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West Virginia vs. Pitt Football Prediction and Preview

Defending ACC champion Pitt welcomes West Virginia to the Steel City for the latest installment of the Backyard Brawl.
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A full slate of Week 1 college football action includes the renewal of one of the top rivalries in the sport: the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia.

Related: Ranking All 83 College Football Games in Week 1

The two schools separated by 77 miles will meet Thursday night in Pittsburgh to write the latest chapter in the storied rivalry.

Pitt comes into the game as defending ACC champions, having won 11 games a season ago. The biggest offseason storylines for the Panthers were the departures of Heisman Trophy finalist Kenny Pickett, to graduation and the NFL, and Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, via the transfer portal to USC.

Head coach Pat Narduzzi was able to fill the two largest voids on his roster with two high-profile transfers, and the Panthers return 14 of their 22 starters as well as plenty of depth at key positions.

West Virginia won six games last season and finished the campaign with an 18-6 loss to Minnesota in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. Unlike Pitt, the Mountaineers don't have the luxury of returning the bulk of their starters, with just nine returning from 2021.

Head coach Neal Brown did get some relief and hopefully a subsequent boost in talent and production at the quarterback position via the transfer portal. Former Georgia quarterback JT Daniels takes over as the starting signal-caller in Morgantown and hopes to lead West Virginia to a third straight bowl appearance in Brown's tenure.

West Virginia at Pitt

Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Pittsburgh -7.5

When Pitt Has the Ball

USC transfer Kedon Slovis will be under center for Narduzzi's Panthers this season. After losing one of the best quarterbacks in the country from last season, you can't ask for much better in terms of a transfer portal replacement than Slovis — who has the potential to turn himself into an early-round NFL draft pick. 

When he drops back to pass, Slovis will be protected by a solid offensive line that returns every starting from last season's championship team. The bulk of his passes will be directed at what should be one of the most talented receiving duos in the ACC: Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield. Wayne is Pitt's leading returning receiver and is a big-bodied wideout who will likely see a lot of targets from Slovis in the red zone. Mumpfield transferred in from Akron after being named a Freshman All-American by several outlets a season ago. He figures to be the lead candidate to fill Addison's role and replace his production.

The Panther will employ a committee of talented backs in the run game. Israel Abanikanda will probably see the field earliest and most often, but keep an eye out for Notre Dame transfer C'Bo Flemister to make an impact.

When West Virginia Has the Ball

Like Pitt, West Virginia returns all five starters on its offensive line — but that's not necessarily a good thing. The Mountaineers were dead last in the Big 12 in both rushing yards and sacks allowed last season. Unless there has been significant improvement, the Mountaineers will need JT Daniels to get the ball out of his hands quickly if they want to be effective on offense.

When Daniels lets it rip, Bryce Ford-Wheaton will be the likely leader in targets. Brown and the rest of the West Virginia coaching staff are also hoping to see Reese Smith and Kaden Prather step up and be impact players at the receiver position in 2022.

When the Mountaineers run the ball, Tony Mathis Jr. and Justin Johnson are expected to get the bulk of the carries. Their success will depend largely on any improvements made by the offensive line in the offseason.

Final Analysis

If this game turns into a shootout between two high-profile transfer quarterbacks, you have to think West Virginia would be thrilled. There is a chance that happens, but the most likely scenario is the game being close early on as both teams shake the rust and find their way. Eventually, look for Pitt's depth to take over and West Virginia's offensive line to struggle against a deep Panther front seven led by Calijah Kancey — one of the best defensive linemen in the country. Daniels will then be forced to air it out and throw the ball at a Pitt defensive backfield expected to be one of the best in the ACC again in 2022.

Of course, anything can happen in college football, but right now all signs point to a long night for West Virginia and an opening weekend statement game for Pitt, announcing to the nation that their conference title a season ago was no fluke.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 41, West Virginia 16

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— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! SBNation and Bleacher Report. He is a three-time FWAA writing contest award winner. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.