Fearless Picks: WVU - Pitt

The standings shook up again last week, and the potential remains for another move near the top of the leaderboard with this week's Backyard Brawl selections.

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

Patrick maintained his hold atop the leaderboard as Matt's challenge faded with an incorrect selection last week. Keno, like any defensive minded squad, continues to hang around while looking to steal a late win. Chris takes the weekly honors with an eight-point miss of the Louisville game.


NOSE PICKING

Bill and Matt fell back with losses last week. Overall, many panelists aren't convinced that the Mountaineers are a struggling offensive team, as socres in the twenties and even the thirties continue to come across the transom.


Patrick Southern Last Week: W Season: 8-2 Pt Diff: 130
Bill Stewart has consistently struck the same chord throughout his nearly three full seasons as West Virginia's head coach when it comes to Big East Conference games. He believes they aren't to be ranked in terms of importance, because each counts the same in the league standings. He always equates the contests to a heavyweight fight; the South Florida game earlier this year was "Round One" and last week's contest at Louisville was "Round Five."

Stew might do himself a service by ditching that mantra for one week, at least. If his Mountaineers don't out-slug arch-rival Pitt in what would otherwise be "Round Six," they won't have a chance to win the overall bout. In that way, football is not the same as boxing. In the latter sport, you're almost always the winner if you come out ahead in more rounds than you don't. In a college football conference, you've got to be a little bit closer to perfect to claim the championship belt at the end of the fight.

This is a match-up of teams that both have solid defenses. They also each have offenses that have been hot-and-cold throughout the season. With that knowledge in hand, added to a consideration of the recent history of the Backyard Brawl, all signs point to a contest that should be close and low-scoring. While there are exceptions to the rule (see Pitt's 2007 13-9 upset victory in Morgantown) those sorts of games typically are won by the home team. The conditions at Heinz Field, widely expected to be sloppy, should favor the Panthers as well.

For all those reasons, WVU may be the victim of a knockout at the end of "Round Six."

Pick: Pitt 16-14
 
Keenan Cummings Last Week: W Season: 8-2 Pt Diff: 147
After all this team has been through this season, it has come too far to have a Black Friday let down.

In a battle of two teams with less than stellar offenses, I'm taking the better defense in the 103rd edition of the Backyard Brawl.

Pick: West Virginia 20-10
 
Taylor Jones Last Week: W Season: 8-2 Pt Diff: 169
While the Mountaineers have picked up their efforts in recent weeks and are on the verge of playing good football, the Pittsburgh Panthers will prove to be quite the challenge. Although it is coming off of an impressive last second victory against Pittsburgh from last season, West Virginia has struggled against Pitt, particularly at Heinz Field, in recent years. Hopefully, the senior class will be able to rally the team to have a strong performance in what has turned out to be the team's most important game of the season as they battle to keep their BCS dreams alive.
Pick: West Virginia 24-21
 
Matt Keller Last Week: L Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 151
Shoddy conditions via the elements and field, two teams that rely on defense and conservative offensive stylings and a pair of by-the-book head coaches lead this to look like a mediocre Big Ten-type match-up that will likely crown at least a partial Big East champion. West Virginia has made more mistakes in turning the ball over than has Pitt this season, and the Panthers have a down-field threat that can be well covered and still make plays in Jonathan Baldwin. There's nothing else that's scary about either team on the offensive side. On defense, West Virginia's a bit better and should be able to stop the run and slow the pass. But with the anemic Mountaineer offense and a punt unit that can't field the ball, a couple big plays from Baldwin are all it takes to score 14 to 17 points – which might be too much to overcome. This will be an ugly national showcase of Big East football, though there hasn't been any other kind this season.
Pick: West Virginia 17-14
 
Andy Easton Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 159
The 103rd edition of the Backyard Brawl may well turn into the Backyard Boredom if both teams continue their offensive output from last week. The weather isn't going to be conducive to scoring on Friday, so take your mittens, toboggan and a cup of hot chocolate for Tyler Bitancurt, because WVU is going to need a nice, warm kicker.
Pick: West Virginia 13-9
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 161
West Virginia did what it had to do to take care of Louisville on Saturday, prolonging the hopes of the first Big East Championship under Bill Stewart's watch by another week. Adding even more fuel to the fire is the fact that this is Pitt week. No game on WVU's schedule brings out more disdain than the annual showdown with the Panthers, and with the winner of this year's Backyard Brawl finding itself in good position to claim the league crown, expect both sides to come out with an even bigger chip on their shoulders than normal.

On paper, I like the Panthers. They have shown more consistent production on offense this season, and quarterback Tino Sunseri has rounded into form over the past several weeks. Jonathan Baldwin is a matchup nightmare not just for the Mountaineers, but for any Panther opponent. Plus, the game is being played on the gawd-awful quicksand surface of Heinz Field. WVU, meanwhile, has struggled mightily offensively for much of the season, unable to establish any sort of consistent ground threat and passing game that can only be as good as the offensive line protecting it. As much as it pains me to say it, this one should go to the Panthers.

But never, EVER will I go on the record for picking Pitt in a Backyard Brawl.

Pick: West Virginia 17-14
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 170
Pitt had some early season struggles, but it has seemingly righted the ship as of late, at least until its trip to UConn. WVU knows it can defeat the Panthers, but on the field, Pitt has been playing a bit better as of late. Points may be at a premium in a game that features two good defenses, which means offensive mistakes will be magnified. And WVU, which is -3 in the turnover margin, has made more miscues this year than Pitt, which is +2.
Pick: Pitt 17-16
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 171
It's Brawl week and all the records, problems, issues, and concerns go out the door. Not rankings, defensive strengths, offensive prowess (or lack thereof) will make any difference in this game. Just looking at the history of the series will reveal numerous examples of this... some painful... some inspiring. What this game will come down to is turnovers. Plain and simple. If WVU protects the ball and forces Pitt into a turnover or two, the Panthers will fall once again.
Pick: West Virginia 24=14
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 182
Are you kidding me? The only way I would pick Pitt is if I was threatened with having to live in a tent on the streets of downtown Pittsburgh with Dave Wannstedt and Dan Marino for a week if I picked the Mountaineers. Fortunately, I'm not in trouble with the law, and even the hardest judge would have to consider this cruel and unusual punishment.

I'm picking the Mountaineers with my heart, but I also am beginning to believe it in my head. Pitt has done nothing this year to make me think the Panthers are unbeatable, and at times they have been downright terrible (did you see the Miami game?). WVU's defense has done just enough to keep the Mountaineers hanging around in every game. This is the Backyard Brawl, and even Bill Stewart and Jeff Mullen will have a few tricks up their sleeves for this one.

If West Virginia can put its customary early points on the board, Jeff Casteel's defense will make it hold up. Then all Mountaineer fans will suddenly become Bearcat supporters.

Pick: West Virginia 26-20
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 198
As usual this time of year, Heinz Field's field is a wreck. Turf is all over the place, no way to plant your foot -- so the Mountaineers have asked Bruce Irvin to clip his toenails, which will be the WVU team's new cleats for the Brawl on Friday. Yes, I've been reading the Official Bruce Irvin is a Bad A$$ postings on the BGN Football Board. You should, too. They're hilarious.

Ok, then, back to prognostification: Yes, it's the Brawl. Yes, it will be miserably cold. Yes, it will snow. Yes, there will be more Mountaineer fans than Panther fans in attendance (the Panthers have fans?). Yes, my nephew who lives in the Pittsburgh suburbs will be there, wearing the "Save a Couch, Burn a Panther" T-shirt that got him sent to the principal's office two years ago and got all T-shirts with messages permanently banned from his middle school (Yeah, baby! That's my boy!). Yes, I will be there, frozen solid and looking for all the world like a giant blue and gold popsicle.

As for the score, after last weekend's games, you expected different numbers?

Pick: West Virginia 17-10
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: L Season: 6-4 Pt Diff: 191
Bill's sense of propriety prohibts him from leaving commentary this week.
Pick: West Virginia 24-13

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