If you're a Pittsburgh fan, then those numbers represent a full day of action for you tomorrow. The Penguins will start their game at 2 p.m. The basketball team tips off against Joe Lombardi, Reese Polen, and IUP at 4 p.m. Lastly, the battle for the top spot in the Big East kicks off at 7 when the Panthers take on the Cincy Bearcats.
Last week Cincinnati jumped over the Panthers to take the #19 ranking after barely getting by Louisville. I always find it funny that teams can be punished for having a bye week. It makes sense that it happens to Pitt though as we always are on the short end of the stick when it comes to rankings. It happened a few years ago when Florida lost and Pitt bball should have been ranked #1, but Benedict Howland and co. at UCLA took over the top spot. It happens all the time on recruiting websites when you see the bias kick in against the Big East (Hey Rivals, Lamar Patterson is much better than a 3 star and DeJuan should have been a 5 star). This time we see it after Pitt crushed Louisville and Cincy was rewarded for playing last week and barely getting by the Cards.
That shouldn't matter though. In fact, the perception might be better since you'll see the #19 team at home take on the #20 team instead of seeing the #20 team on the road play the #21 team.
The only numbers that matter right now are the stats that teams have compiled and what it means for me making my predictions.
Cincy comes in with only two losses this season, one to Oklahoma and the other to UConn. While some Pitt fans may feel differently, we are much more on the level of UConn than we are with Oklahoma. The way UConn won was by running it down the throat of Cincy. It also didn't help that Cincy had 6 turnovers, but running the ball did the trick. As much as I disagree with Wannstedt on several items, I do believe that a strong running game is the best philosophy to win the game. With this game having major bowl implications, it is time for our offensive star to shine.
Last year against WVU, Shady was huge in prime time and was one of the biggest reasons we were able to win the game. If we should expect to win tomorrow, we will need to have another Superman type performance from Shady. If Cincy is able to contain Shady the way Louisville was, then we might be in for a long day. We can get by the Louisville's of the world without a great performance from our running game, but against the better teams in the Big East, running the ball is essential.
I don't expect us to win the game through passing the ball and I don't think that Cincy expects us to pass either. I can only hope though that we do not go back into a conservative style of football. If we see a coaching performance by Wanny and Cavvy like we did against Bowling Green, we will not win this game.
On the defensive side of the ball, our front 7 should be able to stop the run without much of a problem. I don't see any reason why our defense should give up more than 150 total yards of rushing even if it is a worst case scenario. The problem we have to worry about is the passing attack.
All season long our secondary has been a major problem. We have seen Berry, Jovanni, Ricky Gary, and Eric Thatcher make major blunders that have really cost us. Elijah Fields and Dom Dicicco have been splitting time and I feel that the inconsistency of playing has not fostered their development well and they are behind where they should be at this point in the season.
The one good thing we can consider is that Cincy has had major quarterback problems this year. They've struggled to find someone to take control of the offense. Senior QB Dustin Grutza was the starter to begin the season, but was sidelined due to a broken leg. After some searching, Tony Pike took over the starting job. Last week against Louisville, Pike was injured late in the game and Grutza made his return. This is not good news for the Panthers as Grutza played well in his limited time. This also adds a question mark to the game over who will start and how we spend our time preparing for the game.
I see this game coming down to who can pass the ball more effectively. If Cincy can throw on us they way they want to, then we will most likely lose this game. If we are able to move the ball through the air well (especially on 3rd down), then we will win the game easily.
My greatest fear is that this game turns into a shootout because I don't know if our offense could compete with that. I would consider starting the game in a 4-2-5 set on defense so that Cincy gets the message that we are daring them to run on us. Containing the pass will be our greatest challenge, but I believe we can do that.
All of these factors mixed in with Cincy winning the Keg of Nails (WTF?) last week against UofL should set them up for an emotional let down. We have never lost to Cincy and I don't see it happening this year. We are far more talented and Cincy won't be able to pass on us the way Rutgers did.
My prediction: Pitt 27 - Cincy 24 (Shady with 140 and 2 tds).
Hold your breath folks, I think this one's going to be a close one.