Pitt Panthers vs Cincinnati Bearcats Odds: Shocked Pitt Underdogs

September 1, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Youngstown State Penguins running back Jamaine Cook (35) stiff arms Pittsburgh Panthers defensive back Lafayette Pitts (23) as Cook rushes the ball during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

The Cincinnati Bearcats open their 2012 season a week after most teams and they face a Pitt Panthers team that probably wishes it had an extra week to prepare for their season opener.

Big East football rivals clash Thursday night as Cincy hosts Pitt at Nippert Stadium (8 pm Eastern ESPN).

Earlier this week several online sportsbooks opened this game with the Bearcats favored by three or 3.5 points, and the 'over/under' set at 49. Cincy has since been bumped to -4 at most college football betting shops, while the total has dropped a half-point, to 48.5.

"The Bearcats have tallied a 5-9 against-the-spread record against conference foes over the last two years, which makes them vulnerable in this spot, especially due to their 0-2 ATS mark as home favorites of seven points or less in that span," said Jeff Grant of SBRForum.com.

Cincinnati returns 11 starters from a team that went 10-3 last year, tied for first in the Big East by going 5-2 in conference and beat Vanderbilt in the Liberty Bowl. Seven starters are back on a defense that held foes to 20 PPG and 95 rushing YPG last year.

But only four starters return on offense, as the 'Cats must replace QB Zach Collaros, RB Isaiah Pead and three starters along the O line. However, new starting QB Munchie Legaux (love that name!) did see some action last year, starting three games for an injured Collaros, throwing over 100 passes and running 40 times, so he doesn't exactly come into this season a virgin.

Pitt, meanwhile, is coming off a 31-17 upset loss to FCS Youngstown State in its debut game under new head coach Paul Chryst last week. The Panthers, as 18-point favorites, allowed the Penguins to rack up 381 yards of offense, 204 of those on the ground.

But part of that performance might be traced to the suspension of six players just hours before the game.

Word is those players are practicing, but we can't say yet if they've been reinstated for Thursday's game.

Coming into the season Pitt had 14 starters back from a team that went 6-7 last year, 4-3 in the Big East, including three-year starting QB Tino Sunseri, RB Ray Graham and three along the O line. But only five starters were back on defense.

Cincy-Pitt: Banging Heads

Starting in 2005 Pitt beat Cincy three times in a row, but the Bearcats have won three of the last four. The Panthers beat Cincy 28-10 two years ago, but the 'Cats won last year 26-23. Also, the road team has won the last three games in this series, but the home team is 4-1 ATS over the last five.

Free Pitt Cincy Pick: We expect improvement out of Pitt, so we're not sure who's going to win this game. But we do like the prospect of some points being scored, so we'll go with the 'over' at 48.5 at Bovada.

Check the national college football scoreboard right here, and look through SB Nation's many excellent college football blogs to find your team's community.

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