Pittsburgh returns to ACC action this week as the Panthers host Duke. After coming up just shy of a major upset at Notre Dame two weeks ago with the team’s best defensive effort of the year, will the Panthers (3-4, 2-1 ACC) manage a similar showing with a chance to remain in the ACC Coastal Division hunt? Or will Duke (5-2, 1-2) bring itself to .500 in the ACC standings after losing at home against Virginia last week?
Duke can clinch bowl eligibility for the sixth time under head coach David Cutcliffe with a win, but wins against the Panthers have been tough to come by for Duke. On the other side, Pitt likely cannot afford to take a loss at home if the Panthers are to keep their bowl hopes alive this season.
Duke at Pittsburgh
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Duke -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. A battle of struggling offenses
Duke and Pitt certainly are not thriving in terms of offensive production this season. The Blue Devils rank 11th in the ACC in total offense, and the Panthers are ranked 13th. Both teams also rank in the bottom half of the 14-team ACC in scoring offense, although Duke is averaging 29.4 points per game to Pittsburgh’s 24.3. Duke appears to have the edge here, as the Devils allow just 19.1 ppg to opposing offenses, while Pitt is giving up 30.9 ppg even after its strongest defensive performance of the season in a 19-14 loss at Notre Dame.
2. Pitt RB Qadree Ollison among ACC’s top rushers
Panthers senior running back Qadree Ollison has been one of the sturdiest backs in the conference so far with 108 carries for 646 yards, although he has gone over the century mark just twice this season. The production on the ground can be up and down from week-to-week, but he remains a consistent part of the game plan for the Panthers and should be called upon frequently against the nation’s 50th-ranked rushing defense.
Looking to prevent Ollison from racking up yardage this week will be Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, who is second in the conference in tackles with 8.43 per game. Expect these two to meet plenty of times on Saturday.
3. Pitt has won three straight in the series
Duke and Pitt renewed their series in 2013 when the Panthers joined the ACC, and the series made up for lost time on the scoreboard with two straight high-scoring contests: Pitt won in 2013 by a score of 58-55, and Duke won the following season in Pittsburgh, 51-48. But Pitt has taken control of the series with three consecutive wins, including last year’s 24-17 victory in Durham.
Duke has been a weird team to figure out this season, at least since entering ACC play. The Blue Devils are 3-0 on the road this season and are favored this week in Pittsburgh. That perfect road record may be in jeopardy, as the Panthers will look to take advantage of their running game against Duke. Having the benefit of a bye week to prepare for the second half of the schedule should be a benefit, but don’t expect Pitt to win this one cleanly. This one should be a scrappy game.
Prediction: Pitt 24, Duke 23
— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. McGuire also contributes to College Football Talk and The Comeback as well as hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB and Like him on Facebook.