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Pitt can clinch ACC Coastal Division with win against Wake Forest

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NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t heard yet, Pitt has a chance to go out and win a Division title this weekend.

The Panthers (6-4) will win the ACC Coastal Division by defeating the Demon Deacons (5-5) on Saturday. Should they lose, they’ll have another shot against Miami the following weekend. But you don’t need me to tell you it makes more sense to simply close the deal this week.

For one thing, Pitt is inching up in the rankings. They aren’t yet in the Top 25 but at No. 32/33 in the polls, a win should get them closer to being ranked. More importantly, if the Panthers lose, they’ll have to face what is likely a tougher opponent in Miami on the road. Win now and take the pressure off.

Now, I feel pretty good about Pitt going in. But that’s not to suggest that Wake Forest isn’t dangerous. At all. In fact, they look more dangerous now than they did a few weeks ago.

They just defeated a ranked NC State team and this is also a road contest for the Panthers. Wake has lost starting quarterback Sam Hartman, who was having a really nice season before suffering a season-ending injury. But they replaced him with a guy that, for at least one week, looked just as capable. Sophomore Jamie Newman came in and threw for 297 yards, three touchdowns, and no picks against NC State. The passing attack looks downright dangerous and if worrying is your thing, that’s where you should be most concerned.

The running game is no cakewalk, either. Like Pitt, Wake has a two-headed monster in Matt Colburn and Cade Carney. The pair has almost 1,400 yards total to go along with 11 touchdowns while averaging about five yards per carry. They haven’t been nearly as good as Ollison and Hall (1,898 yards, 18 touchdowns, and almost eight yards per carry) but they also haven’t accumulated bigger numbers, in part, because they throw much more than Pitt does.

Still, what you have to like here is that the Panthers have a nice opportunity to score points.

Wake has given up 20 points or more every game this season except for the opener against Tulane. They gave up 41 each to Syracuse and Boston College. 38 to Florida State. 35 to Louisville. 56 to Notre Dame. 63 against Clemson. Add it all up and Wake is 110th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 35.8 points per contest. Pitt hasn’t been great there, either, allowing just under 30 points a game. However, the Panthers have been much better there lately, giving up only 22 to Virginia Tech and 13 the week before against Virginia. They did have a shootout with Duke prior to that, giving up 45 points, but also held undefeated Notre Dame to only 19.

And unfortunately for Wake, they are also quite bad in rushing defense, ranking 103rd in the nation, allowing more than 200 yards per game. That, of course, is Pitt’s bread and butter on offense and this is a game where you expect senior backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall to have a big game.

As stated, that’s not to say that Wake Forest can’t win. But as long as the Pitt secondary doesn’t wet the bed, the Panthers will give themselves a nice chance to win.

None of that is to suggest that if Pitt defeats Wake Forest that they will ease up. I’ve seen that suggestion mentioned elsewhere and I don’t see any way that Pitt rests players or does something equally ridiculous. That’s because coaches want/need to win as many games as possible.

Sure, 7-5 will get the Panthers to the ACC title game but 8-4 is even better and should probably be good enough to get Pitt into the Top 25 heading into that contest. Could Pitt rest some guys against Miami if they wrap up the game in the second half? Definitely, and they would probably be foolish not to. But I don’t see them resting anyone purely to save them for the ACC title game. No way, no how. The goal is to win as many games as possible and this is a little different from the NFL where teams will rest guys heading into the playoffs. College football is a different animal. Even beyond that, Pitt’s bowl destination will be determined, in part, with how they finish.

Plus, coaches always want to play as many games as possible. It’s one of the primary reasons they often cite the importance of bowl games - the extra practice time and extra game. Guys like Kenny Pickett will benefit from as much experience as they can get. So in short, those guys aren’t resting.

But that’s down the line. Right now, the focus is on Wake Forest and trying to wrap things up here.

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