Sometimes, as a connoisseur of Group-of-5 college football programs, it’s easy to forget that not everyone else is an interested in the mid-majors as you are.
I once perplexed a High School football coach (who is among the “Power-5” partisans of FBS fandom with limited hours to spend watching games at the next level) by calling his team the “Ohio Bobcats” of local Missouri pigskin. He tried to go along with the analogy, but was clearly unfamiliar with Frank Solich’s outfit in Athens.
What I meant was that his team wasn’t always big enough to beat massive prep schools and wasn’t always a winner in conference games, but darn it, over time the W/L results were consistently there…and once in a while the squad played way over its head against a truly elite opponent. That’s Ohio if you substitute “massive P5 programs.”
The Ohio Bobcats are built for consistency – and consistency is the school’s calling card on the gridiron. Ohio has been a bowl-eligible team for 10 straight seasons.
Of course, preparing carefully for MAC opponents like Northern Illinois and Toledo is a great way to get blown out while you’re circling the calendar, and the ‘Cats have shared the struggles of Mid-American Conference breathren against the Power-5 in late summer.
Every once in a while, though, Solich’s team makes noise against a P5 contender. Ohio was written-off by ‘cappers after barely getting past the Howard Bison last season, but the well-coached Bobcats bounced back and bothered Virginia and Cincinnati for 60 minutes each.
Pitt, facing Ohio at Heinz Field this Saturday, lost to Virginia in Week 1 by 16 points – worse than the MAC squad fell to the Cavaliers in ’18. But given the ACC’s obvious strength as the fresh season gets underway, Las Vegas spreads are offering bets on the Panthers to cover vs Ohio at (-6), predicting a TD margin for the favorite.
Who: Ohio Bobcats at Pitt Panthers
When: Saturday, September 7th, 11 AM EST
Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Lines: Ohio (+6) at Pitt (-6) / O/U Total: (54)
Pitt has lost a lot to graduation and even the NFL, and summer betting opened with Ohio only a FG underdog. Despite the line-movement to (+6) I’m not convinced Ohio still isn’t being overvalued against Pitt…a strange circumstance in a landscape where G5 underdogs are often undervalued.
Futures gamblers have been skeptical that Pittsburgh can repeat a surprise run to the ACC Championship Game in its 4th season under Pat Narduzzi. All eyes will be on junior QB Kenny Pickett who hopes to improve upon his 1,969 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018, but the 2019 Pitt recruiting class is nothing special no matter what coaches say.
Could the lousy recruiting haul have caused the media to view Pitt through too dark of a lens? Possibly. Yes, the Panthers lost 30-14 to Virginia last weekend, but the Cavaliers are a legitimate program in 2019 and UVA is no longer the weak sister of the ACC.
Pickett did have a bad day in the 30-14 loss, plagued by a ground game that just wouldn’t work consistently, and lousy pass protection according to Pitt beat writer Mike Vokovcan:
In my opinion, the area that should be most concerning after last night was the play of the offensive line and in particular, their pass protection. If that’s any indication of what we’re going to see all year, the offense and Pickett is in big trouble. The final statistics had Pickett being sacked four times, but that wasn’t an accurate description of what occurred on the field. The reality is that Pickett was under pressure for most of the evening and if not for his athleticism, that sack total would’ve been double what was on the stat sheet. (Offensive coordinator Mark) Whipple wants to have this offense throw the ball more and last night, they did so 41 times. However, if the pass protection from the line and running backs doesn’t get better, Pickett won’t last the entire season healthy.
As for the visiting Bobcats, there is nothing wrong with a well-blocked offense led by dual-threat QB Nathan Roarke. But there have to be questions about the defense, considering FCS opponent Rhode Island’s production vs Ohio in Week 1. Bobcat defensive backs played well in limited URI quarterback Vito Priore to about 50% completions. But the front-7 did not play very well against the run, considering the level of competition.
Ohio has not shown enough so far to make me think the Bobcats can shut down an ACC offense. It helps to think of Pittsburgh as having practiced with a weighted bat last weekend – the ground game will look better against the Bobcats than against UVA, and so will the pass blocking.
It’s not a lock – the game could easily go either way – but I’m digging (-6) on Pittsburgh since a TD + XP margin turns the trick.
Take Pitt to cover (-6) on Saturday.