#11 Florida State Seminoles at Pittsburgh Panthers
Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Monday, September 2, 2013, 8:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Opening Line: Florida St -7 1/2
Current Line: Florida St -10 1/2
Opening Total: 50
Current Total: 49
Opening Money Line: FSU -370 / Pitt +300
Current Money Line: FSU -400 / Pitt +320
After many years in the Big East the Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange have moved to the ACC. While Syracuse has yet to play an ACC game, as they opened against Penn St Saturday, Pitt is jumping right into the deep end as they host the defending conference champion #11 Florida State Monday. Pitt leads the series against Florida St 5-3, but they haven’t played since 1983.
Florida State, coached by Jimbo Fisher, went 12-2 last year. The only two losses came at NC State 17-16 and at home to rival Florida 37-26. All but two of the Seminoles’ wins were by double digits, against Virginia Tech 28-22 and Georgia Tech 21-15 in the ACC Championship game. Florida State would beat Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Orange Bowl. Two Florida State touchdowns in the fourth quarter made the game appear to be a blowout but a game Northern Illinois team hung around for 3 quarters before wearing down.
Pittsburgh went 6-7 last year under first year coach Paul Cryst. If you could figure out what the Panthers would do from week to week last year, then you are a better handicapper than I. The Panthers opened with two straight losses to FCS Youngstown St and at Cincinnati both by double digits. Pitt would upset then #13 Virginia Tech 35-17 and crush Gardner Webb. Then Pitt lost two games in a row at Syracuse 14-13 and at home to Louisville 45-35. Pitt won two games in a row at Buffalo and at home against Temple, then lost two more games in a row including a heartbreaking triple overtime game at undefeated Notre Dame 29-26 and at UConn 24-17. Pitt had to win their last two games to become eligible, and they did by upsetting Rutgers and beating South Florida, both by double digits. Pitt would then lose to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Florida State’s offense was the most productive in school history last year at just over 6,500 yards. The Seminoles were #2 in the ACC in rushing behind only Georgia Tech who uses the Triple option offense. FSU must replace quarterback E.J. Manuel who was a first round draft pick by the Buffalo Bills. His projected successor Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
The quarterback job now goes to redshirt freshman Jameis Winston, who also plays baseball for the Seminoles. Winston beat out sophomore Jacob Coker for the job. Winston was the top QB recruit in 2012, and has a strong arm, great athleticism and makes good decisions. The Seminoles must also replace leading rusher Chris Thompson, but FSU used more of a comittee of RB’s anyway. Devonta Freeman had 111 carries, 660 yards, and 8 touchdowns, along with 10 catches. James Wilder had 110 carries, 635 yards and 11 touchdowns along with 19 catches and 2 touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Mario Pender was also supposed to get significant carries but he is ineligible this season. Junior receiver Rashad Greene had 57 catches, 741 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with a rushing touchdown. Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Nick O’Leary will alos get significant targets. Three other Seminole receivers and two back-up tight ends are out for the season either due to injury or suspension, so depth could be an issue. The offensive line returns 4 starters, three of whom were second team All-ACC last year.
Florida State must replace defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who left to take the Kentucky head coaching job. He was replaced by Jeremy Pruitt. Most of the starters return from a unit that led the ACC in total and scoring defense. The biggest question is on the defensive line, where the Seminoles lost a lot of star players to graduation and/or the NFL. The defense still has senior cornerback LaMarcus Joyner, junior noseguard Timmy Jernigan, and senior linebacker Christian Jones, so they should be dominant again.
Pittsburgh could struggle on offense with questions at quarterback, running back and on the offensive line. The only good news, is they have a talented group of receivers, and the Panthers have the same coach and system returning for the first time since 2010.
Tom Savage, a former Rutgers starting quarterback will start for Pitt this year. He started as a freshman in 2009, before transferring to Arizona where he didn’t play a down. Now he has one more year of eligibility left and will use it at Pitt, but he hasn’t played in 3 full seasons. Redshirt freshman Chad Voytik could also see some snaps or even take over if Savage is rusty. Pitt must replace leading rusher Ray Graham who had almost 1,400 combined rushing and receiving yards along with 13 touchdowns. His projected successor Rushel Shell transferred to UCLA in MAY after rushing for 641 yards and 4 scores last year. So Issac Bennett will be the feature back after rushing for 3 touchdowns last year. Bennett is questionable with a knee injury, so sophomore Malcolm Crockett will get most of the carries if Bennett is out. Senior receiver Devin Street (73 catches, 975 yards, and 5 touchdowns) and sophomore tight end J.P. Holtz (13 catches, 173 yards, and 3 touchdowns) have all-conference potential. Three starters return on the offensive line, but the line struggled last year. They need to get much better.
Pitt will have to lean on the defense that returns 9 starters with so many questions on offense. Matt House is the new coordinator. Senior DT Aaron Donald had 5.5 sacks last year. Senior free safety Jason Hendricks had 90 tackles and 6 picks last year.
Florida St is 1-4 ATS in ACC games, overall, and on grass, 1-6 in September, and 0-6 in road games.
Pitt is 4-1 ATS at home, and on grass, 5-2 overall, and 6-13-1 in September.
Pitt’s defense might be able to keep them in it for a while, but I can’t see there offense being able to keep up with the explosive FSU offense. Florida St wins handily.
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