Big East Betting: Pittsburgh Panthers at Cincinnati Bearcats

Pittsburgh Panthers at Cincinnati Bearcats
Thursday, September 6, 2012, 8:00 pm Eastern, TV: ESPN
Nippert Stadium – Cincinnati, Ohio
Opening Line: Cincinnati -2 1/2
Current Total: Cincinnati -4
Opening Total: 50
Current Total: 49
Opening Money Line: Cincinnati -180 / Pittsburgh +160
Current Money Line: Cincinnati -180 / Pittsburgh +160

Cincinnati is a 4 point favorite at home over Big East rival Pittsburgh Thursday night. It is the season opener for the Bearcats.

In a series that dates back to 1921, the Pittsburgh Panthers and Cincinnati Bearcats meet for the River City Rivalry trophy. Pitt leads the series 8-3, including 3-1 in Cincinnati where the game will played Thursday night on ESPN. This is the Big East opener for both teams. Pitt has  won 4 straight Big East openers and 5 of the last 6. The Bearcats won last year in Pittsburgh 26-23. This is the last meeting between the teams as conference rivals at Pittsburgh moves over to the ACC next year along with Syracuse.

Pittsburgh is coached by former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, in his first year as coach of the Panthers. The Chryst era did not get off to very good start as the Panthers were upset at home last week by FCS school Youngstown St. Chryst suspended six players before kickoff for violating team rules. The Penguins scored on their first two drives of 79 and 92 yards, and were up 14-10 at halftime.

Youngstown St drove deep into Pitt territory in the middle of the third. The Penguins had 4th and one at the Pitt 23 and decided to go for it instead of trying the 40 yard field goal. Quarterback Kurt Hess tossed to the running back Jamaine Cook who then threw a 23 yard touchdown pass to wide open receiver Will Shaw, his second score of the game. It gave the Penguins a 21-10 lead and the Panthers never got any closer. Pitt also tried to go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter from YSU’s 21, but failed. The Penguins then went on a 79 yard drive to ice the game 28-10. Youngstown ended up with the 31-17 upset.

The Penguins had 381 total yards including 204 rushing yards. The Panthers had 369 total yards including 239 passing yards. Pitt had 2 turnovers including a costly fumble by running back Ray Graham deep in YSU territory. Graham returned after tearing his ACL last season. He had 14 carries for 71 yards. The biggest difference in the game was Youngstown St was 11/16 on third down conversions and had the ball for 35 minutes. Pitt was an 18.5 point favorite and there was no total.

Cincinnati is playing their season opener Thursday night. The Bearcats were 10-3 last year under coach Butch Jones. Cincinnati finished in a three way tie for the Big East title with West Virginia and Louisville. West Virginia won the tiebreaker and got the Big East BCS bid. Cincinnati had to settle for a berth in the Liberty Bowl, where they beat Vanderbilt 31-24. The Bearcats had losses at Tennessee 45-23 and Rutgers 20-3, and home against West Virginia 24-21. Cincinnati had wins over NC State, Louisville and Pitt.  The Bearcats were 8-5 ATS and the total was 6-7 last season.

Senior Tyler Sunseri is making his 28th straight start as Pittsburgh quarterback. Sunseri was 19/30 for 239 yards with a touchdown last week in the Youngstown St loss. He also had 4 carries for 17 yards. Running back Issac Bennett had 10 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown. Mike Shanahan (6 catches, 54 yards), Devin Street (4 catches, 51 yards) and Hubie Graham (4 catches 38 yards) are the top receivers.

The Pitt defense had to replace 8 starters from last year. It also didn’t help that one of the 3 returning starters defensive end Tyrone Ezell was one of the players suspended for the Youngstown St game. The Panthers looked completely baffled by Youngstown St’s spread offense. The defense must improve this week or the Panthers will be in an 0-2 hole to start the season.

Cincinnati has a new quarterback in Munchie Legaux, who played in 3 games last season for injured starter Zach Collaros with a 2-1 record. Legaux completed 47.4% of his passes for 749 yards with 5 touchdowns  and 4 interceptions. He also had 41 carries for 185 yards, and 2 touchdowns. The Bearcats must also replace leading rusher Isaiah Pead who had almost 1,600 combined rushing and receiving yards with 15 touchdowns. senior George Winn and sophomore Jameel Poteat will be the top running backs. Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins will be the top receivers after they combined for 93 catches, over 1,200 yards, and 8 touchdowns.

The Bearcats return 7 starters on defense including All-Big East safety Drew Frey. The Bearcats allowed 356.4 total yards a game including just 95 rushing yards and 20.3 points a game.

Pittsburgh is 5-1 ATS after a double digit home loss, 16-5 after a straight up loss, 20-7 in conference games, 5-2 overall, 7-3-1 after scoring less than 20 points, 11-5 after and ATS loss, 2-5-1 in Thursday games, and 2-7-1 in September. Cincinnati is 4-1 ATS against teams with losing records,  at home against teams with losing road records, and in September, 7-3 in Thursday games and on fieldturf, and 5-12 in conference games. Pitt is 6-1 ATS in the last 7 against Cincinnati. The home team is 4-1 ATS in the last 5 in this series.

This could be a rebuilding year for Pitt. The inexperienced defense struggled to stop Youngstown St and could struggle again Thursday against Cincinnati. I think the Bearcats win a close game against an embarrassed Pitt team.

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