104 days until the return of the Backyard Brawl and West Virginia sits 6.5-point underdogs, as of right now, courtesy of BetOnline. The game between Pitt and West Virginia will be the first since the two teams bolted the dysfunctional Big East for more stable conferences in the ACC and Big12 in the early part of last decade.
The nearly one-score difference shouldn’t come as a shock to those who follow the two programs closely following the upward trend of Pitt and the stagnation of West Virginia in recent years.
Pitt is coming off their best season since 1976 when they were last National Champions. Last season, Pitt finished 11-3 (7-1) en route to an ACC Championship and appearance in the New Year’s Six Peach Bowl. In addition to that, they saw the No 3. Heisman finalist in quarterback Kenny Pickett get drafted in the first round by the local NFL team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and had their third Biletnikoff winner at receiver, Jordan Addison, tying the school with Alabama for the most winners of the award in history.
Meanwhile, West Virginia struggled to a 6-7 (4-5) record last year. They lost 19 players to the transfer portal, more than any other BIG12 team. And in three years under Neal Brown, have yet to finish higher than sixth in the conference.
But what about the other factors? Pitt will be replacing those two players mentioned above this season as they lost Pickett to graduation and Addison to USC. West Virginia brings in a much higher rated recruiting class (39) than Pitt’s (62) according to 247Sports.
Above all though, it’s a rivalry game. Both West Virginia fans and Pitt fans will attest that the better team on paper doesn’t always win those games and the games themselves are, more often than not, close. Neither of the two fanbases have to look any further back than 2007 when a national contending West Virginia team fell 13-9 at home to a 5-7 Pitt team.
Interestingly, despite having the worse season last year West Virginia had more many top-25 victories than Pitt did. West Virginia beat No. 15 Virginia Tech and No. 22 Iowa State and only lost to No. 4 Oklahoma by three on the road.
Pitt only had one top-25 victory against No. 16 Wake Forest in the ACC Championship game. But they did beat 10-win Clemson, who was unranked at the time but finished the season ranked No. 14, and Virginia Tech, who was unranked when Pitt played them.
They also had a close loss to a top tier team when they fell 31-21 to No. 10 Michigan State despite playing their third string quarterback. They led for most of that game and even had a chance to win on the last drive before a long pick-six closed the door for Michigan State.
All things considered; a 6.5-point spread is probably right where it should be.