For reasons that I will explain, you should invest in these three games:
- Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia
- Penn State vs. Purdue
- Illinois vs. Indiana
You should play the spread for the first and third games and the total for the second. Let’s break down some games!
Pittsburgh Panthers vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
Thursday, September 1, 2022 – 07:00 PM EDT at Acrisure Stadium
By (unfairly) criticizing the degree of his previous offensive coordinator's inclination to pass, Coach Narduzzi made it clear that running will become a point of emphasis for Pittsburgh's offense.
This change in offensive focus was anyhow necessitated by the departures of the team's star players at quarterback and wide receiver. Therefore, Pittsburgh's offensive success in this game will hinge on its ability to run the ball.
Pitt's Ground Game
Pittsburgh is loaded with strong personnel in the departments of running the ball and run-blocking. Israel Abanikanda, Rodney Hammond Jr., and Vincent Davis all return.
Last year, they amassed a combined total of 1,748 rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. In a similar vein, Pitt's entire offensive line returns. It is filled with seniors and a grad student.
West Virginia Run Defense
West Virginia will need to do a better job of stopping the run after ranking fifth in the Big 12 in run defense last year, but the front seven was gutted by defensive lineman Akheem Mesidor's surprise decision to transfer out of the program.
The team's leading tackler last year joined Mesidor. There isn't enough run-stopping quality in this group beyond Dante Sills.
West Virginia's Offensive Line vs. Pittsburgh Front Seven
With probably the nation's best defensive line, Pitt will also own the trenches on the defensive side of the ball. Key here is defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado. His 9 sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss justify his All-ACC first-team selection.
- Calijah Kancey returns after amassing 13 tackles for loss and 7 sacks. With his 4-2-5 scheme, Narduzzi likes to bring pressures, so his linebackers will get involved.
- SirVocea Dennis returns after accruing 9.5 tackles-for-loss and 4 sacks last year while this position group remains strong with Shayne Simon bringing his starting experience as a transfer from Notre Dame.
While West Virginia returns its offensive line from last year, returning experience is a bad thing when it entails the same bad players starting again.
The Mountaineer ground game ranked last in the Big 12 last year in terms of yards per game and yards per carry. Nationally, they ranked 100th in rate of sacks allowed.
Penn State Nittany Lions vs. Purdue Boilermakers
Thursday, September 1, 2022 - 08:00 PM EDT at Ross-Ade Stadium
Purdue's Pass Attack
For its offensive production, Purdue depends heavily on its pass attack. It will and should have confidence to pass the ball a lot because Aidan O'Connell returns after helping his team pass the ball with the sixth-highest frequency.
However, one must ask who he will throw the ball to. Star receiver David Bell moved on to the NFL, and his team's second-leading wide receiver, Milton Wright, will miss this season because he is academically ineligible.
Penn State Secondary
While Purdue's pass attack regresses majorly in terms of quality, Penn State's secondary continues to look superb after its pass defense ranked 15th nationally last year.
Safety Ji'Ayir Brown, after accruing 6 interceptions last year while flexing a strong football IQ, is a positive NFL prospect as is cornerback Joey Porter Jr., whose combination of length and speed aids the effects of his imposing presence.
Can Penn State's Pass Attack Be Any Better?
From a passing perspective, Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has disappointed throughout his career. He struggles to complete more than 60% of his passes. Meanwhile, Purdue brings back safety Cam Allen, who had 4 interceptions last year.
Cory Trice is also back after serving as Purdue's best coverage guy before suffering an injury. His injury allowed for other cornerbacks to gain experience, which, alongside the transfer of Indiana cornerback Reese Taylor, adds quality depth to the Purdue secondary.
Jalen Graham, a wizard at deflecting pass attempts on passing downs, adds veteran playmaking experience to the Boilermaker pass defense. Meanwhile, Clifford misses his top wide receiver from last year, Jahan Dotson, who he depended on rather heavily.
With Penn State annually unable to run the ball, Clifford's outlook looks hopeless. For the above reasons, expect a low-scoring contest for your best bets.
Illinois Fighting Illini vs. Indiana Hoosiers
Friday, August 28, 2022 - 08:00 PM EDT at Memorial Stadium
Key Matchup Advantage Number One
Illinois will pull off the upset thanks to two key matchup advantages. One such advantage is part of the team's overall defensive improvement under defense-oriented head coach Lovie Smith.
This improvement saw the Illini rise to 6th in total defense in the Big Ten after ranking 14th in the category in 2020. Specifically, the Illini are strong on the defensive line where starting experience abounds with All-Big Ten fourth-teamer Jer'Zhan Newton being the most prominent figure.
This group will own the trenches against a Hoosier offensive line that struggled massively last year and did not undergo significant changes during the offseason.
Last year, nationally, Indiana ranked outside the top 100 in rushing yards per game and in the bottom half in rate of sacks allowed. It looks primed to rank so poorly again in both categories.
Matchup Advantage Number Two
On offense, Illinois will be strongest on the ground where they return Chase Brown, who eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on 5.9 yards per carry. Plenty of high-quality depth is in place to support Brown.
Continuity at right tackle with All-Big Ten third-teamer Alex Palczewski and a left-tackle position steeled by strong internal competition for the starting job will make running to the outside easiest for Illinois.
Meanwhile, Indiana misses the run defending of captain and middle linebacker Micah McFadden. For your NCAAF picks, expect Illinois to win primarily by owning the trenches.
NCAAF Pick: Fighting Illini +3.5 (-118) at Bookmaker
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.