No. 16 South Florida Bulls (4-0 SU, 3-0 ATS) at Pittsburgh Panthers (2-2 SU, 1-3 ATS), Thursday September, 29th 2011. 8:00PM EST, College Football Week 5
Heinz Field Pittsburgh, PA
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper Predictem.com
Point Spread: USF -2/Pitt +2
Over/Under Total: OFF
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Big East action kicks off this Thursday night when the Pittsburgh Panthers welcome Skip Holtz’s no. 16 ranked South Florida Bulls to Heinz Field. The Panthers have dropped two straight games including a tough home loss to Notre Dame last week 15-12. However, they have the opportunity to regroup this Thursday night on the national stage when they host the first Big East Conference match-up of the 2011 season. Still, the Panthers opponent, by way of the visiting Bulls, just may be their toughest challenge so far this year.
South Florida may be one of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season through the first 4 weeks of the season. The Bulls opened the season by upsetting Notre Dame 23-20 and then the Bulls have just completely destroyed their last 3 out of conference opponents by a combined score of 159-48. The South Florida offense has improved greatly from their 2010 campaign and become a much more explosive unit so far this year.
South Florida QB B.J. Daniels currently leads the Big East with a 158.4 quarterback rating. Daniels was erratic and inconsistent over the past two seasons while completing just as many interceptions as touchdown passes. However, Daniels has been much better thus far this season completing 66% passing for 1,071 yards with 8 scores and 1 pick. Coach Skip Holtz has to be encouraged by the play and decision making that he has gotten from his junior quarterback. Of course Daniels is also a dual threat quarterback that currently ranks 2nd on the team in rushing with 201 yards.
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The Bulls have always maintained a solid rushing game over the past few season and they have been solid again in 2011 averaging 228 yards per game (20th in NCAA). Junior tailback Darrell Scott currently leads the team with 348 yards and is averaging a healthy 6.6 yards per carry. Scott has already posted 5 rushing touchdowns on the season and continues to contribute strongly to the Bulls rushing attack each week.
Still, the reason that the offense has been much improved falls back to the quarterback play of Daniels. This is the first season in quite some time that the South Florida passing attack has actually been as effective as the rushing attack. That deadly combination has resulted in a South Florida offense posting a nation’s 10th best 45 points per game so far this season. Therefore if Daniels continues to play well, the Bulls offense should continue to strive.
On the side of the field, the Panthers offense has struggled during their first 4 games. Pittsburgh QB Tino Sunseri has tossed 4 interceptions compared to just 4 touchdowns and has passed for 823 yards during those first 4 games. Sunseri is a guy that had a solid 2010 campaign and was expected to be even better this season. Sunseri’s slow start has been a little surprising, but there is still hope he can turn around his season.
Luckily, the Panthers have still found success rushing the football behind running back Ray Graham. Graham currently leads the Big East in rushing with 508 yards and 6 touchdowns. Graham has averaged 5.1 yards per carry this season and has proven he can carry the workload on offense. On a side note, the Panthers defense has struggled allowing 411 yards per game which ranks a miserable 97th in the country. Additionally, new coach Todd Graham is well-known for implementing spread offenses that successfully throw the football.
However due to the defensive concerns and additional troubles throwing the football, the Panthers have put more focus on running the football behind Ray Graham. When the Panthers run the ball well, it does two very important things. It takes pressure off of Sunseri and keeps the Pittsburgh defense off the field. Therefore, expect another heavy dosage of Ray Graham from the Pittsburgh offense this Thursday in attempt to neutralize the fast striking South Florida offense.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I know Pitt is at home in a rebound situation, but they have not impressed me the least bit. They hung with a bad Notre Dame team, but this South Florida team is much better on both sides of the football. Take USF -2.
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