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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 9:27 PM

It doesn’t happen much now as it used to…but it used to be a very smart strategy to FADE any team that started it’s college season after everybody else. It usually takes a quarter or so to get up to game speed at the beginning of a new season. When everyone’s in the same boat, that cancels out. But, if one team is starting its season against an opponent that’s already played, this becomes a real issue.

Cincinnati was one of a handful of teams who didn’t play last week, so they’re likely to be rusty early on Thursday Night in their nationally televised Big East opener against Pittsburgh. Yes, maybe even Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech rusty!

Of course, there’s another rule of thumb that says don’t bet on any team who’s not even good enough to beat Youngstown State! Pittsburgh may have worked out some kinks last week as they transition to a new system under head coach Paul Chryst. But, they still lost in extremely unimpressive fashion 31-17 as 18-point favorites over unheralded Youngstown State. Pitt missed the Vegas spread by 32 points!

So…who do you want to be on?! Do you lay points with a favorite who’s likely to have moments of rustiness that could lead to turnover problems or a lot of penalties? Or, do you want what a short price with a road dog who couldn’t stay within four points at home of a team whose nickname is the Penguins?

Let’s crunch some numbers and see if we can make any headway in the only football TV game of the night…

 

PITTSBURGH AT CINCINNATI  (8 p.m. on ESPN)

Las Vegas Spread: Cincinnati by 4, total of 48.5

Home field advantage is worth three points generally in conference play when teams are close to each other geographically. These two teams share a river, and are used to playing each other (though the rivalry will at least come to a temporary end when Pittsburgh bolts the Big East for the ACC next year). The market is telling you it believes Cincinnati is a one-point favorite on a neutral field…or possibly 2-3 points but they’re being docked for not having played yet.

 

2012 ATHLON MAGAZINE RANKINGS

Pitt: 45th

Cincy: 56th

Neither of these teams is ranked in the AP top 25, so we skip right to the summer magazine ratings to get a sense of where they stand nationally. This will be the last week we use those Athlon ratings in our NOTEBOOK previews because we’ll have enough on-field evidence to draw better conclusions about where everyone stands. Of course, Pittsburgh would have fallen out of the top 50 if such a thing existed with that embarrassing loss last week. Cincinnati in the mid 50’s was just a guess during the summer. There are several new starters and a new quarterback for the Bearcats this year.

 

HEAD COACHES

Pitt: Paul Chryst (former Wisconsin offensive coordinator)

Cincy: Butch Jones

There’s not a consensus from analysts about how good Chryst is going to be as a head coach. His offenses at Wisconsin certainly put points on the board. But, he generally bullied inferior teams with physicality and ran up the score. He’s going to have to recruit physicality at Pittsburgh that isn’t there yet, and he won’t be in position for awhile to bully anybody. Can he win with lesser horses who have been dealing with recent coaching turmoil? Remember that Todd Graham left Pittsburgh after just one year to coach Arizona State. Butch Jones is a fairly known quantity now. He can impress if he has a great quarterback or is facing soft pass defenses. He’s no longer on the short list to jump quickly to a bigger conference given where Cincy has settled into the college ecosystem at the moment. We’d have to give the Bearcats the edge in terms of tonight because of continuity.

 

QUARTERBACKS

Pitt: Tino Sunseri

Cincy: Munchie Legaux

Yes, Munchie Legaux has won the starting quarterback job at Cincinnati. That will at least make for an entertaining evening because no quarterback with that kind of name could play boring football. He did see some action last year as an injury replacement. And, he won the position from an older player, which tells you that the team likes his big play potential (conservative coaches pick older players to avoid turnovers, aggressive coaches pick younger quarterbacks to make plays). All that being said, Legaux is a big unknown in terms of how he’s going to handle tonight’s pressure. This isn’t a cupcake game against Nobody Tech. It’s a Big East opener on national TV. Sunseri of Pittsburgh is experienced and savvy. But, he’s far from a big play machine that you’d want at that position. That’s one reason Graham left, he just couldn’t get the kind of quarterback he needed for his offense. Sunseri is basically a B-minus or a C-plus on the QB scale. Legaux will make his own grade for us tonight.

 

OFFENSES

Pitt: Returns 9 starters from the 88th ranked offense

Cincy: Returns 4 starters from the 61st ranked offense

Last Week: Pitt gained 369 yards vs. Youngstown State

It’s great that Chryst has experienced players, because they’ll be more likely to adjust well to a new system. It’s not a particularly talented offense, as you can see from last year’s poor stat ranking. And, 369 yards against Youngstown State is a lot less than what most major programs would do. Cincinnati has new faces all over the place, and ranked a disappointing 61st last year when they were more experienced. Not much to get excited about on this side of the ball.

 

DEFENSES

Pitt: Returns 5 starters from the 35th ranked defense

Cincy: Returns 7 starters from the 42nd ranked defense

Last Week: Pittsburgh allowed 381 yards to Youngstown State

The Big East  was bereft of quality quarterbacks last year, which allowed most of the league’s defenses to rank better nationally than they really were. Stick them all in the Big 12, and their rankings would fall off a cliff. But, neither of these teams is playing a great offense tonight…so you’d have to expect that defenses would control the flow of the game in a way that would be reminiscent of Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech this past Monday Night. Maybe it won’t be that extreme. Maybe it will. Pitt’s defense did struggle vs. Youngstown last week, as we’ll see in a moment.

 

LAST WEEK’S BOXSCORE

YOUNGSTOWN STATE 31, PITTSBURGH 17

Total Yardage: Youngstown State 381, Pitt 369

Rushing Yardage: Youngstown State 204, Pitt 130

Passing Stats: Youngstown State 14-24-0-177, Pitt 19-30-0-239

Turnovers: Youngstown State 0, Pitt 2

Third Downs: Youngstown State 69%, Pitt 54%

Vegas Line: Pittsburgh -18

Go category by category, and the Pittsburgh defense looks bad up and down the box. They allowed almost 400 total yards to a relatively generic nobody. They allowed over 200 rushing yards. They let a visitor convert 11 of 16 third downs for 69% (that should be impossible!). When Pitt faces good offenses this year, they’re going to be in big trouble. Will Cincinnati have a good offense? That’s really the key for handicappers tonight. Determine what LeGaux is going to do…and you have the side and total in the palm of your hand.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

We can’t say that there is one from a stat perspective because Cincinnati has us flying blind. This is a game where you need information from scouts and sources who have a feel for Cincinnati’s enthusiasm, and Pittsburgh’s bounce back ability. That’s what makes JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK so powerful. We have contacts all over the sport…and all over the markets to make sure our clients get the best value plays at the best market prices.

You can purchase our Pitt-Cincinnati winner here at the website with your credit card Thursday afternoon. Or call the office at 1-800-323-4453 to find out more about weekly or seasonal packages. Now that both the college and pro seasons have kicked off, it’s vital that you put your money on the best plays on the board!

We’re back with you Friday to preview Florida-Texas A&M in an early Saturday kickoff. Our Saturday edition of the NOTEBOOK will study Georgia-Missouri, a game that’s already seen a lot of smart money interest in Las Vegas. Sunday and Monday we’ll run stat previews of the prime time NFL matchups.

Be sure you’re with us on these pages every day so you know what’s REALLY happening in college and pro football. And, link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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