FACTS & STATS: Site: Nippert Stadium (35,000) -- Cincinnati, Ohio. Television: ESPN. Home Record: Pittsburgh 0-1, Cincinnati 0-0. Away Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Neutral Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Conference Record: Pittsburgh 0-0, Cincinnati 0-0. Series Record: Pittsburgh leads 8-3.
GAME NOTES: The Pittsburgh Panthers will try to bounce back from an embarrassing loss on opening weekend, while the Cincinnati Bearcats attempt to get the season off on the right foot, as the two Big East foes clash at Nippert Stadium Thursday night.
Cincinnati had a bye in the first week of the season making the matchup with Pitt its season opener. The Bearcats are coming off a 10-3 campaign last year when they tied for the Big East title with a 5-2 mark. Cincinnati, along with former member West Virginia, were the only teams in the conference to get into the national rankings during the season. Cincinnati capped off the season with a 31-24 victory over Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl.
Pittsburgh may have been better served with a bye last weekend as the Panthers were downed 31-17 by FCS foe Youngstown State. The loss ended a 57- game winning streak against FCS competition by Big East squads. Pittsburgh went 6-7 last season but did make a bowl game, falling to SMU in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
This series dates back to 1921 although there have only been 11 total matchups. In those matchups, Pittsburgh is 8-3 including a 3-1 mark at Cincinnati. Cincinnati won last season's meeting 26-23, as Pitt missed on a potential gamed-tying field goal with 14 seconds remaining in regulation. Four of the last five games between the two teams have been decided by single digits.
It took most of the summer but Butch Jones finally settled on the quarterback to lead the Cincinnati offense after the departure of Zach Collaros. As expected, the choice was Munchie Legaux. The junior is a dual-threat who threw for 749 yards and five touchdowns while also rushing for 185 yards in limited playing time last season.
Legaux will not have to develop along with the receiving corps as both of Cincinnati's most talented and experienced wideouts return. Anthony McClung led the team in receptions (49), yards (683) and touchdowns (6) last season and Kenbrell Thompkins caught 44 balls for 536 yards and two scores.
Cincinnati will have a harder time replacing the production of departed running back Isaiah Pead, who rushed for 1,259 yards last season. Senior George Winn will get the first crack at the starting job. He was the primary backup last season, but prized recruit Jameel Poteat, who is now in his second season, will push for carries.
The offensive line is solid on the left side with left tackle Eric Lefeld and left guard Austen Bujnoch returning as starters. From there the line is a bit unsettled.
John Jancek will be taking over as the defensive coordinator for the Bearcats after Tim Banks left for Illinois. He will be trying to get similar production from last year, when Cincinnati ranked sixth in the nation in rushing defense and 42nd in total defense.
He will be doing so while trying to replace defensive tackle Derek Wolfe and middle linebacker JK Schaffer. Even with those departures the unit still returns seven starters, with the secondary the strong point. Safety Drew Frey was an All-Big East First-Team selection last season and is joined by top returning tackler in cornerback Camerron Cheatham.
Maalik Bomar and Nick Temple return as starters in the linebacking unit which will start sophomore Solomon Tentman in place of Schaffer. The defensive line will need ends Walter Stewart and Dan Giordano to get pressure, while the young interior develops.
Pittsburgh's offense didn't get it done on the important downs in the loss to Youngstown State, converting only 6-of-12 third down attempts and going 2-for-3 in the red zone, while YSU was a perfect 3-for-3.
Despite that, there was a major positive in the return of star running back Ray Graham. The senior was lost midway through last season but rushed for 71 yards on 14 carries and scored a touchdown. Graham did have a costly fumble in the red zone, however.
Tino Sunseri completed 19-of-30 pass attempts for 244 yards and looked much more comfortable in new head coach Paul Chryst's offense then the spread attack the team employed under Todd Graham last season. Sunseri is now sixth in Pittsburgh history in career passing yards.
There were certainly growing pains for the Pittsburgh defense in the first game of the season when eight different players made their first start.
Missing from action were also key defensive players like junior defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell and senior defensive end Shayne Hale, who were both serving suspensions. According to the depth chart both should be back in action on Thursday.
The inexperience showed as Pitt allowed 386 total yards to the Penguins and ended a 25-game streak without at least one sack. The team also only compiled two tackles for loss in the game. Shane Gordon, in his first start at linebacker, led the team with 10 total tackles and also broke up a pass. Pre- season All-Big East defensive tackle Aaron Donald had four total tackles, one for a loss, and a team-leading two quarterback hits.
This has become one of the better conference matchups in recent years and has all the makings of another good one. With a week under its belt and the motivation of last week's loss, Paul Chryst's squad will be trying to prove itself. Meanwhile, Cincinnati has had an extra week to prepare with a bunch of speed and talent on the roster. Pittsburgh will turn in a more respectable performance than the opener, but Cincinnati will keep the Panthers out of the win column for at least one more week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 21Game Date and Time
Thursday, September 6, 8:00 p.m. (et)