Pittsburgh's game against Utah on Thursday night is not only big for the Panthers. It's also big for Big East bragging rights against the Mountain West Conference (new motto: "Utah-free in 2011!").
For a closer look at what Pitt can expect from the Utes in this tough road opener, I asked colleague and national college football blogger Andrea Adelson for her scouting report on Kyle Whittingham's team:
Strengths: The offense is a definite strength with eight starters returning, including quarterback Jordan Wynn. The sophomore started the final five games of last season and had a breakout performance in the Poinsettia Bowl against California, throwing for 338 yards and three touchdown passes. He is now completely comfortable in the spread system Utah runs, and has been given the ability to call audibles this season as well.
First-team All-Mountain West Conference running back Eddie Wide returns and so does Matt Asiata -- the two combined for -- 1,399 yards last season and 16 touchdowns. Watch for wide receiver Jereme Brooks to have a breakout season.
Weaknesses: Utah lost its top four tacklers from 2009 and has to replace seven starters on defense, including all three at linebacker and three in the secondary. Projected starter at rover JJ Williams is out with a foot injury, leaving Matt Martinez and Chaz Walker to start alongside converted quarterback Chad Manis. Tackle Koa Misi is also gone, along with his 4.5 sacks. But Utah does have depth on the defensive line, and leading sackmaster Sealver Siliga is back and expected to anchor the front.
Thanks to Andrea for the info.