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South Florida at Pittsburgh

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Editor’s Note: Christian Alexander's college football selections can be purchased weekly on VegasInsider.com. He's 3-1 (75%) in his last four selections on Thursday and he's already locked and loaded with tonight's pending winner!

Matchup: #16 South Florida (4-0) at Pittsburgh (2-2)
Venue: Heinz Field – Natural Grass
Date: Thursday, Sept. 29
Time/TV: 8:00 pm ET - ESPN
Line: South Florida -2.5, o/u 52

Two in a row is a certified streak!

Unfortunately for NC State, their team is not nearly as potent without QB Russell Wilson and the results proved that last Thursday. Cincinnati (-7) was a relatively easy call playing at home against the Wolfpack and looking for revenge for a defeat in Raleigh in 2010. When the final gun sounded the scoreboard read 44-14 and it might not have been that close.

That win accompanied by LSU the previous week and Western Kentucky in Week 1, brings me to 3-1 on Thursday nights this season. My one blemish – taking Arizona and the points at Oklahoma State in Week 2 – looks even more foolish after the Cowboys’ impressive win at Texas A&M last weekend but I won’t make that mistake again.

Looking to push my record to 4-1, let’s turn the page to Week 5 in College Football. This Thursday night, 16th ranked South Florida travels to Pittsburgh in the Big East opener for both teams. Of course, with the way conferences are realigning, this won’t be a Big East matchup for long. Heck, it’s only been a Big East game for a couple years now and with Pittsburgh having signed a deal to move to the ACC, this matchup probably doesn’t have much shelf life left.

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That doesn’t mean much to either of the coaches involved in this game. South Florida’s Skip Holtz and Pittsburgh’s Todd Graham tangled several times in Conference USA when Graham was with Rice and Tulsa and Holtz was with East Carolina. Now they are both in the Big East and regardless of how the conferences realign, this probably won’t be the last time these rising stars in the coaching ranks face off. (For those scoring at home, Holtz has beaten Graham twice, while Graham only has one win against Holtz)

As for this game specifically, it sure appears as if Holtz holds the upper hand this Thursday night. The Bulls are a perfect 4-0 and sport the 10th ranked offense in the nation. South Florida made their presence felt right out of the gate when they bolted to a 16-0 halftime lead at Notre Dame. Severe weather in the form of rain and lightning caused halftime to last 2 hours and 10 minutes but the Bulls managed to keep their heads and held on for a 23-20 win. It was not only a huge win for the South Florida program but also for Holtz, a Notre Dame graduate and son of former Irish head coach Lou Holtz, who led Notre Dame to its last national title in 1988.

Since that win the Bulls have been rarely been tested in games against Ball State (37-7), Florida A&M (70-17), and UTEP (52-24). As mentioned, the offense has been the story for South Florida and the main reason for that is quarterback B.J. Daniels. The junior signal caller is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation and combined with weapons such as RB Darrell Scott and WR Sterling Griffin, can cause quite a headache for opposing defenses. Need proof? Just look at the stats: The Bulls average 45.5 points per game and Daniels has 1,071 passing yards with eight touchdown passes against just one interception.

Not that the South Florida defense is just along for the ride. The Bulls rank an impressive 26th on that side of the ball while they might lack a dominant force like DE George Selvie – now with the St. Louis Rams –they have plenty of talent on defense.

While the last three week haven’t really tested the Bulls, that figures to change against Pittsburgh. The Panthers are 2-2 and while neither win – Buffalo & Maine – has been impressive, both losses have been very close. Pitt led at Iowa by 17 with about 12 minutes left in the game but couldn’t hang on as the Hawkeyes rallied for a 31-27 win. After that heartbreaker, the Panthers came home to face Notre Dame and were leading with under seven minutes to go only to lose 15-12.

It’s certainly not a stretch to say the 2-2 Panthers could be the undefeated 4-0 Panthers with a few bounces of the ball. Thursday offers the opportunity to get the season on the right track for Pitt. To do so, Pitt will need much more consistent play from their offense (ranked 80th in the nation) and their defense (ranked 93rd in the nation).

Predictably, the offense flows through QB Tino Sunseri and if any one player needs a dose of consistency it’s the redshirt junior whose father Sal was an All-American at Pitt and is now the assistant head coach/linebackers coach at Alabama. Sunseri has been sharp at times but as his TD/interception ratio (4/4) would indicate, he has made his fair share of mistakes. Pitt seems best off when the offense runs through RB Ray Graham, who leads the team with six touchdowns, and Sunseri is not pressured to make throws.

It’s worth noting that South Florida went 3-4 in Big East play last year, dropping their first two games in conference play, while Pitt went 5-2 in 2010, including a 17-10 win at South Florida. Each team returns 13 starters this year and both QB’s are clearly experienced.

Head to head, Pitt has won three straight in the series (5-3 overall) and is 1-3 ATS this year. South Florida is 3-1 ATS in 2011.

Bonus Game:

Houston Cougars (-16) at UTEP Miners (CSTV, 8:00 p.m. ET)

  • The Cougars are 3-1 ATS in 2011
  • UTEP is 2-2 ATS in 2011
  • Averaging 446 passing yards a game, Houston has the #1 passing offense in the nation
  • The series is tied 4-4 but UTEP holds a 4-1 advantage in El Paso
  • Houston’s defense is ranked 72nd in the nation
  • The Cougars are 4-0 for the seventh time in school history
  • The Miners are 6-0 in Conference USA home openers
  • Houston QB Case Keenum has 1,311 yards and nine TDs against UTEP in four games
  • In last six games in this series, the Miners have scored 211 points (35.2 avg.), and the Cougars have scored 246 (41.0 avg.)
  • Houston RB Bryce Beal rushed for 195 yards against UTEP in 2010
  • UTEP starting QB Nick Lamaison has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury but could play this Thursday (check status)
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