UMass vs. Pitt College Football Odds & Pick: Lowly Minutemen Set for Trouncing (Sept. 4)
Justin Berl/Getty Images. Pictured: Kenny Pickett.
- The Pittsburgh Panthers look to start their season off on a high note Saturday when they take on the UMass Minutemen.
- Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple used to be the head coach at UMass but left on sour terms, so he may take an opportunity to run up the score if it presents itself.
- Check out Alex Hinton's full betting guide with odds, picks and predictions for the game.
College Football Week 1 Odds
UMass vs. Pitt
You may find it a little hard to believe that this is the first-ever meeting between the Massachusetts Minutemen and the Pittsburgh Panthers with the programs being 522 miles apart.
Despite the lack of on-field history, there is a connection between the coaching staffs. UMass head coach Walt Bell is entering his third year with the program. He has gone 1-15 in his first two years with the program.
The man Bell replaced as head coach is Mark Whipple, Pitt’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Whipple had two stints as the Minutemen’s coach (1998- 2003 and 2014-18). The first tenure was more successful than the first as he had a 49-26 record, which included an NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) national championship in 1998.
By the time Whipple returned to Amherst, UMass had made the jump to the FBS level. In his second tenure with the program, it went 16-44. Whipple is still the winningest coach in program history, but things did not end well.
Following a loss to Ohio, Whipple failed to choose his words carefully when voicing his frustrations with the officiating his team dealt with. Whipple was suspended for one game following his comments, and he was subsequently fired following the season. In the two seasons prior to his second stint and the two seasons after (2012, 2013, 2019, and 2020), UMass won one game or fewer in each of those years.
If Whipple gets the chance to run it up on UMass (spoiler alert: he likely will), he is going to take it.
Since Bell took over as head coach of UMass, it has been a rough go for him in Amherst.
The Minutemen are 1-15 under Bell and are coming off a 0-4 season in 2020. However, that does not even tell the full story of how bad things went last year.
UMass scored 12 points in the four games it played last season, ranking dead last in the country in points per game. Defensively, things were not much better as the Minutemen gave up 40.2 per game, which ranked 123rd in the country.
Bell turned to the transfer portal to improve the roster for 2021.
Colorado transfer Tyler Lytle has been named the starting quarterback for the season opener. Lytle has been dealing with a groin injury during fall camp, which will be an issue if the UMass offensive line shows little improvement. Last season, UMass ranked 127th in line yards, 105th in line yards on passing downs, 125th in stuff rate allowed and 95th in sack rate on passing downs.
Offensive lineman Willie Allen and Brian Parish transferred in from Michigan and North Texas. Allen is listed as a co-starter at left guard with junior Reggie Marks III. The other four projected starters from this week’s depth chart are all freshmen.
Running back Ellis Merriweather is the leading returning rusher after running for 115 yards on 2.7 yards per carry last season. He is listed as a co-starter with Kay’Ron Adams, who transferred in from Rutgers. The receiving corps were hit hard in the transfer portal, but Jermaine “OC” Johnson is the leading returning receiver after catching 14 passes last year.
Despite its struggles defensively, UMass was able to disrupt their opponent’s backfield. It ranked fifth in stuff rate and had nine sacks and 31 tackles for loss in four games. Nine starters are back from last year’s defense, led by sixth-year senior Avien Peah, who had a sack and six tackles for loss last season.
The Minutemen had a couple of 300 pounders in the middle in Taishan Holmes and Billy Wooden. However, they did not offer much resistance. UMass ranked 91st in standard line yards and 126th in power success rate. If their opponent was able to set up a third or fourth-and-short situation, they were very likely to convert.
UMass also surrendered 273.5 rushing yards and nearly three touchdowns per game on the ground. All five starters return in the secondary, but the Minutemen will be very green at linebacker after losing its top two tacklers from a season ago.
You can make the case that no program represents the middle of the pack in the ACC Coastal quite like Pitt.
In head coach Pat Narduzzi’s first six seasons, the Panthers have ranged from 5-7 to 8-5. Entering year seven of the Narduzzi era, they were picked to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal.
If Pitt is going to break through the proverbial glass ceiling, it has work to replace a dominant defensive line. However, getting its senior leader back at quarterback will help.
For the Panthers, it all starts with quarterback Kenny Pickett, who carried the offense on his shoulders last season. Pickett threw for 2,400 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he ran for another eight scores last season. Six of his top seven receivers return led by top target Jordan Addison.
The Panthers could have a prolific passing attack, but it would help if it got more out of its ground attack this season. Last season, Pitt ranked 13th in the ACC in rushing at 120.1 yards per game. The Panthers ranked 115th in line yards, 105th in standard downs line yards, 92nd in power success rate and 117th in power success rate.
Running backs Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis, and A.J. Davis will split carries.
Pitt returns three starters on the offensive line in left tackle Carter Warren, right guard Kradel and right tackle Gabe Houy. Maryland transfer Marcus Minor will take over left guard while Owen Drexel will give the Panthers a new center for the first time since 2017.
Pitt had one of the most disruptive defensive lines in the country last season with 46 sacks in 11 games, which ranked No. 1 nationally in FBS. It also ranked third nationally in line yards, second in line yards on standard downs, and third in stuff rate.
While Patrick Jones, Jalen Tywman, and Rashad Weaver are all gone from the defensive line, the next wave is ready to fill their shoes.
As a starter in 2019, Deslin Alexandre had 10.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks while filling in for an injured Weaver. Defensive end John Morgan had seven tackles for loss and four sacks in limited snaps. Habukukk Baldonado battled injuries last season but he had four sacks in 2019, as well. Devin Danielson and Tyler Bentley are ready to fill in at defensive tackle.
They will be aided by a strong group of returning linebackers in Cam Bright, SirVocea Dennis and Phil Campbell.
Defensive coordinator Randy Bates asks a lot of his corners to be able to handle themselves on an island in man coverage while the defensive line generates pressure with four. Damarri Mathis is one of the best corners in the ACC when healthy.
However behind them, he will have a couple of new safeties after Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford moved on. Their replacements Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett are talented but inexperienced.
UMass vs. Pitt Betting Pick
When sizing up Pitt and UMass, most of their strengths and weaknesses line up with one another Pitt struggles running the ball and UMass struggles stopping the run. UMass’ defense is better against the pass while Pitt’s passing attack is strong.
However, Pitt’s defensive line will have a significant advantage going UMass’s offensive line. Yes, the defensive line will be breaking in some new starters, but it also has proven production moving into larger roles.
Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge is one of the best in the country and Bates is one of the best at creating havoc. With a new quarterback and breaking in new receivers, UMass could take a minute to get up to speed offensively itself. It also won’t help matters that Lytle will be under constant duress. Four freshman offensive lineman starting against this Pitt front will make life miserable for Lytle.
Offensively, Pitt should be able to hit some explosive plays in the passing game. UMass will not have answers for a receiving trio as talented as Jordan Addison, Shocky Jean-Louis and Taysir Mack. Even when Pickett exits the game early to rest, Pitt will not let up.
Whipple will dial shots in the fourth quarter with his backup quarterbacks, trying to put as many points on UMass as humanly possible.
I would not be surprised if Pitt scored 60 points this week. I would take the Panthers to cover -37.5 and I would play it up to -40.