1. Run: The Bulls snuck past UTEP in their opener with the help of a moderately successfully running game. They'll need an upgrade against the Panthers, who feature the best front seven UB will face this year and a defensive line that's considered top notch. Even with the ascent in competition, establishing the run could be a more viable task than one would imagine. UTEP's 3-3-5 wreaks havoc with blocking schemes, while Pitt takes a traditional 4-3-4 approach. Still, the UB line will have to create greater thrust against more formidable competition to create lanes for Brandon Thermilus (right) and Mario Henry.
2. And stop the run: Here's all you need to know about Pitt's O-line play: The Panthers lost RB LeShon McCoy to the NFL, possess an average QB in Bill Stull and still were picked to win the Big East in the preseason poll. Freshman Dion Lewis pilfered Youngstown State for 131 yards on 15 carries, breaking Tony Dorsett's record for most rushing yardage by a Pitt back in his freshman debut. But, remember, it was Division I-AA Youngstown State. Doubtless UB will stack against the run and trust its experienced secondary in coverage, a luxury it couldn't afford against pass-happy UTEP.
3. Another option: UTEP's unusual defensive scheme led the Bulls to pocket the option in the opener and mitigate the risks for first-time starter Zach Maynard. They're bound to unveil it against the Panthers in order to spread the defense and take advantage of Maynard's sharp cuts and turn-the-corner speed. Trying to continuously pound at the Panthers between the tackles would be a difficult chore, not that the option offers any guarantees. MLB Adam Gunn, in particular, closes ground in a rush. He's back after suffering a neck fracture 12 months ago, joining Pitt's seven returning defensive starters.
4. QB debate: The boos came cascading down on senior QB Stull early in the opening 38-3 rout of Youngstown. Pitt fans regard him as more of an obstacle to success rather than a catalyst for the passing game. That's because his junior season was sketchy, and ended with a 3-0 loss to Oregon State in the Sun Bowl. Still, coach Dave Wannstedt is firmly behind him. Stull had a decent game against the Bulls last year, completing 22 of 33 for a TD with one INT. But UB's chances of winning increase the more they can force the Panthers into passing situations.
5. Big plays: The Bulls' ability to produce the big play at key moments has fueled the program's rise. The trend continued in the opener, when Domonic Cook returned a free kick 62 yards to set up a touchdown. The Bulls didn't commit any turnovers against the Miners but, uncharacteristically, they didn't force any either. Surely they'll need to win the turnover battle to overcome their status as 11-point dogs.
Prediction: It's a tougher call than the point spread indicates, although Panthers have won six of their last seven road games and UB last season played its better football on the road. The Bulls wore down against Pitt last year and against UConn in the International Bowl. They're capable, but until they beat a Big East team...Pitt 27, UB 20.