Fearless Picks: WVU - Pitt

Just like the Big East conference, our picks race is a jumbled hot mess. That doesn't make it any less entertaining, however. This week, it's the Backyard Brawl (perhaps the last for a long time). What are our panelists saying?

PICKIN' AND GRINNIN'

Jane made a quantum leap in the standings with her four-point miss of the Cincinnati win. At the top, the four-way race dissolved, with Patrick and Tony pulling wins out of their prediction bags to take the lead with an 8-2 record.


NOSE PICKING

BIll continues to set records for misses on his way to an epic season. At this point, he's entering Floridat Atlantic territory for futility.


Patrick Southern Last Week: W Season: 8-2 Pt Diff: 188
West Virginia got a bit of a preview of this game when it faced Cincinnati. Both the Bearcats and Pittsburgh defenses generate a lot of negative-yardage plays for their opponents, and both do so largely with their strong defensive lines. WVU had problems offensively against UC because the Bearcats did not have to devote many defenders to the running game (because the defensive line won at the point of attack), meaning more players were available to drop into pass coverage and choke off throwing lanes.

But the Mountaineers overcame that challenge against Cincinnati, largely by playing solid defense themselves. Pitt has looked like a different team since star running back Ray Graham's season was ended due to injury, with Tino Sunseri playing by far his best games as he has had to shoulder more of the load.

Those are the two battles to watch in this game: how WVU's offensive line handles its responsibilities, and how the Mountaineer secondary fares against Sunseri. The victor in those areas is likely to claim what could be the last Backyard Brawl for at least a few years.

Pick: West Virginia 27-21
 
Tony Dobies Last Week: W Season: 8-2 Pt Diff: 197
West Virginia has something to play for right now, and even if Louisville does take out South Florida earlier in the day, the Mountaineers could be BCS-bowl bound somehow.

First, of course, WVU must win its final two games, including Friday's Backyard Brawl vs. Pittsburgh - a team that has been counted out by just about everyone. Sure, the Panthers are without running back Ray Graham and have had a slew of other injuries, too, but they still have talent. They can beat West Virginia if the Mountaineers have a bad game, which they've proven to be able to do on occasion.

West Virginia will win this game, but it will be close - perhaps by just a field goal. I can't see the Mountaineers being out of the conference race with games still to be played.

Pick: West Virginia 34-30
 
Cam Huffman Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 176
I don't need to go into matchups. I don't care about intangibles. Records mean nothing, and I could care less about what's on the line. This is The Backyard Brawl, and it may be the last one for some time. The only way I would pick Pitt to beat West Virginia in any game is if the punishment for picking against the Panthers was being forced to move to Pittsburgh and live in a house with Dan Marino, Dave Wannstedt and Bill Hillgrove. Since I see no such threat on the table, I'm picking the Mountaineers.

My first son is due to arrive any day now, and I don't want him to be born into a world where Pitt wins anything other than an empty stadium contest. Dana Holgorsen may not understand the Backyard Brawl yet, but he already knows he doesn't like the guys on the other side of the field. WVU's players know it to.

Pick: West Virginia 36-20
 
Chris Richardson Last Week: L Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 179
Hard to believe this could be the last Backyard Brawl for at least a few years. So many of my favorite Mountaineer memories revolve around the Brawl. The first time I was allowed to audibly curse in front of my family was the Zach Abraham game in '94 when I was permitted to yell "Beat the h-ll outta Pitt!" I remember the heartbreak given to me by Pete Gonzalez after he converted the infamous 4th and 17 in '97. I remember John Pennington's big catch just before halftime in '03, Pat White's Ice Capades in '05 and watching Tyler Bitancurt's game-winner in '09 from a couch in Arkansas.

Surely those memories will be added to in the future, but we won't know for certain until an announcement is made. The uncertainty scares me. As a rule, I never pick Pitt. Ever.

Pick: West Virginia 38-27
 
Jane Donovan Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 189
And so we come to the game every faithful Mountaineer fan has circled on every calendar every year: Pitt. I will stop being a smart-aleck for five minutes and make no jokes.

Some of the greatest Backyard Brawls have been won by the kicking/punting team: 1975, 2007, 2009. I hope it doesn't come down to that, because I'm not sure my blood pressure will stand it. Geno, Tavon, Bruce, Najee, and, yes, Tyler Bitancurt: you know what this game means. Bring your A game, on every play, for every second of the 3 1/2 hours. Send the Panthers off to the ACC with bad nightmares that will haunt them for a few years until we can get the Brawl back on the schedule.

Beat Pitt. Just beat Pitt. BTHOP. Sock 'em, bust 'em, that's our custom, West by God Virginia!

Pick: West Virginia 27-21
 
Brian Jolliff Last Week: W Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 199
The more things change, the more the stay the same. This year, like last year, all the Mountaineers can do is try to win their remaining games while hoping others stumble along the way. That scenario starts again this Friday in the Backyard Brawl as a disappointing (once again) Panther team comes into Morgantown for a Black Friday night game, in what might be the last Brawl for some time to come. While this season has given me little indication on how the remaining games will play out, I'm confident... or hopeful at best, that WVU will hand the invaders from the North another loss.
Pick: West Virginia 35-17
 
Matt Keller Last Week: L Season: 7-3 Pt Diff: 220
There's no particularly compelling reason to pick either team in this game, other than the venue and head-to-head success of Dana Holgorsen against Todd Graham. This will probably be close, a bit sloppy and there's sure to be a few telling mistakes by both teams. Old adages: Win the turnover margin, slow the run game, don't give up major plays and operate at least functionally on special teams. This is likely the last Brawl for a bit, and I simply can't pick the Panthers at Mountaineer Field.
Pick: West Virginia 35-31
 
Andy Easton Last Week: L Season: 6-4 Pt Diff: 190
Normally by this time of the season you have a pretty good idea on what type of performance you will see from the Mountaineers their opponents -- but not this season. WVU and Pitt have seen more ups and downs than the 2011 World Yo-Yo Championships. The Mountaineers beat Rutgers while Pitt lost to the Knights. The Panthers topped Louisville while WVU fell to the Cardinals. The Panthers just slipped past Maine but thumped South Florida by 27 points.

I can see this game being anywhere between a 20-point WVU win and a 20-point Pitt win. With that being said, I'm taking the average score of the Backyard Brawl over the last ten seasons.

Pick: West Virginia 27-18
 
Greg Hunter Last Week: L Season: 6-4 Pt Diff: 197
These two long-time rivals each entered the 2011 season with new head coaches and high hopes, but neither has quite lived up to their expectations. Pitt's turnover margin (-0.70) and offensive struggles (25.6 points per game) have been its biggest problems, while the Mountaineers have suffered from inconsistency all across the board, especially on defense, where they are allowing 26.0 points a game. Something has to give in this one.
Pick: West Virginia 35-28
 
Bill Gleason Last Week: L Season: 6-4 Pt Diff: 269
It wasn't long ago that some pundits were speculating that Tino Sunseri would be a better QB than Geno Smith.

Be that as it may, it is Pitt week. The Backyard Brawl. Maybe the last one, or at least the last one for a while. And as if feelings weren't hard enough between the Yinzers and the Hoopies, we now have a battle of head coaches who really don't care for one another.

If WVU comes to play, considering the current weather forecast of just north of perfect, I don't see Pitt holding WVU under 40. I've not felt that about anyone all season. But honestly, the offensive line has once again proven to be the main hindrance of a very talented offense.

On the other hand, West Virginia's defense, sporting charminy soft run support from its cornerbacks, has had its ups and downs. Look for Pitt to run to their left and test the Mountaineers' ability to overcome their cornerback being blown off the ball. Also look for Pitt to test WVU's linebackers with runs between the tackles and passes to the flat.

I'm not real confident, but I wasn't real confident at Cincy either.

Pick: West Virginia 45-31

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