Tennessee vs Pitt might be the most underrated matchup of the week.
Pitt put together one of the wildest wins of Week 1 in college football, hanging on to a seven-point win in the Backyard Brawl. They looked very poor for long stretches, but also looked tremendous in some areas. There’s a lot to learn about the post-Kenny Pickett Panthers.
In the meantime, Hendon Hooker led Tennessee to an easy cover over Ball State. The hopes are high for the Volunteers this season, who are now on a six-game winning streak dating back to last season.
But can the Vols win a huge non-conference road matchup in Pittsburgh?
Read on for our Tennessee Volunteers vs Pittsburgh Panthers odds, picks, and predictions.
Tennessee Volunteers vs Pittsburgh Panthers
Tennessee actually opened as just five-point favorites, but the Vols have quickly been bet up to seven-point favorites around the market. Although a couple of 6.5-point spreads remain around the market.
It’s tough to fade the Panthers as seven-point home underdogs, but it’s also tough to fade the market movement.
The total opened at 64 but took all the money and has moved above 65 across the market. At the time of writing, over 80% of the tickets and the handle are on the over.
Tennessee Volunteers vs Pittsburgh Panthers Prediction & Pick
I love Tennessee. I love that Hooker threw for 3000 yards with a 31:3 TD-to-INT ratio last season while rushing for over 600 yards. I love that Cedric Tillman returns after a 1000-yard season alongside two 800-yard rushers. I love that they finished last season in the top-20 in Offensive Success Rate. I love that they return seven defensive starters and nine of the top-12 tacklers.
I also love that they bowled over Ball State with little resistance.
However, I think this is too many points.
This Pittsburgh roster is stacked. The defensive line is immense, and their total Havoc numbers against West Virginia were sky-high – hence why they forced three fumbles, even though they recovered just one. They overwhelmed JT Daniels, as well, as the Georgia transfer finished with just 5.4 yards per attempt.
The only question entering the season for Pitt was at quarterback. How would Kedon Slovis slide in under center?
Slovis responded by completing 16 of 24 passes for a whopping 13.7 yards per attempt. He threw just one touchdown, but running back Rodey Hammond helped out with two scores while rushing for 129 yards at over seven yards per carry.
We’re catching a touchdown at home with one of the more stacked rosters in college football. I’ll take that.
It’s also worth mentioning that Pittsburgh is 3-0 all-time against Tennessee and that Tennessee is 1-4 SU in their last five true road openers.
Tennessee Volunteers vs Pittsburgh Panthers Key Matchups
Key Matchup No. 1: Pitt Front Seven vs Hendon Hooker
The defensive line is the strongest unit on the Pitt defense. First-team All-ACC Calijah Kancey leads five defensive linemen who combined for 26 sacks last season. They were top-five in Defensive Line Yards last year.
But the whole team struggled against West Virginia. The Mountaineers ran for 190 yards on just 33 carries, picking up 5.8 yards per attempt.
But perhaps that was because of the Pitt linebackers, which is a big question mark on the defense. West Virginia picked up 3.8 Open Field Yards per Rush, which would track with the WVU running backs overpowering the Pitt second-level defenders. But West Virginia also got stuffed at just a 13.3% rate, which is much below Pitt’s standards.
Now, Pitt has to face a dual-threat quarterback in Hooker, and Tennessee could RPO the Panthers to death if Pitt doesn’t adjust.
So, can the Pitt front seven bounce back? Or will Tennessee prove the Panther rush defense leaves a lot to be desired?