Pittsburgh Panthers To Pounce On Penn State In Renewed Rivalry

Pitt Panthers Score Touchdown

Jay Pryce

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 8:36 PM GMT

Tuesday, Sep. 6, 2016 8:36 PM GMT

Penn State and Pitt rekindle their in-state rivalry Saturday at Heinz Field in the Keystone Classic, their first meeting since 2000. Our expert capper provides his college football predictions against the spread

Penn State vs Pittsburgh Panthers

Penn State Nittany Lions (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS)
Head coach James Franklin is 15-12 SU since taking over Penn State in 2014. The Nittany Lions bested Kent State 33-13 at Beaver Stadium in the opener but struggled at times on both sides of the ball. They failed to cover the 22.5-point spread, their seventh in the last eight games. 

Franklin suited up six first-time starters in the game, including sophomore QB Trace McSorley. McSorley operates a new up-tempo, spread offense brought in by former Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead, now Franklin’s coordinator. The unit needs a spark after ranking 101st nationally in scoring with 23.2 points per game in 2015.

Bettors can look for more three and four-receiver formations lining up in Happy Valley, which may be a good thing with wide receivers Chris Godwin (101), the Nittany Lions top offensive weapon, and DaeSean Hamilton (129) each totaling 100 or more career receptions. It is just the second time in history the program has fielded two wide outs cracking the century mark in catches.

Defense is Franklin's forte, and the unit was a mixed bag at times last weekend. It allowed Kent State to win the possession battle (30:17) but showed the aggressive, playmaking ability that made it a force to be reckoned with in 2015. Although it lost three starters to the NFL on the defensive line, seven different players recorded a sack against the Golden Flashes, the second most in the nation through Week 1. It also accrued 10 tackles for a loss.

Franklin is 5-12-1 ATS (7-11 SU) against Power Five opponents since taking over at Penn State. The Nittany Lions are 1-6 ATS in the last seven meetings against the Panthers. Pittsburgh opened up as -4 favorites across the College Football Odds board.

 

Pittsburgh Panthers (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS)
Head coach Pat Narduzzi guided Pitt to an 8-5 record in his first season, the Panthers best mark in five years. They opened 2016 with a 28-7 victory over FCS foe Villanova, but looked lost in some parts of the game, particularly on offense. 'We just never got in sync,' Narduzzi said of his unit to reporters following the game.

It may have been expected under new offensive coordinator Matt Canada, as the team works out the kinks. The unit is also without its best weapon from last season WR Tyler Boyd. But the offense returns a veteran line and senior quarterback Nate Peterman, who was second in the ACC with a 61.5 completion percentage in 2015. He passed for 2,200 yards, 20 TDs, and 8 INTs last year. Against Villanova, he tossed for 175 yards, two scores, and zero interceptions on 19 of 32 passes.

Running back James Conner, who received offseason Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments, picked up 53 yards on 17 carries. His playing status was in doubt just weeks before the opener, and it remains to be seen if he can regain his 2014 form when he was named ACC Player of the Year. The rushing game picked up just 2.5 yards per carry last Saturday.

Defensively, three outstanding seniors anchor the front: Ejuan Price—All-ACC last year, ranking eighth nationally in sacks per game—Shakir Soto, and Tyrique Jarrett. In the secondary, last season’s ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year strong safety, Jordan Whitehead controls the hashes. The squad held the Wildcats to 172 total yards last weekend.

 

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Final Analysis
Both programs have been taking jabs at one another across social media and other outlets for months head into this long-awaited matchup. Narduzzi is really playing up the rivalry angle, altering his usual game-week approach by closing practices to the media and placing a gag order on his players. We like the focus coming out of Pitt and believe the new Nittany Lion offense will make its fair share of errors on the road early in the season. Heinz Field is sold out and will be rocking. Pitt -5.5 at Heritage (amongst SBR's Top Rated Sportsbooks) is the college football free pick.

 

Free NCAAF Pick: Pittsburgh -5.5
Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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