Game time: 4 p.m. ET; Sept. 4, 2021
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Where to watch: ACC Network
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: Pittsburgh -38; O/U 55.5; No money line
BetMGM: Pittsburgh -38; O/U 56.5; No money line
FanDuel: Pittsburgh -37.5; O/U 56.5; Pittsburgh -100000, UMass +3000
2020 season record
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UMass - Pittsburgh preview and analysis
After a four-game losing streak that was bookended between two one-point losses and two blowouts by ranked teams, to finish the way the Pittsburgh Panthers did was remarkable.
The Panthers responded with three wins in their final four games, albeit the wins came against easier competition and the loss was to the Clemson Tigers. There have never been more accurate words to describe the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Nevertheless, the Panthers still finished with a winning record and would’ve gone to a bowl game had they chosen not to opt-out of the postseason.
But after the one-year hiatus, there’s reason to believe Pittsburgh will return to bowl status this season in the seventh year under head coach Pat Narduzzi. Pitt will open its season in non-conference action against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Heinz Field on Saturday.
Given the circumstances, the Panthers having another winning season under Narduzzi was a welcomed sight. Pitt has had a winning record in all but one season since Narduzzi took over in 2015, and even that was a five-win campaign.
But given the circumstances, Pitt would’ve been a tough out in any bowl game, considering how solid their offense was (29 points per game) and how sound the defense was (24.5 points allowed, 37th in the country). And coming into this season where the ACC Coastal division could be wide open past North Carolina, Pittsburgh could be a tough out in that division.
The Panthers will have senior quarterback Kenny Pickett back after a 13-touchdown, 9-interception season in 2020. Pickett will also have top receiver Jordan Addison back after he caught four of those touchdown passes to go along with 666 yards. No, we’re not lying on that one.
Leading rusher Vincent Davis is also back after rushing for 632 yards and six touchdowns in his shortened season.
Defensively, the Panthers are losing a great deal of production both upfront and the back end. Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver -- combining for 16.5 sacks last year -- are now in the NFL. Linebackers Cam Bright and Phil Campbell III are the leading returners for those wreaking havoc on the quarterback. Leading tackler and top ballhawk Damar Hamlin is also now pro after being a sixth-round pick by the Buffalo Bills this Spring.
Following UMass, the Panthers will be on the road to face the Tennessee Volunteers, followed by home games against Western Michigan and New Hampshire. Then it’ll be a tough road game, as it usually is somehow, against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on Oct. 2.
These are problems a program like the UMass Minutemen would love to have. If you ever need something fun to look at, a quick checkup of their College Football Reference page is something to behold. Little do we forget that 106-year gap between actual football, but the level of play has not changed. UMass is still bad and not getting any better.
The Minutemen are about to enter their sixth season of being FBS Independents (there’s irony in this somewhere, I promise) and the only thing independent from them are victories. UMass played four games last season, losing all four. In addition, UMass lost those games by a combined score of 161-12. Shoutout to the safety the Minutemen collected against Florida Atlantic.
Did you also know that seven different UMass players attempted a pass last season? In four games? Four were quarterbacks, one a wide receiver, one a tight end, and one … a long snapper. The tight end, Josiah Johnson, completed six of nine passes for 39 yards. He had a better completion percentage than any of the quarterbacks. All quarterbacks except for Andrew Brito. He did go 1-for-1 on the season … for negative five yards.
It is truly the battle of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. We just don’t know which opponents are which. UMass being the immovable object makes sense because we don’t really believe they move during a game. Just remember this day when UMass produces a Heisman Trophy winner, or lands a five-star recruit over the likes of Ohio State or Oklahoma.
We may laugh now, but when they upset the Alabama Crimson Tide on a cold, brisk October night in Tuscaloosa, and they lose every other game remaining on their season schedule, we will remember this slander as they party in Miami one week and get slaughtered by the Penn State Nittany Lions the next.
UMass is not just playing Pitt this season. They get No. 22 Coastal Carolina, the Florida State Seminoles, and the Liberty Flames. Why are we subjecting this poor program to slaughter?
If Pitt doesn’t win by at least five scores, we need to have a talk. We understand taking your foot off the gas against UMass, but just when you thought there weren’t worse programs than UNLV, you run into the Minutemen. They are men who get scored on in a minute. Pittsburgh wins 45-7.
This is the first meeting ever between the teams.
UMass is 1-15 straight up in its last 16 games, 4-12 against the spread.
Pittsburgh has split 11-11 in its last 22 against the spread.
Players to watch
UMass: Tyler Lytle will start at quarterback for the Minutemen. He will look to surpass Garrett Dzuro’s 215 total passing yards last season.
Pittsburgh: Kenny Pickett is a shade under 3,000 yards away from becoming Pitt’s all-time leader in passing yards. He’s sure to pass Dan Marino at some point in the next few weeks, barring health.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Garrett Dzuro -- 215 yards
Rushing: Ellis Merriweather -- 115 yards
Receiving: Samuel Emilus -- 163 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Cole McCubrey -- 33 tackles
Passing: Kenny Pickett -- 2,408 yards, 13 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Vincent Davis -- 632 yards, 6 TD
Receiving: Jordan Addison -- 666 yards, 4 TD
Defense: Damar Hamlin -- 67 tackles, 2 INT; Patrick Jones II -- 9 sacks
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