Saturday Game Day Buzz: ESPN Predicts Pitt to Have a Mediocre Record, We Disagree

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

 

ESPN senior writer, Mark Schlabach, has predicted that Pitt will finish 7-5 overall.  This includes finishing undefeated in nonconference play.  However, he also predicts Pitt will win only three of their eight ACC regular season games.  Despite making such claims, the article goes on to make very little justification for these predictions.  I’m going to try and add context to his vague picks and state where, and why, I disagree.

Non-Conference Record

According to Schlabach, he expects Pitt to start 4-0 as their first four games are non-conference opponents.  That includes expecting Pitt to go into Knoxville and beat Tennessee on the road.  I agree that Pitt will easily take care of UMass and New Hampshire, and beat Western Michigan in a tougher matchup.  This would be an outstanding start for Pitt, especially beating a Power 5 opponent on the road in only their second game of the season. 

This, the Tennessee game in particular, is where I do disagree.  Pitt only has one tune up game against UMass before taking on the Volunteers in Knoxville.  UMass is 18-70 since joining the FBS so they might as well be an FCS opponent.  

Because of this, I think Pitt comes out flat and untested in the first half of the Tennessee game.  Comebacks on the road against Power 5 opponents, no matter who they are, are difficult.  I think Pitt loses in a close game at Tennessee and closes out their non-conference schedule 3-1.  This differs from Schlabach who has picked them to go into their ACC schedule at a perfect 4-0.

ACC Record

However, despite a 4-0 start, Schlabach then believes Pitt will only get three wins moving forward in conference play.  He has Pitt finishing 3-5 in the ACC.  I don’t quite see how this is possible.  With no justification behind it, it is tough to reconcile this lousy of an ACC record for Pitt.

According to Draftkings Sportsbook, the four teams least likely to win the ACC are Duke, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Virginia.  Pitt has all four of these teams slated on their 2021-22 schedule.  Admittedly the rest of the schedule is made up of the top four projected teams to win the ACC.  So the schedule giveth as much as it taketh away.

Digging further into the Schlabach article, he sees Pitt having the talent to beat Tennessee on the road and a decent MAC opponent in Western Michigan.  However, since he has the conference record listed at 3-5, he must have Pitt losing to either one of the four worst teams mentioned above. 

This is again, where we differ.  I have the games against Duke, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, and Virginia all as locks for Pitt to win.  In 2020, Syracuse and Duke tied for last in the ACC with conference records of 1-9 each.  Georgia Tech used to be a difficult game on the road, but now that they no longer run the triple-option offense, they are just another bad ACC football team. 

Virginia will be the toughest test of the four.  They finished 4-5 in conference play last season and always gives Pitt a good game.  Fortunately, this game is at home and that’s why I like Pitt to win.

So that leaves us with the greater four conference opponents on the schedule.  These are Clemson, Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina.  Clemson is a loss.  Sorry Pitt fans, but Pitt’s offensive line cannot hold up against Clemson’s front four.  They are perennially dominant on both the offensive and defensive line, hence the Tigers success.

However, I do believe Pitt will pick up at least one win from either Miami, Virginia Tech, or North Carolina.  This insight over Schlabach I’m going to credit to the eye ball test. 

Aside from a few fall weddings in the past getting in the way, I have watched almost every Pitt game under Pat Narduzzi.  They always find a way to upset one ACC team per year.  It’s difficult to predict who it will be, but it will happen. 

Additionally, despite having a lousy offensive line, Pitt has many returning starters on the offensive side of the ball.  This includes a 5-year starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett.  It is insulting to assume that with a quarterback of his caliber that Pitt could not take even one win among their games against North Carolina, Miami, or Virginia Tech.  Schlabach doesn’t think so.  Even though in the very same article he states “Miami will lose to Alabama and then fall off a cliff”. 

Conclusion

While I don’t see Pitt going undefeated, I could not reconcile with the 3-5 conference record predicted for Pitt by ESPN.  I have Pitt at 8-4 overall and 5-3 in conference play at the very worst.  I could see them as high as 10-2, if they can beat Tennessee on the road and take 2 of 4 from the tougher ACC squads.  But I also could see Pitt finish as low as 7-5, if they lose to Tennessee and all four of the greater ACC teams. 

However, I don’t see them winning only three games in conference.  That is where I really differ from Schlabach.  Not to say that Schlabach is way off here.  I just wish he had provided some context to his prediction.  Hopefully, I accomplished that for you with this article.


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