Preview/Prediction: Pittsburgh

After a crushing home loss to rival Iowa State, Iowa heads out on the road for the first time in 2014. The Hawkeyes travel to Pittsburgh, a team that's unbeaten through three games. Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe breaks down the match-up between Power 5 conference schools and offers up a prediction.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - After a wonderfully successful run coordinating Wisconsin's offense, Paul Chryst surfaced as one of the country's hottest head coaching candidates. Pittsburgh won the sweepstakes.

Now in Year 3, Chryst has the Panthers poised for a breakout. They're 3-0 and play host to Iowa of the Big Ten on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPNU).

"(Chryst) was impressive at Wisconsin.  (He) maybe more impressive now," Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz said.

Pitt, with a rich recruiting base in Western Pennsylvania, was once one of the country's top programs. While it's continued to produce NFL talent since its heyday of the 1970s and early '80s, its finished the season ranked in the AP Top 25 just four times since '83 without cracking the Top 10.

After beating Notre Dame last season, winning a bowl game and jumping out to a 3-0 start, including an ACC road win at Boston College, national pundits are paying attention to the Panthers.

"I think guys when they come, and we talk about it all the time, why did you come to Pitt? It’s to play in games like we get an opportunity to play in here. You’ve got a chance, if you do stuff, to be recognized. You have to learn how to deal with it. It’s a good part of the whole educational process. Each guy’s different, so you try to acknowledge that, but you try to talk to them," Chryst said.

Pitt is favored by a touchdown against 2-1 Iowa. It's expected to win against a Power 5 Conference team at home. It's a sign of how far Chryst as taken the program, one that for the first time in a long time must deal with expectations.

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kirk Ferentz, and it’s going to be a well-coached team. He believes in physical offense, physical defense. It’s always going to be a challenge. I’m excited for our guys to play. It’s going to be a good atmosphere. It’ll be a good physical game, and we’ve got to rise up and meet that challenge. It’s a great opportunity for us. The amount of success that he’s had for a long time—there’s a lot of programs across the country trying to do that," Chryst said.

The game could come down to Pittsburgh's unstoppable force, the nation's fourth ranked rushing attack, against the immovable object, the Hawkeyes' sixth-ranked defense at stopping the run.

“You’ve got good players and a good scheme, that’s always a key part of it. You’ve got to work to get yards on them. It’s a sound defense, and they’ve got good players. Whatever you get, you’ll earn. It’s fun to play them that way because nothing will be given,” Chryst said.

Time, TV, Announcers: 11:01 a.m. CT on ESPNU with Adam Amin, John Congemi and Niki Noto.

The Series: Pittsburgh holds a 3-2 advantage in the series. The Panthers won in 1931, '52 and '08. Iowa won in '51 and '11.

Betting Line: Pittsburgh opened as a seven-point favorite at the Las Vegas Mirage and the number remained there on Wednesday. The total was set at 47.

Betting Trends:

-Pittsburgh is 4-1 Against The Spread vs. a team with a winning record.

-Iowa is 6-0 ATS in its last 6 road games..

Match-up to Watch: The Hawkeyes rank sixth nationally against the run allowing just 65.7 yards per contest. Pittsburgh rates fourth in the country by averaging 344.3 on the ground. As they say, something has to give.

Iowa is the only Big Ten team, and one of eight programs nationally, not to allow a rushing touchdown this season. The Panthers have punched it in by the run 12 times.

Take Note: Iowa has 99 wins since '02. Only 21 programs across the country have 100 or more wins since the start of the '02 season.

Take Note, Take Two: Pitt and Iowa both rank among the top 15 in first downs allowed. Pitt surrenders 12.3 first downs per game, No. 5 nationally, while Iowa allows 15 first downs per game, tied for No. 12 nationally.

Non-Sports Related: Pitt researchers, led by Jonas Salk, developed the first polio vaccine in 1955.

Did You Know?: Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood fame is a Pitt alum.

Did You Also Know?: The last time Iowa visited Pitt in 2008, Hawkeye RB Shonn Greene rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown. Pitt RB LeSean McCoy rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown. Both players are now starting running backs in the NFL.

Pittsburgh Wins If… it can run the football.

Iowa Wins If… it can stop the run.

Overview: My record, like the Hawkeyes', sits at 2-1. I had Iowa winning 24-20 last week against Iowa State. I hit the Cyclones' number but missed the home team's by a touchdown.

None the worse for wear, I'm back at it for Week 4. It's taking me longer than the Hawkeyes' 24-hour rule to flush the loss to ISU, but I'll be boarding a plane to Pittsburgh looking to find an angry Iowa team when I arrive.

It's going to take a team with an edge to top a big, physical Pitt squad. Stopping bruising Panther running back James Conner, who ranks second nationally with 544 rushing yards, won't happen with a half-hearted effort.

And effort is more than playing hard. Effort includes the concentration and precision necessary to execute the game plan on both sides of the ball. Hawkeye fans can hope the coaches find a way to make it easier on an offense stuck in quicksand through three weeks.

It could take some ingenuity from an Iowa offense ranked 99th among FBS schools in scoring (21.7 PPG). It will be facing a Panther defense rated 16th nationally in scoring defense (15.0 PPG).

The Hawkeye coaches showed some creativity last year in Columbus. They sprung a new look, three tight-end set at Ohio State and came close to pulling off the upset.

No need to hold back now. Though, I don't know why they would have to this point.

I believe Iowa has a talented roster. I'm scratching my head as to why it's not showing it. And until I see it, I'll be skeptical.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, IOWA 20


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