Battle For the Big East
Cincinnati, OH - Dave Wannstedt is in his fourth season as Pittsburgh's coach, and he's yet to lead his alma mater to a bowl game.
That will certainly change this season - and with a fourth straight win over Cincinnati, his first postseason experience might be in the BCS.
First place in the Big East and the inside track toward the conference's BCS berth will be on the line in Cincinnati Saturday night when the 20th-ranked Panthers try to improve to 8-0 all-time against the No. 19 Bearcats.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Cincinnati –5 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 65% of bets for this game have been placed on Pittsburgh +5 (View College Football bet percentages).
Wannstedt's first three years in Pittsburgh didn't go exactly according to plan, as he compiled a 16-19 record that included a stretch of 12 losses in 16 games from Oct. 21, 2006-Nov. 24, 2007. Yet while the Panthers failed to qualify for a bowl game for the third consecutive year, a monumental upset in their season finale over archrival West Virginia - which would have sewn up a spot in the BCS championship game with a win - sent Wannstedt's program into 2008 facing heightened expectations.
After a season-opening home loss to Bowling Green, it looked like Pitt (7-2, 3-1) would fail to live up to that promise, but the Panthers have won seven of their past eight games. Their most recent victory was a 41-7 rout of Louisville on Nov. 8 that left them as one of three one-loss teams atop the Big East and made them bowl eligible for the first time since 2004.
"The momentum is definitely building," said tailback LeSean McCoy, who's tied for seventh in the nation with 16 touchdowns. "It speaks about the leadership of this team because we haven't had a bowl game in a while. I'm proud of our guys."
Brian Kelly is only in his second full season at Cincinnati, but he's already led the Bearcats (8-2, 4-1) to two bowl victories. His first game on the sidelines came in the 2007 International Bowl, and Cincinnati followed that up with a 10-3 record last season and a win in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
The Bearcats have won three straight games, including 28-20 at Louisville last Friday, to move a half-game ahead of Pitt and West Virginia in the conference. With a win over the Mountaineers already in the books and woeful Syracuse its lone remaining Big East game, beating Pitt would all but wrap up Cincinnati's first-ever BCS bid.
"The next game is the biggest game," cornerback Mike Mickens said. "Beating Pitt is the next task."
That task should be easier if quarterback Tony Pike can play. Pike wasn't the starter at the beginning of the season, but took over after an injury to Dustin Grutza, only to break his arm on Sept. 27 in a win over Akron.
Pike has started the last four games, throwing six touchdowns and three interceptions, though he suffered a bruised sternum at Louisville. Still, the banged-up Pike, the Big East's second-highest rated passer, is expected to start against Pitt.
If he can't go, Grutza is back after recovering from his broken leg. He relieved Pike in Louisville and led the Bearcats on a critical drive that increased the lead from one to eight.
"It was kind of a magical situation for those that have followed our (quarterbacks') trials and tribulations this year," Kelly said.
Cincinnati relies primarily on the pass - it's 91st in the nation in rushing (121.0 yards per game), but 21st through the air (253.9).
That's not the case with the Panthers, who will lean heavily on McCoy, even against a stout Cincinnati defense that allows just 112.0 yards on the ground. McCoy was held to a career-low 39 rushing yards against Louisville after running for at least 142 yards in his previous five games.
He had 137 yards in Pitt's 24-17 win over the Bearcats last season, part of a 260-yard rushing day for the Panthers. Backup LaRod Stephens-Howling had 100 yards on 13 carries.
Pitt has won all seven meetings with Cincinnati, including three games since the Bearcats joined the Big East. The Panthers are 4-0 on the road this season and have won three straight games against Top 25 opponents since their victory over then-No. 23 Cincinnati on Oct. 20, 2007.
Public Betting Trends:
All games in this series since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 3-0 against the spread versus CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 3-0 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
2 of 3 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 2-0 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 2-0 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
1 of 2 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
All games played at CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 1-0 against the spread versus CINCINNATI since 1992
PITTSBURGH is 1-0 straight up against CINCINNATI since 1992
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL since 1992
Games played at CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons.
PITTSBURGH is 1-0 against the spread versus CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
PITTSBURGH is 1-0 straight up against CINCINNATI over the last 3 seasons
1 of 1 games in this series have gone OVER THE TOTAL over the last 3 seasons
Key Player Injuries
No significant injuries.
No significant injuries.
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Posted: 11/18/08 1:47 AM ET