Iowa CITY, Iowa - Heading into last week's game at Iowa State, few Hawkeye fans feared Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz. The first-year starter struggled for three quarters before pulling out a 20-19 win against FCS UNI seven days earlier.
Well, Jantz looked like Brett Favre against Iowa. The California native helped send Hawkeye fans home with a 44-41, triple-overtime loss as he ran and threw at will.
So, is Jantz the quarterback of Week 1 against Northern Iowa or is he a Heisman candidate like he showed versus Iowa? The truth probably falls in the middle.
Iowa hasn't had the most productive history against active quarterbacks in the Coach Kirk Ferentz Era. And the college game has changed through the years to feature more dual-threat signal callers than ever before.
This is going to be a good test for the Hawkeyes to show that they can succeed against a fast offense with a nimble QB a week after failing that task.
TELEVISION: The game will be televised to a national audience by ESPN2. It can also be viewed online at ESPN3.com. The announcers are Beth Mowins and Mike Bellotti.
RECORDS, RANKINGS: The Hawkeyes hit Week 3 at 1-1 after last week's triple overtime loss at Iowa State. Pittsburgh comes into Iowa City at 2-0 after home wins against Buffalo and Maine.
Neither team is ranked. They didn't receive any votes in either major poll.
HISTORY: This is the fifth meeting between the two schools. Pittsburgh has won three of the first four contests in the series. The Panthers took the last matchup, 21-20, at home during the 2008 season.
The teams are scheduled to meet again in 2014 and 2015.
THE LINE: The Hawkeyes opened as a 3.5-point favorite at the Las vegas Hilton and it was bet down to 3 as of Tuesday afternoon. The number dropped in most books fairly quickly.
I think that action has more to do with the odd 3.5-4 point spread. Some gamblers jump on that hook as a rule.
I wouldn't expect to see the number dip below three. These are two teams on which it's hard to get a handle. They appear to be pretty even through two weeks, so that three points to Iowa for home field makes sense.
The total at Cover.com opened at 50. It remained there on Thursday.
I like the Iowa side in this one. It's Pittsburgh first road game with a new system.
I think it ends up under the 50, but I wouldn't touch that. As I've said before on here, if I don't feel the over, I'll pass in most instances.
Here are a some interesting trends:
-Hawkeyes are 4-0 Against the Spread in their last 4 games after allowing more than 40 points in their previous game.
-Hawkeyes are 7-2-1 ATS in their last 10 games following a straight up loss.
-Hawkeyes are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 non-conference games.
-Hawkeyes are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 games after allowing more than 450 total yards in their previous game.
-Hawkeyes are 1-5-1 ATS in their last 7 games overall.
-Hawkeyes are 0-5 ATS in their last 5 games as a favorite.
-Panthers are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games following a ATS loss.
-Panthers are 3-1-2 ATS in their last 6 road games.
-Panthers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 vs. Big Ten.
-Panthers are 1-4-1 ATS in their last 6 games as a road underdog of 0.5-3.0.
-Panthers are 0-2-2 ATS in their last 4 games as a road underdog.
Pitt RB Ray Graham vs. Iowa Front 7 - A traditionally stingy Iowa rush defense has been anything but through the first two weeks. The Hawkeyes have allowed 167.0 yard per game on the ground, which ranks 11 in the Big Ten and 82 nationally.
Graham leads the nation in rushing with 161.0 per contest in two wins. He's carried 57 times and scored six touchdowns.
The Hawkeye defense has been compromised by a pair of nimble quarterbacks, which opens lanes for backs. That preparation was the same this week for Pittsburgh and Sunseri.
Through two games last year, Iowa ranked 11th nationally in rush defense at 71.5 per contest. It finished sixth by season's end.
Graham will get the ball. Can Iowa stop him?
Pitt LT Juantez Hollins vs. Iowa RE Lebron Daniel - The Hawkeye fifth-year senior has taken some heat this week after being controlled by Iowa State's Kelechi Osemele. Daniel faced one of the best left tackles in the country and as an Iowa fan, you have to hope he'd grow from it.
Daniel was a reason why ISU QB Steele Jantz ran the Hawkeyes ragged. He also struggled in Week 1 against Tennessee Tech.
Hollins, like Daniel, is a first-year starter. While he's another 300-pounder, he's only a sophomore and you hope technique and maturity tip the scales Daniel's way.
Iowa WR Marvin McNutt vs. Pitt CB Antwuan Reed - Iowa State slowed McNutt last week pretty much with a straight approach of a corner and shading from a safety, according to DB coach Bob Elliott. That gave Pitt a blueprint and the Hawkeye standout must adjust.
Reed is a smaller cover man, much like McNutt saw against the Cyclones. The Panthers senior has started for the last two seasons and could be stern competition for McNutt.
It shouldn't surprise anyone that teams focus on McNutt. He's a proven commodity and Iowa's top skill player.
But just like with the opponents giving extra attention to Adrian Clayborn last season, the player and the Hawkeye coaches need to find ways to get loose. They also can spread the ball to other players, which leads us to the next match-up.
That could be why Herman only has two catches in that time. Iowa normally succeeds with waggle plays to the tight end, though, and it could be a matter of time before the senior breaks out.
Pittsburgh employs a 3-4 defense, which likely will create the scenario of a linebacker on Herman. While the Panthers boast athleticism on the second level in Gordon and others, the Hawkeye senior could find himself running free.
Iowa LT Riley Reiff vs. Pitt DE Brandon Lindsey - Reiff is widely considered one of the top tackles in the Big Ten, if not the country. Lindsey is coming off a season in which he led the Big East in tackles for loss and ranked second in sacks.
Pitt will move around Lindsey, who at 6-2, 250 is more of a speed guy. Reiff is much more accustomed to seeing players opposite him who are bigger and maybe a little less athletic than is the Panther senior.
One thing we've learned the last two weeks is that Hawkeye QB James Vandenberg is not the most nimble on his feet. Pitt surely has seen that on tape and will attempt to get at him.
Iowa - Jordan Bernstine (probable, illness), Tyler Nielsen (probable, ankle), Nolan MacMillan (out, hernia), Brad Rogers (out, heart), B.J. Lowery (out, wrist), Mika'il McCall (leg, out) , Shane Dibona (out for season, achilles), Carl Davis (probable, undisclosed), Dakota Getz (out for season knee).
-The last Pitt player on offense to finish a season No. 1 in a national statistical category is receiver Larry Fitzgerald (2003, 128.6 receiving yards/game).
-Since the 2000 season, Pitt is 40-12 when it has a 100-yard rusher, including 2-0 this year.
-Pitt's projected starting lineup on offense this week features only three seniors and all three play on the offensive line
-Pitt's offensive line owns a combined 63 career starts among its members.
-Only eight NCAA players who had 10 sacks last season are back in 2011, including Lindsey, who has two this season.
Maine averaged just 1.5 yards per rush against Pitt (25 carries for 37 yards), while Buffalo averaged 2.9 per carry (44 for 127).
-The Panthers have forced at least one turnover in 23 of the past 28 games. The Panthers have only forced one turnover this season
-Iowa is one of 21 teams in the nation to have allowed just one quarterback sack through two games.
-Iowa is tied for 18th nationally in turnovers gained, with five (three fumbles, two interceptions in two games.
-Iowa holds an all-time record of 5-4 (.556) against current members of the Big East Conference, having played Cincinnati (1-0), Pitt (1-3) and Syracuse (3-1). Iowa has not played a Big East opponent since the 2008 loss at Pittsburgh.
-Iowa plays at Pittsburgh in 2014 and the Panthers return to Iowa City in 2015.
THE PREDICTION: Early season games are tough to call. Iowa comes in the most tested of the two teams with a road game against a rival.
Two of the big unknowns are how Iowa will respond to last week's physically and mentally exhausting loss and how the relatively-young Panthers will handle the road in their first season under a new coach.
As mentioned above, this game would be a whole lot easier to call if this were the 2008 Pittsburgh team the Hawkeyes faced in the Steel City. That was strength against strength with two pro-style offenses.
I think this game comes down to which defense can pick itself up after last week. Both squads will score.
I believe the Iowa D will show progress this week and coordinator Norm Parker can come up with way to make his guys more effective. This one will not be easy, however.
IOWA 27 , Pittsburgh 24