In the next 31 days we will look at the top college football teams in the nation. We will examine their rosters for the 2010 season and look at their potential against the spread. We will also provide 2 expert college football picks for free. Here is team #31.
No. 31 Pittsburgh Panthers
2009 record: 10-3
2009 Bowl Game: 19-17 win over North Carolina in Car Care Bowl
2009 ATS: 8-4
Returning starters: 11 (5 on offense, 6 on defense)
The Panthers have to replace starter Bill Stull, who had a surprisingly good season in 2009. He threw for 2,871 yards and 21 touchdowns. He only had eight passes picked off, and did better than the Pitt fans had expected.
Sophomore Tino Sunseri will be the starter when the Panthers open their season at Utah. Sunseri had 17 pass attempts and threw for two touchdowns. He is a true dual-threat quarterback, who can run a 4.6 forty. He still shows the pocket awareness and accuracy it takes to succeed in the Big East.
Sunseri has a stronger arm than Stull, and will benefit from Pittsburgh’s high-flying rushing game, just like his predecessor did. Running back Dion Lewis goes into his sophomore season with high expectations. He finished his true freshman campaign with 1,799 rushing yards, good for third in the nation – and 17 touchdowns. He looks to build on those numbers with one season under his belt.
The offensive line loses three starters, and that might be a problem. They have to replace two-year starter Rob Houser, First Team Big East RG John Malecki, and four year-starter Joe Thomas at left guard. Tackles Lucas Nix and Jason Pinkston are among the best in the conference, but the interior line will be a little weaker than last season.
Junior wide receiver John Baldwin caught 57 passes for 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns in 2009. He was selected First Team Big East and destroyed opposing coverage. Baldwin will most likely put up similar numbers in 2010.
The defense returns six starters from last year. They led the nation in sacks last season, and made it virtually impossible for opponents to establish a passing game. Among the returning starters are top pass rushers Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard, who combined for 13 sacks, 22 tackles for a loss, and 23 quarterback hurries last season. Romeus was named Big East Defensive player of the year in 2009.
The secondary features two first-year starters in Antwuan Reed and Saheed Imoru, both cornerbacks. They will be backed up on the field by sophomore safety Jarred Holley, who intercepted three passes last season after being named starter in Week 5.
They lose two starting linebackers, but their replacements should be able to step right in and fill the void. This should be one of the top linebacker groups in the conference again, with sophomore Dan Mason leading the way. Mason had 18 tackles, two sacks, and an interception last season.
The key positions on special teams stay intact for the Panthers, and that should give them some stability in one of the most underrated aspects of the game.
All Big East punter/kicker Dan Hutchins returns for his senior season. He was rock solid within 40 yards. He made 46 out of his 48 extra points, and had only one miss in 20 field goals of 39 yards and shorter. Hutchins struggled from over 40 yards, missing five of his nine attempts. He averaged 41.1 yards on his punts and made opposing offenses start inside the 20-yard line 16 times.
Punt returner Aaron had 17 returns for 109 yards with no touchdowns. Cameron Saddler and Ray Graham handled kick return duties, and both averaged over 20 yards on their returns. Saddler accumulated 633 yards on 25 returns and Graham turned 15 return opportunities into 337 yards. Neither one of them scored a touchdown.
Against the spread
The Panthers went 8-4 against the ncaa football line last season. They did well as the away favorite, winning all three games in which they were favored on the road. They had a positive record as a home favorite as well, going 3-2 against the spread in that situation.
They went 1-0 as the home underdog and didn’t have a game where they were the road dog. The Panthers did great against the spread in conference matchups and went 5-2. They are 31-26 ATS under head coach Dave Wannstedt, and 60-57 ATS over the last ten years.
You can bet on it
Bet on the Panthers in their game at Notre Dame on Oct. 9. The Fighting Irish have to replace quarterback Jimmy Clausen and have to adjust to new head coach Brian Kelly’s system. Kelly will eventually get the offense going as he did in Cincinnati, but the Panthers should beat the Irish here
Pittsburgh has won three of the last four against Notre Dame including the last two games at South Bend
Favor the fade
Fade the Panthers in their matchup against Miami, Fl on Sep. 23. They are 1-14 against the Hurricanes since 1984. They lost their last matchup in 2003. They have been outgained by an average of 185 yards in five of the last six meetings.