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ACC Spotlight – Miami at Louisville

Saturday College Football – Miami, FL at Louisville

After getting a taste of college football the past two weeks, things will heat up in conference play in the final two weeks of September. One of the biggest games of the weekend is a contest in the ACC between Miami and Louisville. Both teams had some positives in their first seasons under new coaches last year and the victor of this game could emerge as a sleeper in the ACC race.

Match-up: Miami, FL Hurricanes at Louisville Cardinals

Venue: At Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky ~30% Capacity Open ~18,000)

Time/TV: Saturday, September 19, 7:30 PM ET ABC

Line: Louisville -2½ Over/Under 64½

Last Meeting: November 2019 @Miami (-7) 52, Louisville 27

Miami and Louisville both are 1-0 with wins vs. Conference USA teams ahead of this ACC opener with the Hurricanes winning against UAB last Thursday and Louisville pulling away from Western Kentucky. Miami won convincingly in this series last season, which was the first meeting since 2014. These teams are both former Big East programs though their time in the league did not coincide.

Manny Diaz was born in Miami but attended Florida State, where he also started his coaching career. He has bounced around several schools in the past two decades before landing at Miami as Mark Richt’s defensive coordinator for three seasons starting in 2016. He accepted the Temple head coaching job following Miami’s 2018 season but after Richt retired he returned to the Hurricanes. His first season was an inconsistent journey to 6-7; delivering quality wins over Virginia, Pittsburgh, and in this matchup but also suffering losses to Georgia Tech, Florida International, and a shutout bowl loss to Louisiana Tech.

Diaz lured two high profile transfers to Miami this off-season with former Houston quarterback D’Eriq King and Temple DE Quincy Roche though the headlines were negative on that front this week as CB Christian Williams announced his departure out of Miami after last week’s win. Quarterback play was quite erratic for Miami last season and King was productive in the opener in the air and on the ground while Roche also made several impact plays for a defensive front that expects to be highly regarded in the ACC.

Miami led just 14-7 at halftime in the opener but pulled away with three touchdowns in the third quarter for a 31-14 win, posting a yardage edge of 495-285. Miami ran the ball effectively with 83 yards from King but also 134 on just 17 carries from Cam’Ron Harris with Miami compiling 337 rushing yards against one of the better Conference USA defenses. The Miami defense also played well against the run after a few sloppy plays early in the game, holding UAB to 3.1 yards per rush. There were some holes in the pass defense however and UAB likely would have had better numbers if not for an injury to their veteran quarterback.  

Playing on Thursday offers Miami a longer turnaround ahead of the ACC opener as Louisville’s opening win came last Saturday night. Hosting Western Kentucky as a nearly two-touchdown favorite, the Cardinals lost an early fumble and were down 7-0 not even three minutes into the game. Four unanswered touchdowns on mostly long drives put Louisville up 28-7 by halftime and the production edges were more substantial than the 35-21 final score with Louisville not adding points in the final 23 minutes of the game while comfortably ahead.

Scott Satterfield went 51-24 at Appalachian State leading the team in a successful move up to the FBS level while claiming three Sun Belt titles. He wasn’t the first choice with the opening at Louisville, but he turned in a solid season of improvement going 8-5 last season with a Music City Bowl win. Louisville finished second behind Clemson in the ACC Atlantic, though a 45-10 home loss to the Tigers painted a significant gap in the standings.

Micale Cunningham had an efficient season in 2019 with only five interceptions and over 2,000 yards passing as the Louisville quarterback. He did throw an interception in the opener but also had a career high of 343 passing yards as Western Kentucky’s defense is effective stopping the run. Satterfield’s offenses usually are run-heavy but being held to 3.8 yards per rush, Louisville took some shots downfield in the opener and hit a few big plays.

Louisville also had a good defensive showing after an inconsistent campaign in 2019. Louisville was among the worst run defenses in the nation last season allowing 5.6 yards per carry and eight times last season the Cardinals allowed 34 or more points. All five Louisville losses came by double-digits last season and the Cardinals didn’t deliver many quality wins with the best results at Wake Forest, home vs. Virginia, and in bowl action vs. Mississippi State.

The result Saturday will likely boil down to who performs better among the two star quarterbacks with both King and Cunningham deserving mention as Heisman candidates. King opened as low as 30/1 while Cunningham was around 100/1 this spring. King is now down to 9/1 at some outlets while Cunningham’s price has hit as low as 20/1. Both teams have a shot to produce a strong enough record to keep either in the conversation with a possible edge to Cunningham as Louisville doesn’t have to play Clemson in this season’s ACC free-for-all race.

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING:

Louisville is 5-2 S/U and ATS at home under Satterfield though the program is 23-38 ATS as a home favorite since 2007, only fitting that role three times last season coming off a 2-win 2018 campaign. Miami is just 9-14 ATS as an underdog since 2013 though going 3-0 ATS with two S/U wins last season under Diaz. Miami is 10-3-1 S/U all-time in this series since 1933 but just 1-6 ATS in this series with spread data back to 1984. Louisville had won and covered in three straight meetings before last season’s 52-27 win for Miami.

LAST SEASON:

Louisville played Clemson and Virginia in back-to-back weeks in late October, splitting those games before a bye week and the road trip to Miami. That situation seemed to favor the rested Cardinals as Miami was riding back-to-back road wins including defeating rival Florida State the previous week. Both teams had long scoring drives early in the game but Miami kept its offense going with a 35-14 lead by halftime. The final yardage favored Louisville 496-449 but the Cardinals lost three turnovers. Miami QB Jarren Williams threw six touchdowns while Miami rushed for 6.2 yards per carry in a convincing result. After scoring 52 vs. Louisville in what was the home finale, the Hurricanes would score only 41 points in the next three games combined, all losses to lesser teams than the Cardinals.

UP NEXT:

Miami has Florida State at home next Saturday in another Saturday night ABC game. Louisville’s next three games are spaced out over four weeks but will all be road games, at Pittsburgh, at Georgia Tech, and then at Notre Dame.

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Free NCAA Pick Wednesday

#841 Miami, FL +4.5 over Virginia Tech 8:00 PM CT

It has not been a strong season for the ACC and Jim Larranaga is on his way to another disappointing season at Miami. The Hurricanes have as many conference wins as last season already however and have played its best in the past week with consecutive wins. Miami does have an ACC road win and has had to play mostly heavyweights on the road taking losses at Louisville, Duke, and Florida State in ACC road games. Miami won by 10 hosting Virginia Tech with a big edge in rebounding and interior scoring and those advantages should again show up with a massive frontcourt size edge for the Hurricanes. A transition season for Virginia Tech was expected but the team picked up a big November win for Mike Young beating Michigan State. A respectable 5-3 start in ACC play followed but the Hokies have now lost five of the past six while losing four times at home in ACC play. Virginia Tech beat Pittsburgh last weekend to snap a five-game slide but offensive rebounding was a clear problem with the Hokies the worst in the conference on the offensive glass. Virginia Tech takes care of the ball but is a lousy 3-point shooting team despite being more reliant on shots beyond the arc than any team in the ACC. Virginia Tech has also struggled despite opposing teams shooting only 66 percent at the free throw line against them. Miami has played the most difficult ACC schedule at this point in the season and is only one win short of the Hokies who have had one of the lightest conference paths. Another win for the Hurricanes won’t be a surprise in this series.

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Nelly’s Free Saturday Pick

#786 Syracuse +7 over Duke 7:00 PM CT

The past five meetings with Duke for Syracuse have featured a win and three single-digit losses as the Orange have played the Blue Devils tough in recent years. Syracuse is coming off a one-point road loss on Tuesday at Clemson but will have an opportunity to bounce back in a big way on Saturday in this marquee home game. Syracuse has lost four home games this season but the past two defeats came by a combined total of five points. This team has great offensive efficiency numbers despite the low-scoring pace and has a clear size edge defensively in the starting fives, particularly with Wendell Moore injured. Duke also lost its last road game at Clemson and the only ACC road wins were at Virginia Tech, at Miami, and at Georgia Tech as this will be the toughest ACC road game the young Blue Devils have faced. Duke’s ACC path grades as the 15th toughest slate out of 15 teams at this point in the season yet statistically Syracuse in a 6-4 ACC start has compared favorably with Duke. Syracuse is a top 5 ACC team on offense and defense in the ACC and has a 13 percent edge in free throw shooting while featuring a lower turnover rate. Duke could continue to climb up the ladder as a top ACC and national threat but the Blue Devils haven’t proven much in conference play so far and could be overpriced as a popular road favorite in the prime time slot.

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Friday Night ACC Football

Pittsburgh vs. Virginia

Contribution from Brooks Brazeau of Point Train

 

Friday Night in Charlottesville, Virginia will be electric as the Cavaliers welcome the Panthers of Pittsburgh to town in a battle for division supremacy.

Virginia finds themselves in a way better position right now than most of the fanbase thought they would be to begin the year as the “Hoos” find themselves with a record of 6-2 overall and atop the ACC Coastal. The 25th ranked Cavaliers have had lots of success this season, stemming from the terrific play of junior quarterback Bryce Perkins. Earlier this season the former junior college transfer became the second player in Virginia football history to throw for more than 200 yards and rush for more than 100 in the same game. On the season, Perkins has thrown for 1.623 yards with a touchdown to interception ratio of 15:8. Perkins has also rushed for over 500 yards as well as six touchdowns. Perkins dual-threat ability will be on full display Friday night and could cause some major issues for the Panthers defense.

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The Panthers head down Charlottesville looking to bring back with them a share of the ACC Coastal division lead. Pittsburgh is trending upwards. Last weekend against Duke, the Panthers registered their best offensive game of the season racking up 634 yards, 484 of which were on the ground. This plays very well for the Panthers as Virginia’s rush defense is not the best, giving up an average of 113 yards on the ground per game.

The major storyline is this one is the play on the defensive side of the ball for both teams. As well as the Pitt offense played last week, the defense played horribly against a bad Duke team allowing 45 points on 619 yards. Will be tough for the Panthers to stop the elusive Bryce Perkins as he can run and throw the ball over the field. On the flip side, it will be almost equally as tough for the Cavaliers to stop the Pitt rushing attack as the Hoos defense against the run is far from the best.

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Thursday NCAA – UNC vs. Miami

Thursday Night College Football – North Carolina at Miami

This week’s Thursday night ESPN game comes from the ACC in a matchup many figured would be a key game in the ACC Coastal standings. Neither team has the record they hoped for heading into the final week of September but both teams remain without a loss in conference play, with the winner of this game remaining a threat in the quest to reach the ACC Championship.

Match-up: North Carolina Tar Heels at Miami Hurricanes

Venue: At Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida

Time/TV: Thursday, Sep. 27, 8:00 PM ET ESPN

Line: Miami -18, Over/Under 55

Last Meeting: 2017, Miami (-21) 24, at North Carolina 19

After winning 10 games in a row to start last season and reaching #2 in the polls, the Hurricanes closed last season with three straight defeats and Mark Richt’s squad lost in the 2018 opener despite being considered a top 10 caliber team in the opening polls. The Hurricanes weren’t overly competitive in that 33-17 defeat against LSU in Arlington but have since rallied to reach 3-1 ahead of this week’s ACC opener.

The big storyline is the quarterback decision Richt faces this week. Senior Malik Rosier led the team to great success last season with a 3,000-yard passing season while also rushing for nearly 500 yards. He had 26 touchdowns last season but also 14 interceptions and completed only 54 percent of his passes. Rosier had two interceptions in the opening loss to LSU but had played well the previous two games with wins over FCS Savannah State and Toledo. Last week Rosier was benched after Miami failed to score on the first two possessions hosting Florida International, even though he attempted only three passes.

Taking over was freshman N’Kosi Perry, a taller and quicker Ocala product that played well in mop-up action against Savannah State. Perry was sharp with 68 percent completions in relief against FIU, leading an eventual 31-17 win in a game Miami controlled with a 31-0 edge before allowing late scoring. Perry does have two interceptions in his 39 pass attempts but also six touchdown passes with a much higher completion rate than Rosier has featured. He didn’t take meaningful snaps in either of Miami’s road games however and it will be a quick turnaround with the Thursday game and less practice time with the first team if Perry is indeed starting against North Carolina as most expect.

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Travis Homer and DeeJay Dallas have provided a strong rushing presence for the Hurricanes as although each has just one rushing touchdown, they have combined for 500 yards with productive averages. Jeff Thomas has been the big play threat in the passing game with a whopping 315 receiving yards on only 12 catches as Miami’s offense can remain capable with either quarterback.

Miami became a national phenomenon last season with the turnover chain and this season the Hurricanes have been formidable on pass defense with four interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to just a 49 percent completion rate. Miami has been among the elite rush defenses in the nation with just 2.1 yards per rush allowed in four games with run defense a consistent area of strength since Richt took over. Miami has an even turnover margin on the season and the only defensive touchdown of the season came on a blocked punt and it was also in the fourth quarter of a FCS game that was 56-0 at the time.

North Carolina was in the summer headlines for the wrong reasons with a shoe selling scandal with 13 players ultimately suspended for various lengths staggered over the start of the season. Last season’s passing leader sophomore Chazz Surratt was among those with a four-game suspension, effectively handing the quarterback competition win to junior Nathan Elliott after they split time last season.

The suspension for Surratt is now over even through just three games as the cancelled game with UCF did count. Elliott has been named the starter this week coming off a fine performance in a win over Pittsburgh last weekend. He threw for 313 yards with no interceptions and two touchdowns leading North Carolina’s first win 38-35. That performance was needed after a four interception season debut at California while also struggling in the loss to East Carolina.

The 0-2 start was a surprise for a Tar Heels team that many expected to compete in the Coastal race. The Tar Heels were a disappointment at 3-9 last season but the team played well in the season’s final month and now with the roster more completely intact this is a team that is a threat to make noise in the division race. North Carolina has leaned on Antonio Williams in the ground game with 6.6 yards per carry, so far unseating Jordon Brown who was the team’s top rusher last season.

Run defense has been an area of concern with 4.8 yards per carry surrendered but the Tar Heels have been fairly tough on opposing quarterbacks with four interceptions for the defense along with only three passing touchdowns allowed. After being -4 in turnovers in the opener the Tar Heels are even since but the defense has allowed over 900 yards in the past two games after holding California to fewer than 300 yards in the opener.

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These teams were on opposite ends of the standings in a late October game in Chapel Hill last season with Miami ranked #8 nationally and undefeated playing as a road favorite vs. a then 1-7 North Carolina team that was 0-5 in ACC play. The Tar Heels competed well with a 7-6 game at the half before Miami went for 78 yards on its first offensive snap in the third quarter. North Carolina still only trailed by four heading into the fourth quarter and had the ball back down five in the final minutes before losing a fumble in Miami territory. The production numbers were similar with North Carolina actually featuring a slight yardage edge but also four turnovers.

This spread suggests the gap between these programs has closed a bit since last season and this is potentially a dangerous date on the schedule for Miami with the Florida State game up next weekend. All eyes will be on Perry in his most significant test with Richt putting himself open to criticism as Rosier has won a lot of games for the Hurricanes. Perry might provide the best hope for an ACC title shot however with this game a big step in the season goals for both teams.

Historical Trends: North Carolina has covered in nine of the last 14 meetings including in each of the past three seasons, winning S/U in 2015 and 2016 before a five-point loss last season. Miami is just 3-8 ATS as a favorite in this series since 2004 but most of the failures in this series have been in Chapel Hill where Miami has covered once in seven tries. Since 2002 Miami is just 31-48 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points including going 22-36 ATS in Miami and going 3-6 ATS since the start of last season in that role. North Carolina is 13-8-1 ATS in road games since 2014 while going 10-8 ATS as a double-digit underdog since 2007. Only twice since 2007 has North Carolina been an underdog of 17 or more points and both instances came in the span of week last season with contrasting results with a 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech and the five-point loss hosting Miami.

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Free NCAA Pick Monday

#704 Notre Dame -4.5 over Miami, FL 6:00 PM CT

Miami appears to be a NCAA Tournament team right now but the Hurricanes have dropped three in a row to put that prospect in question, heading into a critical road game. Miami is 18-8 overall and 7-7 in ACC play but the profile isn’t obviously stronger than Notre Dame’s despite the Irish clearly being on the outside of the March Madness picture right now. While Notre Dame has three top 100 wins outside of ACC play Miami has just one and that is a win vs. mid-major Middle Tennessee State.

Miami has seven ACC wins compared to six for Notre Dame but two of those wins came against lowly Pittsburgh, a team Notre Dame is yet to play. Injuries were a big factor in Notre Dame losing seven games in a row in the middle of the ACC season but Matt Farrell missed four of those losses while the Irish also had to adjust to losing Bonzie Colson and D.J. Harvey to injury. Notre Dame has won the past two home games and is 4-3 at home in ACC play. The losses came by one against North Carolina, in double-OT vs. Louisville and by five against Virginia Tech, all respectable defeats against teams that rate stronger than Miami and Farrell missed two of those games. Notre Dame should be favored in the next three games as the Irish has a chance to make a late case for the tournament and they will have a crack at a major upset in the finale playing at Virginia ahead of the ACC Tournament as this team hasn’t given up hope yet.

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Miami has played one of the weaker ACC schedule and is the much lesser offensive team in this matchup while the defensive numbers are closer than one would expect. Miami is one of the worst 3-point shooting and free throw shooting teams in the ACC as they won’t be in position to take advantage of the defensive liabilities for the Irish. Every Miami loss has been a game decided by 10 or fewer points as the Hurricanes are often an appealing underdog but Notre Dame is in position to peak late in the season and this is a favorable opportunity for a team with a much higher ceiling than the season numbers suggest.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#552 NC State +4 over North Carolina 1:00 PM CT

North Carolina won the huge showdown with Duke just two days ago in an exciting finish with an 82-78 result at home. The defending national champions are only 7-5 in AC play and they have lost four of five ACC road games with the only win coming by one point against a depleted Notre Dame team in mid-January. The road schedule has been difficult but this will be a much bigger game for the Wolfpack in Raleigh.

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NC State won in Chapel Hill just two weeks ago and the Wolfapck are 13-2 S/U at home this season as Kevin Keatts has delivered an impressive first year with the team coming over from UNC-Wilmington, even after losing a NBA lottery pick from last year’s team. The Wolfpack have held their own in ACC play despite drawing one of the most difficult conference slates so far and with home wins over Duke and Clemson this has been a very tough place to play.

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Free NCAA Pick Saturday

#573 Virginia Tech +4.5 over Louisville 3:00 PM CT

Louisville has four losses in a transition season with David Padgett now leading the program after a difficult offseason. All four losses came against high quality teams with three of four defeats on the road. The Cardinals are 2-1 in ACC play but Wednesday’s four-point win over Florida State is the only victory of any substance on the season as every other win has come outside the nation’s top 90.

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Louisville is a very marginal outside shooting team and rebounding is a concern as despite elite height the Cardinals have marginal rebounding figures playing with a rather thin roster. Virginia Tech has rallied for back-to-back wins to reach 2-2 in ACC play with a critical stretch in the season the next two weeks. The Hokies have a week off after this game as this is a critical spot on the schedule to keep the momentum going for Buzz Williams.

This is one of the nation’s best 3-point shooting teams and the effective field goal rate for the Hokies is the second best in the nation at 60 percent. This year’s team has also appeared dramatically improved on defense compared with last season and in a likely up-tempo game the better shooting team should have more opportunities to prevail. Louisville won 94-90 last season at home in this matchup and the Hokies have three top 100 caliber wins away from home already this season while only losing once this season when topping 72 points.

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Thursday NCAA – UNC vs. Pitt

Thursday Night College Football – North Carolina at Pittsburgh

While Thursday’s ACC matchup isn’t going to make a dent on the national scene or even the ACC standings, North Carolina and Pittsburgh have played four consecutive tight games as ACC foes including one of the better games of the season last year. Two teams in disappointing seasons look for a big late season win in Thursday’s national TV game to start the college football weekend.

Match-up: North Carolina Tar Heels at Pittsburgh Panthers

Venue: At Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Time/TV: Thursday, Nov. 9, 7:30 PM ET ESPN

Line: Pittsburgh -9, Over/Under 52½

Last Meeting: 2016, at North Carolina (-7) 37, Pittsburgh 36

Since Pittsburgh joined the ACC in 2013 the matchup with North Carolina has been an entertaining series with four single-score results and an average of more than 63 points scored per game. The past two seasons this Coastal matchup has carried some weight with both teams in the division race as these teams combined to go 24-9 in ACC games in 2015 and 2016, with North Carolina appearing in the ACC championship in the 2015 season. North Carolina sits at 0-6 in ACC play this season while Pittsburgh is just 2-3 as it has been step-back season for both programs.

A North Carolina program that was routinely stocked with NFL talent but seemed to plateau at 7 or 8 wins in the best years in the 2000s finally had a breakthrough season in 2015, going 11-1 in the regular season and giving Clemson a great game in the ACC championship. The Tar Heels fell back to a modestly successful 8-5 campaign last season and in Larry Fedora’s sixth season in Chapel Hill very little has gone right.

The Tar Heels had to replace the #2 pick in the NFL draft at quarterback and it has been a challenge to replace Mitch Trubisky. Former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris was expected to lead the team but after early season struggles, freshman Chazz Surratt has been the team’s main quarterback. Sophomore Nathan Elliott took the bulk of the snaps two weeks ago in the narrow homecoming loss to Miami after Surratt was injured however as it isn’t clear what will happen under center this week.

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The Tar Heels were a great rushing team two years ago posting 6.0 yards per rush and still a decent ground team last season. This year’s team has gained just 3.8 yards per carry as the poor quarterback play has deteriorated the potential of the entire offense. Sophomore Jordon Brown leads the team in carries and yards but freshman Michael Carter has been a big play threat with seven touchdowns on 6.0 yards per carry.

Ryan Switzer had 96 catches for the Tar Heels last season as Trubisky’s favorite target but this year’s team lacks a receiver with more than 20 catches. Brown has 24 catches out of the backfield but the young receiving corps has struggled with the lack of consistency at quarterback and the unit has been beset with several injuries including losing four scholarship receivers to season-ending injuries.

North Carolina is surrendering 33.4 points per game on 447 yards per game ranking 104th nationally in scoring defense and 111th in total defense. The Tar Heels have surrendered 205 yards per game rushing this season on 4.6 yards per carry. The secondary has lost two starters to injury as well as it has been a tough-luck season for the North Carolina roster.

North Carolina has also taken on one of the nation’s most difficult schedules playing non-conference games with California and Notre Dame to add to the 1-8 record on the season. From the Atlantic the Tar Heels played Louisville in September and will face NC State in the season finale for a difficult crossover pull.

While North Carolina doesn’t have a bowl game to play for the Tar Heels have an opportunity on a national stage this week and certainly this is a team that can perform at a higher level than the 1-8 record indicates. Five losses have been decided by 12 or fewer points and the 24-19 late October loss to undefeated Miami shows the potential of this group. Despite playing most of the game with an inexperienced third-string quarterback, North Carolina out-gained Miami 428-415 and might have won if not for four turnovers.

Pittsburgh started the season needing overtime to defeat FCS Youngstown State and most of the first half of the season was a struggle with the Panthers going 2-5 in the first seven games. Pittsburgh played Penn State and Oklahoma State in non-conference action for a very difficult start to the season but with wins in the final two games of October the Panthers are 4-5 and still have bowl aspirations.

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This looks like a must-win game in the postseason goal as the Panthers will close the regular season with games against the top two ACC Coastal squads, at Virginia Tech next week and closing the season lurking as a potential spoiler hosting undefeated Miami.

The Panthers also had to replace a NFL quarterback with Nathan Peterman drafted by the Bills in the fifth round. Peterman actually led the ACC in quarterback rating last season ahead of Trubiksy and Deshaun Watson and he was a key to the success the Panthers have had in Pat Narduzzi’s first two seasons at Pittsburgh with matching 8-5 campaigns and winning ACC seasons.

Pittsburgh thought they had a quick-fix replacement at quarterback with USC transfer Max Browne. Once the most sought after high school quarterback in the nation, Browne struggled as the USC starter early last season facing great expectations. With Sam Darnold clearly establishing himself he looked for another opportunity and wound up at Pittsburgh. His senior season hasn’t worked out as planned who began to split time with sophomore Ben DiNucci after the 1-2 start to the season and then Browne suffered a season ending injury in early October.

DiNucci’s numbers haven’t been stronger than Browne’s even through a lighter schedule but the Panthers are playing better ball in recent weeks. Pittsburgh also lost top running back James Conner to the NFL and the rushing attack took awhile to develop this season. Moving junior Darrin Hall into a more prominent role has paid dividends as he rushed for 365 yards in the wins over Duke and Virginia with four touchdowns.

Pittsburgh’s defensive numbers are only slightly better than the numbers for North Carolina though allowing 92 points in the losses to Penn State and Oklahoma State skew the numbers a bit. In ACC play Pittsburgh has allowed 25.6 points per game compared to 35.0 points per game allowed by North Carolina. Pittsburgh’s run defense was a strength last season allowing only 3.6 yards per rush despite deficiencies against the pass but this year the Panthers have shown improvement against the pass but are allowing 4.5 yards per rush.

Both teams entered this season appearing to head towards rebuilding seasons and certainly Pittsburgh has had a better run towards that aim heading into the final three weeks. A win this week and an upset in one of the final two games can get the Panthers into a bowl game for a 10th consecutive season. For North Carolina this is an opportunity to avoid a winless ACC season with a tough finale at NC State as the only other opportunity. For two teams caught in the middle of the ACC pecking order in now a wide swath of recruiting territory in a 14-team conference, any positive national TV exposure can help the cause.

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Last Season: These teams met in late September in Chapel Hill for an early ACC opener. Both teams were 2-1 with North Carolina losing to Georgia but Beating Illinois and James Madison. Pittsburgh had a marquee win over Penn State but had lost in a shootout with Oklahoma State the previous week. A game that ended with 73 points actually started with a safety and a 50-yard field goal as Pittsburgh led 5-0 at the end of the first quarter. Early in the second half Pittsburgh still had a slight advantage with a 26-16 lead and the Panthers appeared on their way to victory after a fourth quarter field goal made the score 36-23 and the Pittsburgh defense forced a 3-and-out. Pittsburgh had to punt back to the Tar Heels halfway through the final frame and a marginal punt with a strong return shifted momentum back to the Tar Heels. Trubisky converted a big 4th down play with about six minutes remaining and eventually put the Tar Heels in the end zone to close to within six. Conner and Peterman weren’t able to pick up a first down and Trubisky led one of the drives of the season needing 17 plays and three 4th down conversions to eventually score with two seconds remaining for a one-point win.

Historical Trends: North Carolina has won all four meetings as ACC Coastal foes with last season’s one-point win the only missed cover. Since 1982 North Carolina is 6-2 S/U and ATS in this series though Pittsburgh won the only postseason meeting with a 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl win. North Carolina is 11-7 S/U and ATS in road games since 2014 and riding a 15-11-1 ATS run when dogged by 7 or more points going back to 2006. Pittsburgh is just 5-14-2 ATS as a home favorite since 2013, though splitting the two instances this season. Since 2013 Pittsburgh is also just 4-11-1 ATS as a favorite of 7 or more points though losing S/U just twice in that span.

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Free NCAA Pick #2 Saturday

#348 Virginia +7.5 over Georgia Tech 2:00 PM CT

A promising 5-1 start for Virginia has turned south with back-to-back losses. With a difficult remaining schedule for the Cavaliers they will need an upset to make a bowl game. This is a pass vs. run matchup as Kurt Benkert has 17 touchdowns in the air while Georgia Tech remains an elite rushing team despite last week’s setback.

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Still without an ATS loss this could be a dangerous spot for the Yellow Jackets with a third road game in four weeks playing in a rare road favorite role. The Yellow Jackets had just 321 yards against Virginia last season but managed to win 31-17 in Atlanta with turnover help in a game the Cavaliers had a 25-8 1st down edge.

The home team has won six of the last seven meetings, going 6-0-1 ATS. Virginia’s run defense has been respectable allowing just 4.3 yards per rush and only once this season have the Cavaliers been out-rushed by more than 80 yards. The Georgia Tech offensive line has battled recent injuries and Virginia’s defense has stronger numbers on a per play basis.

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In the four toughest games Georgia Tech has faced they have allowed an average of 29 points per game and in a matchup where both teams have been very good on both sides of the ball in 3rd down conversions the passing team should have more success converting the long down and distance plays that could be likely in this game. Virginia is 11-4 ATS in the last 15 games as a home underdog while Georgia Tech is just 4-7-2 ATS as a road favorite since 2010, not covering as a double-digit ACC road favorite since 2009.