September 11th - Ohio U.
The Bobcats are expected to once again wallow near the bottom of the MAC - East. Ohio has switched from an option attack to a one back scheme that employs a number of different sets. This is a difficult transition, so I expect the Bobcats to struggle on offense for at least a few games. They do return eight starters on defense. This is the Bobcats' 2nd game, as they opened at home with a 42-14 win over D1AA VMI on September 4th. The Panthers will have the disadvantage of not having a game under their belts after the postponement of the scheduled Labor Day game against South Florida. Still, this is the Pitt's 2nd easiest game, and they should manage a fairly comfortable win. GAME RATING - 8.0
September 18th - Nebraska
The Cornhuskers are another team changing offenses. New Head Coach Bill Callahan has dumped Nebraska's traditional run-oriented option for the West Coast offense. Thought a major change, Nebraska has the talent to make it work. Their offensive line is huge and talented, but they'll need to quickly learn to pass block. Center Richie Incognito, their top OL, was handed an indefinite suspension and his status for this game is up in the air. The Cornhuskers' skill players are all great athletes who should thrive in this offense. Nebraska opened the season with an easy 56-17 home win against D1AA Western Illinois, and take on Southern Mississippi in Lincoln on 9/11. There are few concerns with the Cornhuskers' defense. Last year's coordinator, Bo Pelini, left for the same job at Oklahoma after he was passed over for the head coaching job. However, former Wisconsin DC Kevin Cosgrove replaced Pelini and he inherits a very talented group that finished 11th in D1A in yards allowed per game last season. The Cornhuskers will bring a huge contingent of fans, at least partially negating Pitt's home field advantage. It appears Pitt will have a very difficult time against a bigger, stronger, and deeper Nebraska team. GAME RATING - 3.5
September 25th - Furman
The Paladins are a D1AA power, and are the favorite to win the Southern Conference. They are strong defensively, but their offense has some question marks. This will be their final non-conference game, and the only one against a D1A foe. Unless the depth-challenged Panthers come into the game severely banged up from playing Nebraska, this game should be the easiest one on the schedule. Don't expect a blow-out, though. GAME RATING - 8.5
September 30th - @ Connecticut
This game has" "DANGER" written all over it. The Thursday night contest will be UConn's debut on National TV, and a huge crowd is a certainty. Since the Huskies are home to Army on September 25th, both teams will have a "short week" to prepare. UConn's offense is extremely potent, led by senior QB Dan Orlovsky. He's beginning his 3rd year as the starter, and threw for 3,485 yards and 33 TDs last season. Many experts rate him as a certain 1st Round pick in the 2005 N.F.L. draft. Eight other starters return on offense for the Huskies, who figure to put up points against most opponents. Defense has been the problem for UConn. However, the return of seven starters, including two pre-season Butkus Award candidates at linebacker, indicates improvement is coming. This is Connecticut's initial conference home game, and it's a great chance for their program to "make a statement." The Panthers better be prepared for an all-out war! GAME RATING - 4.5
October 9th - @ Temple
This is Temple's final season in the Big East. The Owls would love to pull a few upsets as a parting "gift" to the conference that gave them the boot. This will be their first Big East game of the season. Despite their anemic conference record, Temple has traditionally played very well against Pitt. Last season's game was in doubt until late in the final period. JUCO QB Walter Washington won the starting job midway through last season and he put up solid numbers in the five games he ran the offense. Washington has a good returning WR in senior Phil Goodman, but the running game is a major question mark. The Owls have a solid linebacker corps, but the rest of the defensive situation is unsettled. Their kicking game was a disaster last season and it remains to be seen if it has been improved. Even some of Pitt's better teams have struggled against Temple. This year will probably be no exception, though this is a "must win" for the Panthers. GAME RATING - 7.0
October 16th - Boston College
The Panthers will be facing a school departing from the Big East for the 2nd consecutive week. The Eagles will have the advantage of an extra week's rest. On the negative side, they could be looking ahead to their rivalry game against Notre Dame the following week. Head Coach Tom O'Brien has dropped his last two games against the Panthers, and would like to end that streak before departing for the A.C.C. The Eagles have two senior QBs, with Paul Peterson as the starter. Redshirt freshman RB L.V. Whitworth had an impressive debut in the Eagles' win at Ball St. on 9/2. Their receiving corps is very solid and deep. Defensively, All America candidate DE Mathias Kiwanuka is their anchor, but the rest of the starters are more than capable. Junior CB Will Blackmon is a very dangerous kick returner. The Panthers will need to bring their "A Game" to win this one. GAME RATING - 5.0
October 23rd - Rutgers
Are the Scarlet Knights finally ready for a breakout year and a bowl trip? They looked much improved in defeating Michigan St. 19-14 in their opening game on 9/4. Junior QB Ryan Hart has 1.5 years of starting experience. They have two strong RBs in Justice Hairston and Brian Leonard. The Scarlet Knights' receivers are decent, though none stand out. If Rutgers gets better play from their line, their offense will be dangerous. On defense, Rutgers is considerably better at most positions and should have a solid unit. Rutgers has at times given Pitt fits, and the Scarlet Knights will no longer be satisfied with moral victories. This game should be a very close one. GAME RATING - 6.5
November 6th - @ Syracuse
This time, it's the Panthers who have the benefit of an off-week. The schedule works out well for me also, since this year's Breeders' Cup is on October 30th - but I digress. The Orange's head coach, Paul Pasqualoni, started the season on the hot seat and an opening game 51-0 thrashing by Purdue turned up the heat even more. Pasqualoni went with true freshman Joe Fields at QB against Purdue. Fields struggled considerably, but received virtually no help from his teammates. Syracuse's one-two RB combo of Walter Reyes and Damien Rhodes never got untracked against the Boilermakers and their passing game was non-existent. Syracuse had numerous defensive woes last season and if the Purdue game is any indication they haven't been fixed. After a long losing streak against the Orange, Pitt has won the last two games. Playing in the Dome is always a challenge, but this is a game the Panthers need to win and they should manage it. GAME RATING - 6.5
November 13th - @ Notre Dame
Ty Willingham is another coach whose fanny is firmly planted on the hot seat. An opening week loss to a mediocre BYU team was not an encouraging sign. Even worse, the Irish only managed 12 rushing yards against a Cougar team that is not known for its defensive prowess. A bright spot was the play of sophomore QB Brady Quinn. If the Irish can rediscover their running game, their offense should be at least adequate. The picture on defense is brighter. Senior Justin Tuck and sophomore Victor Abiamiri are an outstanding pair of DEs, and the rest of the Irish defense is both solid and deep. Pitt has had little success against Notre Dame, especially in South Bend. This appears to be another case of "close but no cigar." GAME RATING - 4.0
November 25th - West Virginia
Both teams will have an extra four days to prepare for the "Backyard Brawl" On Thanksgiving night. WVU is the pre-season favorite to win the Big East. The Mountaineers were a bit sloppy in their first game, but still destroyed East Carolina 56-23. Heisman Trophy candidate, senior RB Kay-Jay Harris, set a school and Big East rushing record against the Pirates. Sophomore Jason Colson is a great complement to the bruising Harris. Senior QB Rasheed Marshall can be an erratic passer, but is dangerous in the open field. 6'5" Junior WR Chris Henry is Marshall's primary target, and he's a good one! The rest of the Mountaineers' receiving corps is average at best. All five starters return from an offensive line that improved greatly by the end of last season. On defense, WVU features three seniors; NT Ben Lynch and LBs Scott Gyorko, and Adam Lehnortt and junior CB Adam "PacMan" Jones. Mountaineer head coach Rich Rodriguez has won the last two meetings against Pitt, and the Big East title and BCS bowl berth could be at stake for the Mountaineers. West Virginia has appeared to be the more motivated team lately in this rivalry game and that could once again spell the difference. GAME RATING - 3.5
December 3rd or 4th - @ South Florida
This game was originally scheduled for Labor Day afternoon until Hurricane Frances intervened. Whether the delay will help the Panthers is questionable, though at least the weather should be cooler. South Florida employs a spread offense, which has caused the Panthers' defense fits in the past. Like Pitt, the Bulls start the season without an experienced QB but that should be a moot point by early December. USF plays their final CUSA game at home against Memphis on 11/27. They would like nothing better than to prepare for next year's entrance into the Big East by knocking off the Panthers in their season finale. The odds makers had pegged South Florida as a one point favorite before the postponement. Will that line look any different by early December? GAME RATING - 4.5
INTERPRETING THE RATINGS
There are two methods I use to predict a team's final record from the individual game ratings. The first is a simple average. Using this method, the sum of the 11 game ratings is 61.5. Divide that by 11 and the result is 5.6. That score is at the high end of the "Toss-Up" range, which means the most likely record is 6-5.
The second method is to total the number of games that fall into each category. That yields the following results;
Highly Probable Loss - 0
Likely Loss - 3 (Nebraska, Notre Dame, West Virginia)
Toss-Up - 3 (Connecticut, Boston College, South Florida)
Likely Win - 3 (Temple, Rutgers, Syracuse)
Highly Probable Win - 2 (Ohio, Furman)
Assuming games falling into the "Highly Probable" or "Likely" categories will end with that result, the Panthers will have a 5-3 record and three "Toss-Up" games. Two of the toss-up games, Connecticut and South Florida, have a 4.5 rating. This means there is a slightly higher probability that Pittsburgh will lose. The 3rd Toss-Up game, Boston College, has a 5.0 rating. That indicates a truly even contest. The conclusion is that Pitt will finish at either 5-6 or 6-5, depending on the outcome of the Boston College game. However, since both the Connecticut and South Florida games were rated within .5 point of an even game, it would not be much of a stretch to say the Panthers will win one of those two games.
My conclusion therefore is that the most likely result for Pittsburgh is a 6-5 season, with 5-6 having the 2nd highest probability.