Only a mildly important game at noon tomorrow, as USF hosts Pittsburgh with a chance to pull into a tie for first place in the Big East (even if it might only last a few hours). Here's what to look for, with a special bonus stat, if not an outright key.
1. Keep your heads on a swivel on defense. Pittsburgh tries to do a lot of the same things on offense that USF does -- predominantly run the ball and then use that to set up throws down the field. I assume Mistral Raymond will check Jonathan Baldwin for most of the game and he'll have a tough task. Everyone has to pay attention and avoid biting on fakes.
2. Don't underestimate the Pittsburgh defensive line without Greg Romeus. His season officially ended earlier this week, but it's an injury that sounds like a much bigger deal than it is. Romeus had various injuries all season and only played in two games. The Panthers still have Jabaal Sheard and Romeus's replacement, Brandon Lindsey. Each has nine sacks and will be a handful for whoever lines up at offensive tackle for USF tomorrow.
3. Don't pound the rock. That doesn't mean don't run the ball, but the Panthers' front four is as strong against the run as they are at rushing the passer. (Even with Jordan Todman's eruption last Thursday night, the Panthers are only allowing 111 yards a game.) I actually expect a game plan pretty similar to the one USF used against Cincinnati -- come up with as many ways to run the ball as you can. Draws, zone reads, option runs, stretch plays… just don't count on running it up the middle very well. If it happens, count it as a surprise.
4. It's just another game. Let us fans get carried away by the implications of the game, and let us do the scoreboard watching. Just worry about executing and taking care of business.
5. If it comes down to talent, Pittsburgh wins. If it comes down to coaching, USF wins. And if it comes down to special teams, USF wins. Make your advantages matter. Just having a close game at the end should suffice.
BONUS KEY: The game starts at noon, and not a minute later. I threw out the stat last week that USF was 8-3 in road nooners since joining the Big East. Now it's 9-3, of course. But USF has struggled in home games starting at noon. They lost to Syracuse, struggled past Kragthorpe last year in the infamous Louisville game, and got their doors blown off by Rutgers in 2008. Get to the game on time, guys.