Iowa is a Big Ten team and Pittsburgh in the ACC, but the head coaches of the respective programs know each other well as the Panthers visit Iowa City on Saturday night.
Panthers Withholding QB
Is it me, or are more and more coaches around the nation keeping their starting quarterbacks -- when there's no clear-cut No. 1 -- secret until game day? Sure seems that way. And that's the case at Pittsburgh under new head coach Pat Narduzzi. He says it will be a "game-time call" between Chad Voytik or Tennessee transfer Nate Peterman vs. Iowa.
Voytik was the team's starter in 2014 and began this season that way. In the season-opening 45-37 win over Youngstown State, Voytik was 9-for-14 for 72 yards with a touchdown and pick while also running for a score. In last week's 24-7 win at Akron Voytik struggled to move the offense. So Narduzzi began rotating Voytik and Peterman on alternating possessions. But Peterman essentially seized the job, finishing 12-for-17 for 148 yards and a touchdown while leading the Panthers on three touchdown drives. Voytik didn't see the field in the second half. So the decision seems pretty clear to me.
Pitt has suffered one of the biggest injuries of this season around the country in losing running back James Conner for the year in that Week 1 win. The bruiser was the ACC Player of the Year in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns and breaking three school records held by Tony Dorsett since 1976. Freshman Qadree Ollison has emerged as the featured back in Conner's place. Ollison rushed for 207 yards and a TD against Youngstown State and 81 and another score last Saturday vs. Akron.
Narduzzi is the former Michigan State defensive coordinator so he's very familiar with Iowa and coach Kirk Ferentz. Already, the Pitt defense appears improved, although it hasn't played anyone of note yet. The Panthers have nine sacks (fourth in nation at 4.5 per game) and had only 19 all last season. They are also ranked 10th in third-down defense in allowing opponents to convert just 19 percent of the time. Pitt is in the Top 25 as well in total and rushing defense.
The Panthers are looking to start 3-0 for the second straight season but only fourth time this century.
Ferentz Perhaps Saving Job
Iowa's Ferentz was definitely on the hot seat entering 2015 but so far, so good. The Hawkeyes beat visiting Illinois State 31-14 in the opener and then won at Iowa State -- a loss there would all but have fired Ferentz after this season -- 31-17 last Saturday.
The Iowa offense opened the year without its leading returner in passing yards and rushing yards as well as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and its two starting offensive tackles from a year ago. Yet so far the offense has looked good under coordinator Greg Davis. Junior QB C.J. Beathard is the unquestioned starter at QB this year (he shared some time last year with Jake Rudock) and is completing 61.2 percent of his passes for 426 yards, four TDs and no picks. Beathard also has rushed 18 times for 103 yards and two scores and is the only player in the Big Ten with two carries of 40 yards or longer. He has led the Iowa offense to eight touchdowns and two field goals on 21 drives thus far.
The Hawkeyes use two running backs in LeShun Daniels Jr. (34 carries, 179 yards) and Jordan Canzeri (29 carries, 152 yards, two TDs). Beathard's favorite target by far is Matt VandeBerg, who has 15 catches (leads Big Ten) for 173 yards and two scores. This remains a team that will run more than it passes.
Iowa won 24-20 at Pittsburgh last season. The Hawkeyes trailed by 10 at the half, which is when Ferentz pulled the starter Rudock for Beathard. He hit Damond Powell for a 62-yard gain to jump-start the comeback. Mark Weisman's 1-yard TD with 6:56 left was the winner. Conner rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown. Voytik passed for a career-high 250 yards but Pitt's last-chance drive ended with an interception. In the past three meetings between these schools, the average margin of victory has been three points.
NCAAF Free Picks: Narduzzi's Michigan State teams were 2-2 in Iowa City. Let's call it 2-3. For this College Football Pick give the points and go 'under.' Pitt is 1-5 ATS at sportsbooks in its past six non-conference games. Iowa is 4-1 ATS in its past five at home. The 'under' has hit in five of Iowa's past six non-conference games.