After its best season in 40 years, Pitt finds itself in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since 2010. Pat Narduzzi’s squad will host geographic rival West Virginia to open the season on Thursday, with Neal Brown’s Mountaineers aiming to breakthrough after a second sub-.500 campaign in three years.
Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks and predictions for Thursday night’s matchup, which will be headlined by a pair of former teammates under the spotlight.
West Virginia vs. Pitt Odds
Pitt enters as a 7.5-point home favorite, with the over/under set at 51 points. The Panthers are -275 on the moneyline as they begin their ACC title defense. Oddsmakers believe in a Pitt team that seemed to finally find its identity under Pat Narduzzi last season, but are they overestimating a program that lost its Heisman finalist quarterback?
West Virginia vs. Pitt Prediction & Pick
I’m intrigued by the potential of this new JT Daniels/Graham Harrell West Virginia offense, but the Mountaineers might not be ready to make a meaningful leap from day one.
Pitt’s offense, even after taking a hit by losing Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison, is returning its entire backfield and will face a West Virginia defense that might go through some growing pains early this season. With a raucous Acrisure Stadium (bleh) crowd behind them, I’d take the Panthers to build on 2021’s momentum and cover the 7.5-point spread.
I’ll go over 51.5 points as well – yes, both offenses are still working in some new pieces, but WVU’s defense isn’t inspiring and Pitt allowed 26.4 points/game to teams not named UMass or New Hampshire last season.
This is a prove-it year for Neal Brown, who has an offensive background but has overseen some forgettable years after all of the program’s success under Dana Holgorsen. Was it Doege who held back the offense, or is Brown not the right man for the job? It’s tough to put too much faith in West Virginia until we know the answer to that question.
Prediction: Pitt covers (-7.5), over hits (o51.5)
West Virginia vs. Pitt Key Matchups
QB Kedon Slovis vs QB JT Daniels
It’ll be a matchup of two transfer quarterbacks who have plenty of familiarity with each other, as former USC starter Kedon Slovis makes his Pitt debut while Slovis’ former USC teammate and Georgia quarterback JT Daniels was named the starter for West Virginia.
Slovis won’t have star receiver Jordan Addison, who transferred to none other than USC in May, leaving a big hole in the passing game. The Panthers also lost offensive coordinator Mark Whipple after the offense broke out with Pickett under center last season. While Slovis is talented enough to take the reins of the offense, don’t be surprised if Pitt tries to utilize the running game often. The Panthers had three players with more than 100 carries on the ground last season, and all three are returning.
The Mountaineers similarly have an offense in transition as they try to replace Leddie Brown’s production on the ground. JT Daniels should absolutely be an upgrade over Doege – it’s always just been about staying healthy for Daniels – but does he have enough weapons in his arsenal to make this a dangerous passing offense all of a sudden?
Kedon Slovis Faces his Former OC
The most interesting storyline in this game, aside from Slovis and Daniels facing each other, is Slovis facing his former offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. Harrell spent three years at USC guiding Slovis, and he’s now working full-time with Daniels as West Virginia’s offensive coordinator. It’ll be worth watching whether he’s able to give the Mountaineers’ defense some meaningful pointers on how to defend Slovis.
Graham Harrell on Pitt QB Kedon Slovis: "I know Slovis pretty well. there’s not much I can tell you that you can’t see on tape… I’ve talked to our defensive side of the ball about Kedon"
Harrell coached both Slovis and #WVU QB JT Daniels at USC
— Wesley Shoemaker (@wesleyshoe) August 29, 2022
That just might be easier said than done – West Virginia still has a pretty young defense, including a secondary with a redshirt freshman and sophomore as projected starters. Pitt’s experienced run game and, at the very least, rock solid passing game should give the Panthers the decisive advantage at home.