The Pittsburgh Panthers continue their defense of the ACC Coastal division when they play host to the North Carolina Tar Heels in a mid-week ACC showdown. Game time is set for 8:00 EST on Thursday, November 14 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Fans can catch all of the action on ESPN.
Current betting odds list the Panthers as 4.5-point favorites at home. Click here for a full list of this week’s college football betting odds.
The Panthers are reigning ACC Coastal champs and remain in a position to play in the ACC title game for the second straight season if they can finish strong. Pitt got off to a sluggish start but has turned it around with five wins in their last six games. The problem is that their sluggish start included a loss to Virginia, who is in the driver’s seat inside the Coastal division. The Panthers need to hope that Virginia loses their season finale to Virginia Tech. If that happens, Pittsburgh will win the Coastal division if they win out. That means Thursday’s game against UNC is a must-win game for the Panthers, who have already locked up a bowl spot for the 11th time in the last 12 years.
The Tar Heels, on the other hand, are out of the running in the Coastal division but still hopeful of playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2016. Mack Brown has returned to Chapel Hill and overseen a wild season that included a stunning 2-0 start that was followed by a three-game losing streak. The Tar Heels have evened out a little but came up short in their last game, a 38-31 loss to Virginia. UNC now sits at 4-5 overall, two wins shy of bowl eligibility. The good news is that North Carolina has a home game next week against FCS opponent Mercer. That should give them one of the two wins they need. However, the Tar Heels also need to either win Thursday at Pitt or away to NC State in their season finale.
It’s also worth noting that North Carolina is undefeated against the Panthers since Pittsburgh joined the ACC in 2013. All six meetings have been decided by seven points or less, but the Tar Heels have won all six of them. Pitt beat UNC in a bowl game in 2009, but that is their most recent win over North Carolina since 1982.
I’ve been on the North Carolina bandwagon for a while now and I’m not yet ready to jump off. All but one of UNC’s games this year have been decided by seven points or less, so the Tar Heels do nothing but play close games. Meanwhile, all of Pitt’s wins have come by 10 points or less with Ohio and Georgia Tech being the only teams the Panthers have beat by more than a touchdown. Based on all of that, I think the safer pick is taking North Carolina and the points.
UNC freshman quarterback Sam Howell has undoubtedly been one of the breakout stars of the season in the ACC. Obviously, he’s had some growing pains along the way, but he’s also thrown 26 touchdown passes to just five interceptions. Against the schedule North Carolina has played, that’s an impressive feat. I also like the help that the Tar Heels have around him. Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are both dynamic wide receivers while the UNC backfield of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter has been steady all season.
In fairness, the Pitt defense is allowing just 20 points per game this season. The Panthers are as deep and talented along the defensive line as any ACC team outside of Clemson. They are more than capable of keeping the North Carolina running game at bay and putting everything on Howell’s shoulders. But that doesn’t mean Howell isn’t up for the challenge. He’s thrown for over 300 yards in three of his last four games, totaling 15 touchdown passes during that span. The Pitt secondary has also been vulnerable at times this season while the Tar Heels have the receivers to give them trouble.
On the other side of the ball, the Pitt offense has been up and down this season. They are averaging just 21 points in ACC play, and that’s with a 33-point performance against Duke that was aided by six Duke turnovers. The Panthers don’t have the same dynamic rushing attack as they did last season, gaining just 3.6 yards per carry this year. Plus, Quarterback Kenny Pickett is also a little unreliable from week to week, throwing just nine touchdowns to eight interceptions this season. Other than during the team’s upset over Central Florida this year, the Pitt offense has rarely lit up the scoreboard, which gives me pause about taking the Panthers to cover more than a field goal.
Ultimately, this game is too much of a tossup to side with the favorite. With a little extra time to prep, I like Howell to have a big game and keep the Tar Heels within striking distance. I can’t rule out a North Carolina win, so I’ll take a chance with the Tar Heels at least beating the spread.