Louisville opening as just a 1.5-point favorite over Pittsburgh turned more than a few heads on Sunday, and understandably so. The Cardinals are a perfect 5-0 and have been ranked in the nation's top 20 since week two, while Pitt is coming off a loss to Syracuse and has also been beaten fairly handily by Cincinnati and Youngstown State.
That said, there are justifications for Vegas having doubts about U of L on Saturday.
For starters, the Cards have reached conference play unbeaten by defeating five opponents with a combined record of 6-23, and they haven't exactly done so in dominating fashion. Since leading North Carolina 36-7 at the half on Sept. 15, U of L has needed a pass breakup in the endzone to avoid an epic collapse in that game, and then been life-and-death to beat a pair of teams in FIU and Southern Miss that are a combined 1-10.
The other big thing is that Pitt has had Louisville's number since 2008, winning the past four meetings with the Cards by just a hair under 21 points per game. The Panthers are also the only team to defeat U of L by double digits in the Charlie Strong era.
Cardiac Hill gives a few more reasons for optimism on the Pitt side of things.
As much as we all groaned about the 11:00 a.m. start, I've got to think that benefits the Panthers. They'll be at home while Louisville will have to travel and get ready for an early game to boot. And while the Cardinals had a bye this week, I still think the lack of travel helps Pitt in this one. Along those same lines, they also have the home crowd on their side.
In addition, it's homecoming week. Despite the early start time, I think Pitt has a good chance to draw a decent crowd if the weather holds up. Thousands of people will be in town for their annual pilgrimage back to the Burgh and many of them will go because it's their only chance to get to a game all year. The alumni events should draw some people to the game and even if some of the locals choose to stay home, there should be some out-of-towners in Heinz Field.
More importantly, Pitt just gets up for these types of games. The Youngstown States and Bowling Greens of the world? Not so much. But if there's one thing Pitt likes, it's their chance to shock the world. They did it earlier this season against No. 13 Virginia Tech. They did it against a 16th-ranked South Florida team last year. They've done it against Notre Dame before. Against West Virginia. Pitt loves big games and while they don't always come out on top (see Miami in 2010), most of the time, they put together a good effort. I expect Pitt will be hyped up for this one and ready to show they're still kicking.
I have my doubts about CH's assertion that Pitt will draw a good crowd on Saturday, but I actually think a scarcely attended game helps the Panthers. The Cards have been good on the road under Strong, but they've struggled when the environment has been less than electric, and "less than electric" is a description that is pretty much always appropriate for Pitt games at Heinz Field.
If there's a gun to my head and I'm being forced to pick, then I'm absolutely taking the Cards to cover the tiny spread. BUT, I also don't think it's too difficult to see the rationale behind Vegas' doubt.