College Football Picks: Pittsburgh to Upset Navy in Military Bowl

LT Profits Sports Group

Thursday, December 24, 2015 5:50 PM GMT

The favored Navy Midshipmen may be the honored academy team in the Military Bowl, but the more balanced offense of the Pittsburgh Panthers could lead to a mild upset on Monday.

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College Football Pick: Pittsburgh +3 (-105)
Best Line Offered: at BetOnline

 

The small underdogs could spoil the party for the military part of the Military Bowl Monday afternoon when those Pittsburgh Panthers (8-4, 6-6 ATS) of the ACC take on the Navy Midshipmen (10-2, 8-4 ATS), coming off of a successful first season in the AAC, at Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD at 2:30 ET in a game televised nationally on ESPN.

The point spread at BetOnline has Pittsburgh as a small underdog for this contest with the current line at +3 with odds of -105.

 

Middies Went 7-1 in AAC
Navy joined the AAC this year after being an independent for many years, and its first season in the conference was a successful one with the Midshipmen going 7-1, losing only to the conference champions from Houston that earned the New Year’s Six bowl berth in the Peach Bowl. In fact, the other loss for the 10-2 Middies also came vs. great competition on the road at Notre Dame.

Pittsburgh was believed to be in serious trouble when it lost its superstar running back James Connor in the season opener, but instead Coach Pat Narduzzi did a great job in his first season coaching the Panthers in guiding them to an 8-4 record, and three of the losses came vs. very good company when Pitt was the losing college football pick to Iowa, North Carolina, and Notre Dame.

Pittsburgh did face the better schedule between these two teams, tackling an SOS ranked 26th across all of college football according to the Sagarin Ratings while Navy took on an SOS ranked 81st. Also, the two Navy losses came in its only two games vs. teams ranked in the Sagarin Top 30 while Pittsburgh’s wins at Duke and at home to Louisville within its final three games are each probably better than any Navy victory.

 

Not Much Respect at Home
Perhaps that tougher schedule is one of the reasons why Pittsburgh has been bet down from an opening line of +5 to the current +3 despite Navy getting to play this bowl game on its own home field. Still, the Navy triple option attack always merits respect as it always ranks among the country’s leaders in rushing yards, and this year in no exception.

In fact, Navy finished the regular season third in the country in rushing with a whopping 319.2 yards per game, trailing only Georgia Southern and another military academy in Air Force, and the Midshipmen averaged 5.7 yards per rush. Also, the Navy dual option quarterback Keenan Reynolds actually finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, as he led the team with his 1229 rushing yards to go along with 1077 passing yards.

The fact that Reynolds had more rushing yards than passing yards could be an issue here though if Pitt can solve the option, something that they will have had over a month to work on by the time this game kicks off. You see, the Panthers were 20th in the country in rushing defense allowing only 126.5 yards per game on the ground, and a continuance of that here could give Pittsburgh a huge advantage as Reynolds is not as effective when forced to pass.

 

Tyler Boyd the Difference Maker
Granted, the Navy defense held 10 of its 12 opponents to 21 points or less this season, but again that goes back to its aforementioned weak SOS, as the two times the Middies allowed more than 21 were in the two losses to the two best teams that they faced. We feel that Pittsburgh has the balance on offense to surpass 21 points here, and that could be the benchmark to achieve a victory.

Yes, the Panthers also rely heavily on the run, as even after losing Connor immediately, Qadree Ollison stepped right in as the feature back and rushed for 1048 yards and a team leading 10 touchdowns. In the end, Pittsburgh finished a very respectable 48th in the country in rushing with 185.9 per game overall. Meanwhile, the Panthers were only 93rd in passing with 195.1 yards per contest.

The difference however is that in Pittsburgh’s case, it was by choice as it actually has a fine quarterback in Nathan Peterman that completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 2150 yards and 19 touchdowns vs. just five interceptions. And the Panthers have a wide receiver in Tyler Boyd that could be playing Sundays in the NFL next year if he elects to declare for the draft after this game as a junior. Boyd gives the Panthers the deep threat that could make the difference in this game.

 

Resilient Panthers
Finally, Pittsburgh did follow up its wins over Duke and Louisville by losing at home to the Miami Hurricanes in the regular season finale 29-24, but the Panthers have been a very resilient team betting wise going a stout 26-10-1 ATS in their last 37 games following a straight up loss. Meanwhile, Navy is just 1-4 ATS in its last five games vs. ACC opponents.

While we have a great deal of respect for what Navy has done this year, Pittsburgh is probably better than any team that the Midshipmen have beaten this season and the fact that the Panthers can actually pass the ball to a legitimate threat in Boyd could be enough to spring the small upset in the Military Bowl from Annapolis on Monday.