Our friends over at Big East Coast Bias have been counting down the top ten games that will determine the conference crown in 2011. Pitt is involved in half of them, so it shows you that the Panthers look to be a major player.
At any rate, the top ten concluded with a familiar game - The Backyard Brawl.
One of the reasons I'm picking West Virginia in this game is that it will be played at the newly beer friendly Mountaineer Field. Both teams will be coming off of an open date so that factor is a push. Pittsburgh will have a tougher schedule so any wear and tear should be weighing more heavily on them than on the Mountaineers. Lastly, Holgorsen and Graham have met before in Conference USA. When Holgorsen was the quarterback's coach and offensive coordinator at Houston they defeated then head coach of Tulsa Todd Graham's teams in 2008 and 2009. The scores of those games: Houston 70, Tulsa 30 (2008) and Houston 46, Tulsa 45 (2009).
That sounds about right to me and it's just one reason I'm hoping the conference crown doesn't come down to that one game. Not sure if I'm buying the wear and tear thing - you could also make the argument that those games will more adequately prepare Pitt for a tough environment. Sure, Pitt is capable of winning that game, but in a one game scenario, if you're asking me to pick a winner, I'd go with WVU at this point.
One thing I'll say is I'm not so sure the game will be the offensive shootout that a lot of people are predicting. Graham and Holgorsen have experience playing against each other, but I think in a game of that magnitude (if it comes down to the conference title), there will be a lot of feeling out and even some conservative playcalling.
Okay, for at least the first ten minutes, anyway.