The Backyard Brawl is back and it’ll help kick off the first full weekend of college football on Thursday night. For the first time since both schools were members of the Big East in 2011, the Pittsburgh Panthers will play the West Virginia Mountaineers. At home, the no. 17 ranked Panthers are favored by 7.5 points with the over/under for the game set at 51 points.
Pitt gets to begin the 2022 campaign as the reigning ACC champions. After several years of sustained mediocrity, Pat Narduzzi’s team finally took a step forward in 2021, going 11-3 and winning the ACC Championship Game. Of course, that has raised expectations for the new season.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers appear to be stuck in neutral. Neal Brown has been in Morgantown for three years, going 17-18 overall after last year’s 6-7 campaign. On the bright side, West Virginia has been to a bowl game in back-to-back seasons, so there has been some progress.
West Virginia is hopeful that the addition of Georgia transfer J.T. Daniels as the team’s new quarterback can make a difference this season. Daniels was actually the starter at Georgia at the start of the 2021 season, so he’s a high-level player. However, the Mountaineers need to hope that an experienced offensive line can help jumpstart their rushing attack and give them more balance, as West Virginia averaged just 123 rushing yards per game last year and lost leading rusher Leddie Brown.
Of course, the Mountaineers have buttered their bread on the defensive side of the ball during Brown’s tenure. They held teams to just 24.3 points per game in 2021, which is quite an accomplishment with nine Big 12 teams on the schedule. The caveat is that the Mountaineers only return three starters on defense, so the talent and depth that Brown has recruited will be put to the test right away.
Is There an Encore?
There has been a lot of turnover for the Panthers after last year’s breakthrough season, especially on offense. However, first-round pick Kenny Pickett has been replaced by USC transfer Kedon Slovis, who also might have a future in the NFL. Alas, the Panthers lost their top four receivers from the 2021 season, so Slovis and the Pitt offense could have some growing pains early.
The good news is the Panthers should be strong defensively this year. That side of the ball brings back seven starters from last year and is loaded with upperclassmen. The Panthers were particularly good at stopping the run last year, so they will look to make the West Virginia offense one-dimensional.
On the Prowl
This used to be one of the best rivalries in the Big East, so there’s no telling what’s going to happen with Pitt and West Virginia reuniting, especially since both have high-level quarterbacks who have transferred in this season. The difference is that Pitt is much better positioned for a strong start on the defensive side of the ball with so many experienced players. Based on that, look for Pitt to pull away in the second half of the game, ultimately covering the 7.5-point spread.
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