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College Football Pittsburgh at Utah

The college football season gets started with a prime matchup on Thursday night, as Big East contenders Pittsburgh head to Utah to battle the Utes.

The Panthers are ranked No. 15 in the nation in the preseason rankings while Utah missed out on the Top 25. Despite that the Utes are a 2.5-point favorite at home. The fact that Utah has the longest active home winning streak in college football at 17 games might have something to do with that.

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The No. 15 Panthers are expected to challenge for the Big East title this season behind both a solid offense and defense. Expect the Panthers' offense to lean heavily on the run early on this season. Running back Dion Lewis burst onto the scene last year and set a new Pittsburgh freshman rushing record with 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns. The explosive speed of Lewis isn't the only reason Pittsburgh will emphasize the run. There's a new QB at Pitt with Tino Sunseri taking over for the departed Bill Stull. Thursday night's game with be Sunseri's first start after previously attempting only 17 passes in college. Sunseri does have a top-notch No. 1 receiver in Jon Baldwin, who put up 1,111 yards and eight touchdowns last season to help ease the growing pains.

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On defense the Panthers boast one of the best pass-rushing attacks in the nation after leading college football in sacks last season. With their two hulking defensive ends Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard both back they should continue to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. The Utes had a lot of turnover in the offseason, especially on defense, as six Utah players were taken in the draft. They haven't been stripped bare, though, and should put up quite a fight at home against Pitt. Quarterback Jordan Wynn begins the season as the starter after claiming the starting gig from Terrance Cain at mid-season a year ago. Wynn put up decent numbers in six games with 1,329 yards passing, eight touchdowns, and four interceptions, and he should continue to progress this season. His offensive line remains mostly intact from last season, which should be a bonus against the aggressive Pittsburgh pass rush. The Utes' running game looks to be in good shape with Eddie Wide and Matt Asiata forming a formidable duo. The receiving corps was gutted during the offseason and they'll miss David Reed and his 1,000-plus yards receiving from a year ago. Jereme Brooks is ready for the No. 1 job and should be able to fill Reed's shoes. [ College football odds, trends, previews and matchup reports on every game - get it here at{URL=http://www.oddsshark.com/NCAAF} Odds Shark {/URL} ]

On defense Utah has only four starters returning, but one of them is cornerback Brandon Burton. The speedy defender should keep the Utes' secondary rolling along while their inexperience linebacking corps figures things out. The Panthers and Utes have only met once before in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl. The Utes destroyed the Panthers 35-7 as a 16-point favorite that day and became the first non-BCS team to win a BCS bowl game.