The Virginia Cavaliers went into Heinz Field last year with a chance to become bowl eligible against the Pittsburgh Panthers after falling to the Boston College Eagles the previous week. Their third straight loss to Pitt did not cripple their postseason hopes - UVA beat Georgia Tech the following week - but it did display the gap that’s grown between Pat Narduzzi’s program and the Wahoos.
2017 Season: 5-7 (3-5 ACC)
A non-conference schedule that featured the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Penn State Nittany Lions, two of the three opponents Pitt lost to en route to a 1-3 start, was a crucial factor in the Panthers’ not reaching bowl eligibility for the first time under Narduzzi. In their game against Virginia, Pitt stormed out to a 21-0 lead by scoring on the ground, through the air, and on a 75-yard punt return by Quadree Henderson. That win improved Pittsburgh to 4-5 and gave them a sign of life, before losses to the North Carolina Tar Heels and Virginia Tech Hokies ensured a losing record. Their season was redeemed, in a way, in their finale at home against Miami as they stunned the second-ranked and previously-unbeaten Hurricanes to eliminate their Coastal Division foes from national title contention.
Players to watch
Running back Darrin Hall: Hall had a three-game stretch where he rushed for 6.75 yards per carry and eight touchdowns, showing how much of a threat he can be in Narduzzi’s pro-style scheme. Hall was recently named to the watch list for both the Doak Walker Award (top running back in the country) and Wuerffel Trophy for the sport’s “top community servant”.
Linebacker Oluwaseun Idowu: As a junior, he had an eye-popping 11.5 tackles for loss, making him a nightmare for any offensive line and backfield he faces.
Mascot grade: B
Roc is as threatening as you would expect a panther to be, but not terrifying enough to make children automatically cower in terror.
After finishing 82nd in the final S&P+ ranking of the year, Pitt looks like a strong candidate to return to contender status. They’re favored outright in five games, and less-than-a-touchdown underdogs in three others. Against Virginia, they’re favored by 2.9 points and projected to go 4-4 in the ACC.
The Hoos and Panthers return 72 and 75 percent of their defensive production, respectively. The gap is much greater on offense, where Pitt brings back 61 percent compared to UVA’s 50. While this game is still a few months away and any number of variables could change between now and then, right now, I have to say that Connelly’s model is pretty accurate.
Pittsburgh 20, Virginia 17