9th-ranked Oklahoma State takes their high-powered offense on the road in a matchup with the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for noon EST this Saturday, with the Cowboys looking for a statement road win before starting Big 12 play.
The Pitt Panthers can’t catch a break with their scheduling. After playing at 5th-ranked Penn State last weekend, they face another top-10 team this week before traveling to Georgia Tech.
They’re severely missing James Connor this year at the RB position after he graduated. USC transfer Max Browne has been mostly stellar, but won’t single-handedly win them many games. And on top of that, their secondary is still working out the kinks, though they did have a better game plan against PSU.
They’ll need an even better one for an Oklahoma State squad that’s pass-happy to say the least. QB Mason Rudolph is in Heisman talks for good reason, and has plenty of capable targets. James Washington is an absolute blazer, and has a 30-yard average on his first eight receptions of the season.
Oklahoma State has risen to 13.5-point favorites, a number that should continue to rise between now and Saturday.
How improved is Pitt’s secondary? That is the million-dollar question that will decide this game. Last year, the Panthers were 127th (next-to-last) in pass defense. That led to them being the 106th-ranked scoring defense in the country.
Oklahoma State is one of the last teams you want to play if you’re dysfunctional on the backend. The Panthers did hold Trace McSorley to only 154 passing yards (15 of 28) last weekend, so they’re breaking ground. But Rudolph, Washington, and fellow WR Marcell Ateman are beasts, and this is a top-10 passing team that’s only gotten better on that front.
They have experience all over the place on offense, which reflects how cohesive the unit is. They also have three running backs totaling 11.4, 8.7, and 6.1 yards per carry. That ability to switch gears is something Pittsburgh will struggle mightily with. Even in playing one of their better games against Penn State, they still didn’t beat the spread.
And the run defense that shined last year only returns a pair of starters to its front seven. Their opponents’ averages are already going up in comparison to last season.
On the flipside of things, the Panthers will rack up plenty of yards themselves. The Cowboys currently being thin at linebacker will help even more. But Oklahoma State’s turnover margin (10th-ranked) last year was what kept them out of trouble on the scoreboard in several games last year. And Pitt has already struggled with turning the ball over early this season.
Even if they do put up something in the neighborhood of 28-35 points, Pitt still may not have enough to beat the spread. They’re also 3-11 over their past 14 games ATS. They’re establishing a history in non-conference games too, with a 5-15-1 ATS mark in their last 21.
The Cowboys mirror those numbers, having covered their last four non-conference games and five of their last six road games.
Pittsburgh did give Oklahoma State fits last year in a 35-28 defeat, but even then, the Cowboys covered. And the Panthers have clearly taken a step back this year, from the loss of offensive coordinator Matt Canada, to the departures of QB Nathan Peterman and Connor.
It’s not a cut-and-dry play, but Oklahoma State deserves to be heavily favored, even if they are traveling far for an early kickoff.