Pitt seeks share of Big East title

By: Stephen Nover | Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bearcats QB Tony Pike has thrown 23 TD passes and only three picks in 11 games.

The Pitt Panthers are out to grab a share of the Big East Conference football championship as they host fifth-ranked Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Saturday.

The undefeated fifth-ranked Bearcats already have won at least a share of the Big East title, but need this victory to guarantee a spot in the BCS bowls as the undisputed Big East champ.

Pittsburgh is 9-2 and ranked 14th. This marks the first time in Big East history that the league’s BCS bid will be decided in a head-to-head matchup on the last week of the season.

The loser probably is ticketed to the Meineke Car Care Bowl on Dec. 26 in Charlotte, N.C., against a mid-range Atlantic Coast Conference school.

Cincinnati is 11-0 for the first time in school history. That record has helped make Bearcats coach Brian Kelly a strong coaching candidate for the Notre Dame job. Kelly has downplayed the Notre Dame rumors not wanting them to be a distraction this week.

The Bearcats are first in the Big East in scoring averaging 39.4 points and are No. 1, too, in total offense at 472.7 yards per game. They’ve also given up just nine sacks, fewest in the league.

Star quarterback Tony Pike returned from an arm injury to throw for 399 yards and six touchdowns in a 49-36 victory against Illinois last Friday. Despite missing three games, Pike has thrown for 2,048 yards with a 23-to-three touchdown-to-interception ratio.

Pittsburgh hopes to apply plenty of pressure on Pike. The Panthers lead the nation with 43 sacks. Cincinnati, though, has scored 40 or more points in five of its 11 games. Only in a 24-21 win against West Virginia have the Bearcats been held to less than 28 points.

Cincinnati failed to cover in that matchup as 9 ½-points home favorites. The Bearcats are 6-5 ATS this season.

West Virginia edged Pittsburgh, 19-16, last Friday on a 43-yard field goal as time expired as one-point home favorites. The Panthers had tied the Mountaineers on a 50-yard touchdown pass from Bill Stull to Jonathan Baldwin.

Stull has a 19-to-six touchdown-to-interception ratio. His passer rating of 153.0 is second in the conference to Pike’s 162.2. Baldwin is third in the league in receiving yards. Cincinnati gave up 307 yards through the air in its victory against Illinois last week in failing to cover as 18 ½-point home favorites.

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The Panthers’ big gun is freshman running back Dion Lewis. He’s the nation’s fourth-leading rusher averaging 131.5 yards rushing per game. He’s topped 100 yards five straight times.

Cincinnati has allowed 190.7 yards on the ground and 442.7 total yards during its past three games.

Pittsburgh, 6-4 ATS this season, has the conference’s third-best scoring offense and second-best scoring defense. The Panthers have committed only nine turnovers. Cincinnati has the nation’s fewest turnovers committing just six.

Cincinnati defeated Pittsburgh, 28-21 as a six-point home favorite last season. It was the Bearcats’ first win versus the Panthers in eight career meetings.

The Panthers expect to have cornerback Aaron Berry available for this one after he missed last week’s game against West Virginia because of a shoulder injury.

The Bearcats have been a money-maker when playing tough competition under Kelly. They are 16-7-1 ATS versus schools with a winning record. Cincinnati also has covered in eight of its last 11 Big East matchups.

Pittsburgh has covered six of its last eight conference games. The Panthers, though, are 17-35 ATS following a straight-up loss.

The ‘over’ is 13-6-1 in Cincinnati’s past 20 road games. The ‘under’ has cashed in seven of Pittsburgh’s last eight Big East contests.

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