It’s time for the first and possibly the last Big East meeting between the undefeated #16 South Florida Bulls (4-0), and the Pittsburgh Panthers (2-2), taking place tonight within the confines of Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. As these two teams square off on Thursday night, plenty is at stake for both, as the Bulls look to continue their undefeated run in a rather weak conference, meanwhile the Panthers simply try to avoid another close loss and avoid letting another season slip by before it has hardly started.
If you haven’t had the chance to witness the South Florida offense in action, Thursday’s NCAA Football showcase will be a great time to do so, as the Bulls offensive attack led by quarterback B.J. Daniels is something fun to watch. Having amassed 1,071 yards with 8 touchdowns through 4 games played, and leading an offense that is currently ranked 10th in the FBS in scoring (45.5 points) and in total yards per game (523.3), the Bulls will try to improve their form on the road, where they haven’t been nearly successful as at home. Though they’ve only had one game away, the Bulls and B.J. Daniels generated just 128 yards passing (vs. 350.3 average at home), and went for 126 yards on the ground (vs. 262.7 yards averaged at home through 3 games). Granted their lower numbers on the road came at then #16-ranked Notre Dame, however this production is something to watch closely to see if they can return to better form against a lesser foe.
On the Pittsburgh side of things, junior quarterback Tino Sunseri returns to helm the Panthers offense, and will seek to keep his conference-worst 4 interceptions at the same number tonight against South Florida. Against the Bulls, the Panthers have won 3 straight games, certainly something that should boost the confidence especially at home, however with the way Sunseri has looked so far this year, it could be time to break that streak as the Bulls are simply not the same team of old. Tino Sunseri continues to struggle against good defensive units, and with South Florida having a very respectable defensive squad. Don’t be too surprised to see Pittsburgh try to control ball possession, something that has been in question for South Florida, by pushing the rock into the hands of mighty-might running back Ray Graham. Graham has already carried the ball 100 times for 508 yards and 6 TDs this season, and with the Pittsburgh offense generating all 8 of their rushing TDs at home, and Sunseri not likely to be comfortable still with his offensive scheme, the Panthers will live and die by the run tonight.
Betting lines for #16 South Florida vs. Pittsburgh
TopBet.com Sportsbook has the South Florida Bulls at -150 odds to win tonight on the road, while the host team Pittsburgh Panthers come in at +130 underdogs. Definitely some questions remain as to the offensive capabilities of South Florida on the road, so the Bulls give up just 3 points on the spread at -110 price, while the Panthers get 3 points with the same odds. The over/under on the game stands at 51.5 points at TopBet Sportsbook, which could be tough to reach considering the offensive ineffectiveness of the Panthers against good defenses, and the inability of Panthers’ QB Tino Sunseri to maintain drives and put up points.
Our Pick to Win:
Though Pittsburgh has the series lead at 5-3 against South Florida including winning 3 straight meetings, the Bulls have something to prove and strive for tonight on the road, and won’t be overcome by the Panthers, who look to lean heavily on the running game at home. Expect the Bulls to go to the air early and often with B.J. Daniels hooking up with Sterling Griffin, who looks for his first 100 yard receiving game tonight, and expect a more balanced attack to also feature running back Darrell Scott, who likely will see more work tonight than usual (averaging just over 13 carries a game) after generating 6.6 yards per carry through the first 4 games. South Florida wins this contest 30-14 on the road, and solidifies themselves as the team to beat in the Big East.
Players to Watch, Pittsburgh:
Ray Graham, RB – As mentioned before, Graham may be the heart and soul of the Pittsburgh offense tonight, if QB Tino Sunseri struggles to find targets against the quality South Florida defense, or if Sunseris starts getting interception-happy like he’s been prone to do. No doubt the Bulls will be expecting heavy run from the Panthers, but Graham will still likely see upwards of 25-30 carries this evening.
Tino Sunseri, QB – It’s notable that both Sunseri and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels failed to throw for more than 150 yards in last season’s match-up between the two teams. Sunseri however still looks like the one with more to work on, and the Panthers could either live or die by their QB’s arm this evening. If he can keep away from the INTs, Pittsburgh has a chance in this game.
Players to Watch, South Florida:
Darrell Scott, RB – Though splitting time in the running game with Demetris Murray, Scott is clearly the more talented back, averaging over 2 yards per carry more than Murray (6.6. to 4.5 yards). If he can put up numbers like he does at home in tonight’s match-up, the Bulls already having the advantage in the passing game will have no problem putting down the Panthers tonight.
Sterling Griffin, WR – No question the top options for QB B.J. Daniels, Griffin will be looking to generate his first catch over 20 yards tonight, and put a TD up on the board against an exploitable Panthers’ secondary. It’s time for Sterling to shine, and look for him to be featured on a deep ball at least once in tonight’s game, as the Bulls mix up his routes in preparation for getting him some good downfield looks.