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West Virginia vs. Pitt Odds & Picks: 2 Bets for Thursday’s Backyard Brawl

West Virginia vs. Pitt Odds & Picks: 2 Bets for Thursday’s Backyard Brawl article feature image

Adam Hagy/Getty Images. Pictured: SirVocea Dennis.

  • For the first time since 2011, West Virginia and Pitt meet for college football's Backyard Brawl.
  • Pitt enters right around a touchdown favorite, and that's one of the bets we see value on in this matchup.
  • Check out Collin Wilson's full betting guide, along with his two best bets for West Virginia vs. Pitt, below.

West Virginia vs. Pitt Odds

Thursday, Sept. 1
7 p.m. ET
West Virginia Odds
-110o / -110u
Pitt Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via Caesars. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

The Backyard Brawl finally returns to college football after a multi-year absence.

The rivalry first started in 1895 with Pitt holding a commanding 61-40-3 all-time lead over West Virginia.

With the Mountaineers' move to the Big 12, the series ceased play in 2011. Athletic directors heard the voices of fans, as both the Panthers and Mountaineers will meet in non-conference play for eight of the next 11 seasons.

Both squads are undergoing changes heading into the first week of the season. Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi will look to replace the uptempo offense led by quarterback Kenny Pickett with a slower run-based offense led by USC transfer Kedon Slovis.

The Panthers will again be led by one of the best defenses in the nation as they look to repeat as ACC champions.

West Virginia is also going through a transformation — one brought on by the transfer portal. Head coach Neal Brown has fielded a top Big 12 defense throughout his tenure in Morgantown, but this season will have plenty of fresh faces in the back seven.

The Mountaineers gained 10 players and more than 7,000 snaps through the portal, as new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell looks to bring offense to the Brown coaching regime.

Harrell's past history with USC — and specifically working with Slovis — makes the renewal of this rivalry a perfect setting for Thursday night of Week 1.

West Virginia Mountaineers

Co-defensive coordinators Jordan Lesley and ShaDon Brown have been essential in creating a stingy West Virginia defense. The Mountaineers ended last season ranking top-30 in Stuff Rate, Finishing Drives and tackling.

The 2022 defensive unit returns just four starters and 42% of experience, per TARP. West Virginia loses more than half of its passes defensed and tackles from 2021, putting the spotlight on defensive tackle Dante Stills.

Dante Stills with the defensive lineman INT❗

— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 6, 2021

Stills finished top-40 nationally in individual tackles for loss, also generating six quarterback hits on the season. The remainder of the starting defense features a collection of JUCO, FCS and other FBS defensive players inherited through the portal.

Lesley and Brown have been aggressive in blitz packages in previous seasons, successfully finishing top-30 in opponent third-down conversions. The offseason plan for the defense was to make the secondary faster and more athletic. That strategy will be put to the test against Pitt's ground attack.

USC and Georgia transfer JT Daniels enters the season as the leader of the offense. During Daniels' freshman season at Southern Cal, the quarterback worked in Harrell's Air Raid scheme, posting a 14:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Arm strength has never been a question with Daniels, but durability has plagued the fifth-year quarterback at every stop.

With the new scheme consisting of quick passing, the weapons around Daniels must contribute. Tony Mathis moves up on the running back depth chart after creating 19 missed tackles in 72 attempts last year.

Bryce Ford-Wheaton and Sam James return 42 catches apiece, along with eight touchdowns for last season. Neither receiver posted high grades in yards per route run, leaving questions as to whether the West Virginia passing attack can be explosive.

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Pittsburgh Panthers

The current ACC champions are changing the formula on offense. Mark Whipple departs as offensive coordinator for Nebraska amid rumors that Pitt's uptempo passing style in 2021 was not a fit for Narduzzi.

Pitt reached out to Boston College, bringing in Frank Cignetti Jr. after a few seasons working with quarterback Phil Jurkovec.

Cignetti's offense from Boston College will be a culture shock to the returning offensive players at Pitt, as the Eagles ran the ball on 61% of plays.

Kedon Slovis has officially been named Pitt’s QB1

— Barstool College Football Show (@BarstoolCFB) August 24, 2022

Slovis enters a new offense that will consist of heavy rush and play-action passing.

During ACC Media Days, Narduzzi told Action Network about the football IQ and leadership credentials of his new quarterback. The statistics also say Slovis may be the perfect fit for this offense, as the fourth-year quarterback has logged a 15:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in three seasons of play-action passing.

To set up the play action, the running backs and offensive line must generate Line Yards and first downs to draw in the secondary. Pitt returns nearly all offensive line snaps from a group that ranked top-50 in Rushing Success Rate.

Israel Abanikanda generated 40 missed tackles and a grinding 3.6 yards after contact. More importantly, this offense rarely made mistakes, ranking 21st in Havoc Allowed. Abanikanda had zero fumbles on the season on 123 rushing attempts.

West Virginia vs. Pitt Betting Pick

Steam has taken hold of both the side and total for the Backyard Brawl.

Pitt has received the most attention from a point-spread perspective, as the Panthers offense versus the Mountaineers defense is one of the biggest mismatches in terms of experience in Week 1.

The bigger question is whether or not the West Virginia defensive line can disrupt the rushing attack expected from Cignetti's offense.

Stills may expect a load of double-teams from an offensive line that fields two guards who finished top 100 in individual run-blocking grades, per PFF. The Pitt offensive line features more depth than any two-deep in the country after finishing 23rd in run blocking and first in pass blocking a season ago.

It will be important to keep an eye on Pitt in the red zone, as Whipple led the Panthers to a rank of 10th in Finishing Drives. Cignetti's Boston College team finished middle-of-the-pack in terms of scoring on drives that extended past the 40-yard line.

If there's a reason for the spread movement, it may be because of whispers about the offensive line out of West Virginia's camp. Right tackle has been a concern, as Brandon Yates and Ja'Quay Hubbard battled in fall camp.

All five starters return for the Mountaineers, but penalties have plagued the group in recent scrimmages. This WVU offensive line also finished 89th in Havoc Allowed last season and ranked near dead last in tackles for loss yards allowed.

Daniels will be harassed early and often by a Pitt defense that consistently ranks best in the nation in Defensive Havoc. Star linebacker SirVocea Dennis returns a team-leading 87 tackles, while safeties Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett posted a combined 15 pass breakups.

This could be a long afternoon for West Virginia to find any ground past the line of scrimmage.

The Action Network projection places the spread closer to two touchdowns, aligning with the steam in the market. Although the offense will be run at a much slower pace, any number on Pitt in single digits is actionable.

As for the total, Whipple's uptempo pace will be replaced with one of the slowest seconds-per-play rates from Cignetti. The Pitt game script may be as simple as running the ball frequently to set up the play-action pass.

The steam on the under throughout the summer is directly linked to an expected drop in pace by the Panthers.

With 55 and 51 being the two biggest key numbers for totals, the current market number marks the last chance for a full-game total bet before the Mountaineers' team total under is worth a look.

Pick: Pitt -7.5 (Play to -9.5) · Under 51 or better

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