Edwards likes Pitt ‘over’ 8.5 wins

Pat Narduzzi's Pitt Panthers return 15 of 22 starters from a team that won the ACC and finished 11-3 SU and 10-4 ATS.

Although the Pittsburgh Panthers lost their two best players in first-round pick Kenny Pickett and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, it says here that they are poised for another big season in 2022.

Pat Narduzzi’s team finished 11-3 straight up and 10-4 against the spread in 2021, winning the ACC title to hook their backers up with a payout in the 60/1 neighborhood. Pitt won nine games by double-digit margins, including a 45-21 win over Wake Forest in the ACC Championship Game.

The Panthers lost two games by seven combined points. The only other loss was against Michigan St. in the Peach Bowl. Pickett sat out to stay healthy for the NFL Draft, but Pitt still took a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter. The Spartans rallied to take the lead and then got a long pick-six when the Panthers were in field-goal range and on the fringe of the red zone trailing by only three.

Narduzzi’s bunch went 5-0 both SU and ATS as a road favorite, including a 41-34 win at Tennessee. Pitt finished the season +1,862 in net yardage and +8 in turnover margin.

Phil Steele’s National Unit Rankings have the Panthers at No. 19 at the QB position, No. 42 at RB, No. 55 at WR, No. 17 on the offensive line, No. 2 on the defensive line, No. 49 at LB, No. 24 in the secondary and No. 47 on special teams.

Pickett’s replacement will be Southern Cal transfer Kedon Slovis, who started 26 games across three seasons with the Trojans. The fourth-year junior had his best year as a true freshman in 2019, when he completed 71.9 percent of his passes for 3,502 yards with a 30/9 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

During the abbreviated 2020 campaign for Pac-12 schools, Slovis connected on 67.0 percent of his throws in six games. He threw for 1,921 yards and 17 TD passes compared to seven interceptions.

Slovis’s career numbers look like this: 68.4 completion percentage, 7,576 passing yards and a 58/24 TD-INT ratio.

He’ll work behind a veteran offensive line that’s probably the ACC’s best. Slovis has three experienced RBs returning, including Israel Abanikanda, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry and had seven rushing TDs in 2021. The trio of Abanikanda, Vincent Davis and Rodney Hammond combined to run for 1,748 yards and 16 TDs last year.

The loss of Addison and his 100 receptions for 1,593 yards and 17 TDs is obviously a huge blow. The Panthers are hoping that Akron transfer WR Konata Mumpfield can replace a lot of Addison’s production. As a true freshman for the Zips last season, Mumpfield hauled in 63 catches for 751 yards and eight TDs.

Pitt also has fourth-year junior WR Jared Wayne, who had 47 grabs for 658 yards and six TDs in 2021. Gavin Bartholomew started eight games as a true freshman tight end last year, catching 28 balls for 326 yards and four TDs.

Don’t expect Pitt to duplicate its 41.4 points-per-game average from 2021, but I don’t see this offense — that has eight returning starters — struggling to score points.

Narduzzi’s defense brings back three players that garnered first-team All-ACC honors last year, in addition to defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado, who was a second-team All-ACC selection. Baldonado had 42 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, nine sacks, nine QB hurries, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

LB SirVocea Dennis, safety Brandon Hill and DT Calijah Kancey were the first-team All-ACC picks. Dennis recorded a team-best 87 tackles to go with 10 TFL’s, four sacks, four QB hurries, a 50-yard pick-six and one fumble recovery. Hill produced 81 tackles, six passes broken up, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble. Kancey contributed 35 tackles, 13 TFL’s, seven sacks, two QB hurries, one PBU and one forced fumble.

Pitt has seven starters back from a ‘D’ that allowed an average of 23.6 PPG. The four aforementioned defenders are preseason first-team All-ACC picks in Steele’s magazine, while DE Deslin Alexandre and safety Erick Hallett are preseason fourth-team All-ACC selections.

Alexandre has started 26 times in 38 career appearances across four seasons, recording 102 career tackles, 23 TFL’s, 11 sacks, 11 QB hurries, five PBU, two fumble recoveries and one interception. Hallett had 72 tackles, nine PBU, three interceptions, 2.5 TFL’s, two forced fumbles and one pick-six last season.

As for special teams, kicker Sam Scarton earned third-team All-ACC honors as a freshman in 2021. Scarton buried 17-of-21 field-goal attempts, although he did miss three of his 72 PATs. The Panthers are breaking in a new punter and hoping that Aussie freshman Sam Vander Haar, who was in for spring practice, will be up to the task.

FanDuel has Pitt’s season win total at 7.5 shaded heavily to the ‘over’ at a -170 price. Bettors wanting the ‘under’ can earn a +145 payout. DraftKings has the Panthers’ number at 8.5 flat (-110 either way).

Looking at Pitt’s schedule at first glance, I marked it for seven wins with five swing games. Those swing games are at home vs. Tennessee in Week 2, at Louisville on Oct. 22 (when both teams are coming off an open date), at North Carolina on Oct. 29 (when UNC has two weeks to prepare), at Virginia on Nov. 12 and at Miami in the regular-season finale on Nov. 26.

We’ll circle back to the swing games, but let’s mention the seven victories we’ve already chalked up for the Panthers. They’re 6.5 or seven-point home favorites in the opener vs. West Viginia on a Thursday night (9/1). WVU is off a 6-7 season both SU and ATS, and it brings back only 11 starters (seven on offense and four on ‘D’).

The Mountaineers lost their starting QB (Jarret Doege), although Georgia transfer JT Daniels might be an upgrade. They also lost their best RB (Leddie Brown), their top WR (Winston Wright) and their top-five leading tacklers. WVU won’t be a layup for the Panthers, but they’ll prevail at home.

Pitt will be in revenge mode at Western Michigan in Week 3. Therefore, I don’t expect Narduzzi’s squad to have any sort of letdown regardless of the result of its home game against Tennessee. Then the Panthers get three consecutive home games — vs. Rhode Island, Ga. Tech and Va. Tech. Unless the rebuilding Hokies are a surprise team in September, I think Pitt will be a double-digit ‘chalk’ in all three of those contests.

On Nov. 5 and Nov. 19, I expect Pitt to take care of business at home vs. Syracuse and Duke, respectively.

As for the Week 2 game at home against the Volunteers, UT is a four-point road favorite in FanDuel’s Games of the Year. Josh Heupel’s team has lost four of its last five true road openers and are 0-3 in the all-time series against the Panthers. This is a true coin-flip game to me.

Even if Pitt goes down to UT, it should roll into Louisville off an open date with a 5-1 record. In back-to-back road games at U of L and at UNC, I’ll call for a split to leave the Panthers at 6-2. They’ve won five of the last six head-to-head meetings against UVA, which lost its entire offensive line and is going to be awful on defense. With Pitt’s d-line constantly pressuring UVA’s dynamic QB Brennan Armstrong, I like the Panthers to win in Charlottesville.

Therefore, I think Pitt goes to Miami with a 9-2 record to face the Hurricanes with the ACC Coastal Division on the line. At that point, we’ll already be a winner with our ‘over’ 8.5 wins wager for TWO UNITS.

**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**

–Indeed, I’d rather lay a -110 price (for ‘over’ 8.5 wins via DraftKings) compared to a -170 price (7.5 wins at FanDuel) despite needing to win an extra game. If you prefer the 7.5 wins, I get it but I’d only try to win one unit rather than risking nearly 3.4 units to win two.

–Might Pitt go 0-2 in the back-to-back road assignments at U of L and at UNC instead of splitting? Of course, that might happen. But even if it does, I’m certainly not ruling out potential victories vs. Tennessee and/or at Miami. It helps to go to South Florida in late November. Could it still be really hot if it’s a day game? Yes, so I hope it’s under the lights but even if it’s a noon Eastern kick, it won’t be completely unbearable heat like in September, October and early November.

–As always with any ‘over’ bet on a season win total (like my loser on Boston College last season due to Phil Jurkovec’s injury), the fear is a key injury (or several) and you certainly don’t want it to be at the QB position. If Slovis goes down, the backup is Nick Patti. In three seasons, Patti has made two career starts in 12 games played. He has completed 42-of-67 throws (62.7%) for 479 yards with a 3/1 TD-INT ratio. Patti has 74 rushing yards, four career rushing TDs and a 4.6 YPC average.

–Pitt returns 49 lettermen and lost 26.

–Coming off an ACC title, you’d think Pitt would’ve capitalized on a solid recruting class. That wasn’t the case, though. In fact, the Panthers finished 12th out of 14 ACC teams in recruiting with a disappointing national ranking (No. 67). They did land a pair of four-star players in 6-foot-7, 320-pound OT Ryan Baer out of Eastlake, OH., and DL Samuel Okunlola, the fourth-best player out of the state of Massachusetts.

–Pitt’s national ranking for transfer portal imports was No. 49. In addition to Slovis and Mumpfield, the Panthers brought in three more players. Shayne Simon, a former four-star recruit to Notre Dame, is expected to start at middle LB. He has started eight career games for the Fighting Irish, has two years of eligibility remaining and was in for spring practice.

–Pitt is 11-3 ATS in 14 games as a road ‘chalk’ during Narduzzi’s tenure that’s entering its eighth season.

–Abanikanda was a fourth-team All-ACC pick last year. We already noted his rushing stats from 2021, but he also had 24 catches for 197 yards and one TD in 2021. Abanikanda had a kick return for a TD last season as well.

–In Steele’s magazine, senior OT Carter Warren (35 career starts, second-team All-ACC in 2021) is a preseason first-team All-ACC selection and a preseason third-team All-American. Kancey is a preseason second-team All-American and Hill is a preseason third-team All-American. Abanikanda and OG Marcus Minor are preseason second-team All-ACC selections and Mumpfield is a preseason third-team All-ACC pick.

–In FanDuel’s Games of the Year, Pitt is a one-point underdog at UNC. FanDuel has the Panthers’ odds to win the CFP at 300/1. They’re +300 to win the ACC Coastal (Miami is the +150 ‘chalk’) and 14/1 to repeat as ACC champions.

–FanDuel has Slovis at 100/1 odds to win the Heisman. DraftKings has Slovis at 40/1 and has Abanikanda at 150/1.

–DraftKings has Pitt at 9/1 odds to repeat in the ACC. The betting shop also has a total for the Panthers’ conference wins (5.5 shaded to the ‘under’ at a -135 price, leaving the ‘over’ at +105 odds).

–You can reach me at briane.edwards11@gmail.com or find me on Twitter at @vegasbedwards.

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