unless your competition includes Florida International, Tulane and Army. That being said, freshman quarterback Chas Dodd’s performance this season filling in for an injured Tom Savage has been great. Rutgers has won two consecutive games, but this week’s visitation to Pittsburgh will be the Greg Schiano-led group’s first away game since going to Miami to take on FIU on September 11th.

The Panthers carry more momentum heading into their second Big East game of the year. After disappointing losses to start the year at Utah and home against Miami (FL), Pittsburgh rounded out its first five games with just two wins at home against New Hampshire and aforementioned Florida International. The Panthers’ away game last weekend in Syracuse was a statement game. The Panthers put up 45 points on the Orange. Head coach Dave Wannstedt had to be pleased to get a win, and have his team settle down after starting conference play with such a good game.

 

THE PICK

The only opponent that ties these two teams together is Florida International. On September 11th, Rutgers traveled to Miami and needed a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Mohamed Sanu to overcome the Golden Panthers. As for the Panthers of Pittsburgh, FIU gave up 277 rushing yards and three scores to Ray Graham. The Golden Panthers trailed just 16-10 heading into the fourth quarter. This game was played in Pittsburgh.

Both teams have looked good—Pittsburgh’s win over Syracuse, Rutgers’ loss to North Carolina as well as its win over Connecticut. If you pit these teams together though, I feel Pittsburgh will come away with a convincing win. Rutgers does not play well on the road under Schiano—19-27 record outside of New Brunswick. The Panthers, however, are great at home under Wannstedt—22-11 record.

I think the Panthers move to 2-0 in conference play and get over .500 for the first time this year.

THE SCORE: Pittsburgh 30, Rutgers 16

 

Syracuse at No. 20 West Virginia (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: West Virginia (-14)

THE PLOT

I am in some uncharted water here writing about a ranked Big East team. If I stray off course, please warn me.

No. 20 West Virginia has really only played LSU so far this year. And to be honest, we are all still waiting to see if the Les Miles-led squad is any good. The Mountaineers have blown out the two teams it was supposed to blow out in Coastal Carolina and UNLV. An interesting Friends of Coal Bowl with Marshall earlier in the year is only hurting them. Two 14-point home wins over middle-tier teams in Maryland and South Florida are certainly not helping West Virginia either. How can the Mountaineers trick the computers and human pollsters this weekend to remain ranked? They can beat the crap out of a visiting Syracuse team that was embarrassed last weekend by Pittsburgh.

Speaking of Syracuse, the Orange are looking to “right” their ways after the crushing loss to Pittsburgh last weekend on their homecoming. The Orange have won just two Big East road games since 2007—a 38-35 win over Louisville in 2007 and a 13-9 victory at South Florida two weeks ago. The Orange will need two to three more wins to become bowl eligible; playing West Virginia this weekend will not help that cause for multiple reasons. The Mountaineers are favored and playing at home, and if the Orange lose, then team chemistry will likely crumble following consecutive defeats. The remaining schedule for Syracuse likely contains maybe one game in which the Orange will be favored.

 

THE PICK

When this game is done, the Big East will have a team ranked within the Top 20 for the first time since Pittsburgh began the season at No. 15. Mountaineer quarterback Geno Smith looked his best all year last Thursday in West Virginia’s 20-6 win over the Bulls of South Florida. He will continue that and pick apart a Syracuse defense that gave up 266 passing yards and four scores to Panther quarterback Tino Sunseri, his best game of the year by far.

THE SCORE: West Virginia 38, Syracuse 6

 

North Carolina at Miami (FL) (7:30 ET)

THE LINE: Miami (FL) -6.5

THE PLOT

Off the top of your head, guess who has owned this small rivalry as of late? If you guess Miami, you would be correct dead wrong. The Tar Heels have won the past three games and four of the past six since 2004.

Looking at the head coaches, it is incredible how similar Randy Shannon and Butch Davis have been since arriving at their respective schools in 2007. Straight up, Shannon is 21-17 while Davis is 20-18. Against ACC teams both coaches possess an 11-13 record. Both coaches have winning records at home and losing records on the road. Oh, and both teams are 4-2 this year with a 2-1 conference record.

 

THE PICK

That being said, I think it’s safe to say that the winner of this game will come about as a result of intangibles—occurrences that cannot be affected by coaching. The ‘Canes obviously possess one of the best special teams units in the nation with speedy returners, but North Carolina will compensate for that with a tough, grind-it-out style of football. The Tar Heels have winning close games down to a science. I would typically give the edge to a team that can cause seven turnovers in a game, but only a 15-point win against Duke? I will take North Carolina here.

THE SCORE: North Carolina 24, Miami 20

 

LAST WEEK

Straight up: 2-1 

Vs. spread: 2-1

OVERALL 

Straight up: 20-5 

Vs. spread: 10-14-1

(I failed to predict scores before Week 1, but if you would like to count my predictions on Week 1 from an outside source, you can add the following: Straight up 2-1, Vs. spread 0-3.)

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBCSports.com.)

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