NCAA Football: Western Michigan Broncos vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview, Prediction & Odds -- Sept. 18, 2021

by Big Al Staff

Game time: Noon ET, Sept. 18, 2021
Venue: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
Where to watch: ESPN3

Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks


DraftKings: Pitt -15; O/U 61; Moneyline; Pitt -720, Western Michigan +500
BetMGM: Pitt -15; O/U 60.5; Pitt -714, Western Michigan +500
Caesars: Pitt -15; O/U 60.5; Pitt -700, Western Michigan +475

Season record
Western Michigan: 1-1
Pittsburgh: 2-0

Nelly’s Sports was 3-1 overall yesterday winning two out of three in the NFL. We also turned in a 7-0 college football Saturday to make it a 9-1 football weekend. Catch Nelly’s and other plays available right now at the Shop Picks page, where you can find all of the Best Bets from our champion sports handicappers.

Western Michigan - Pittsburgh preview and analysis


Recent form
Western Michigan: won 28-0 vs. Illinois State on Sept. 11
Pittsburgh: won 41-34 at Tennessee on Sept. 11

There may have been no more impressive win in Week 2 than the Pittsburgh Panthers going to Knoxville and beating the Tennessee Volunteers.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of it was how Pitt, not known for its offense over the last few years, put up 41 points in an effortless performance. Sure, the Panthers gave up 34 and barely covered the -4 it was laying, but maybe this is a sign of things to come for Pitt.

The Panthers will try to start 3-0 for the second consecutive year when they return home for a matchup with the Western Michigan Broncos on Saturday.

Here’s what we can decode with Pitt’s first two wins: The Panthers should win this game. Them being favored by 15 is no joke. While Western Michigan isn’t the strongest program in the MAC, its first two games have gone as expected; getting blown out on the road by 34 to the Michigan Wolverines at the Big House, and rebounding for a 28-0 win against FCS Illinois State.

And while it looks impressive that the Broncos have held their first two opponents to 122.5 passing yards per game, the majority of that came from the Michigan loss in a short day for Cade McNamara. WMU held Illinois State quarterback Bryce Jefferson to only 29 yards on 8 of 19 passing.

Good luck trying to slow down Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett with the way he’s throwing the ball. Pickett went 24 of 36 for 285 yards and two touchdowns in what was perhaps the best start from the senior in his college career.

Pickett needed to be great considering Pitt’s running game was held in check (96 yards on 45 carries). Six players had at least three receptions, led by Taysir Mack’s 100-yard day on four catches. Jordan Addison had six catches for 64 yards and a touchdown, and receiver Jared Wayne threw a touchdown to complement his 3-catch, 56-yard afternoon in Rocky Top.

Most importantly, no turnovers on the ledger for Pitt. Through two games, even against UMass in the season opener, they’ve kept it clean in that department.

The Panthers have one more non-conference game, at home against New Hampshire on Sept. 25, before beginning ACC play with two road games at Georgia Tech and No. 15 Virginia Tech. While we don’t know yet how good this Panthers team can be, imagine a 5-1 team welcoming Clemson on Oct. 23.

Prediction


Last week showed that the Panthers will need to get the running game going before ACC play. Fortunately, including this week, they’ll have two warm-up games to get that aspect on track. They don’t have to worry about Pickett. Even if he has a pedestrian afternoon, it should be enough for Pitt to win and cover outright. Pittsburgh by 21.

Betting trends


Pittsburgh is 6-1 against the spread in its last seven September games, and 6-1 ATS in its last seven non-conference games..

The under is 11-3 in Western Michigan’s last 14 games.

Western Michigan is 2-6 against the spread following a win at home.

Players to watch


Western Michigan: Quarterback Kaleb Eleby rebounded with a 15-of-21 performance against Illinois State, throwing for 174 yards and a touchdown. Through two games, Eleby has been under 200 yards. If WMU wants a chance to win, he needs to win it himself.

Pittsburgh: If Pitt is going to get the running game going, one of Israel Abanikanda or Vincent Davis will need to carry the lord. The two backs have combined for 138 yards and three touchdowns through two games.

Statistical leaders


Western Michigan:
Passing: Kaleb Eleby -- 365 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: La’Darius Jefferson -- 144 yards, 3 TD
Receiving: Jaylen Hall - 121 yards, 1 TD
Defense: Corvin Moment -- 12 tackles, 1 sack

Pittsburgh:
Passing: Kenny Pickett -- 557 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT
Rushing: Israel Abanikanda -- 73 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Taysir Mack -- 134 yards; Jordan Addison -- 104 yards, 2 TD
Defense: John Petrishen -- 10 tackles, 2 sacks

Don't miss our champion handicappers' free picks and expert football picks today. And if you enjoyed this Western Michigan Broncos - Pittsburgh Panthers prediction, be sure to drop by every day for our daily NCAA projections and previews.

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

© 2021 Al McMordie's BigAl.com. All Rights Reserved.