Pitt faces Utah in its final non-conference matchup of the season on Saturday. It's also homecoming week and unlike many such opponents, this one is no easy foe.
Utah enters the game only 2-3 on the season, but is one of the better teams in the nation with a losing record. The team has faced one of the most difficult schedules in all of college football. Their first five opponents - Montana State, BYU, Arizona State, Washington, and USC - have a combined 22-6 record and BYU (4-2) is the only team with more than one loss. According to the Sagarin ratings, the Utes' strength of schedule is currently No. 8 in the country.
Still, Pitt does have some advantages heading into this game.
Utah will make the dreaded cross-country trip to face the Panthers. On top of that, the game has an early kickoff at noon and the Utes could still be a bit on west coast time when the game starts. To try to avoid being sluggish, the team is traveling to Pitt a day early.
Much like Pitt, Utah also has issues at quarterback. The Utes' starter, Jordan Wynn, has been injured and it was announced this week that he will be out for the season. Wynn will give way to inexperienced backup Jon Hays. Hays struggled last week against Arizona State, throwing three interceptions. If Pitt's defense can rattle him and if a good crowd comes out, he could again have a tough time.
Utah has also been up and down in run defense, despite a lofty No. 19 ranking, which is largely due to holding BYU to only 11 yards on the ground a few weeks ago. They have been vulnerable against the run at times as evidenced by the nearly 200 yards they gave up to the Washington Huskies. Ray Graham will surely be motivated after last week's loss against Rutgers and if Lucas Nix returns on the offensive line, he could have a big game.
In addition to Nix, the Panthers will also hope to get linebacker Todd Thomas back. Thomas has been an integral part of the defense with his athleticism and missed last week's contest against Rutgers. Head coach Todd Graham said earlier this week during his press conference that he hopes to have both players return this weekend.
Both teams have underachieved thus far and a win would go a long way to getting either team back on track. Each team is also coming off of a blowout loss and will be looking to make a statement. But playing a home game on homecoming weekend against a team starting a backup quarterback could be the perfect recipe for Pitt. I expect the Panthers to win this one - somewhere in the neighborhood of 24-20.
For more on the Pitt Panthers, visit SB Nation Pitt blog Cardiac Hill.