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Where: Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio
Pittsburgh won’t have much time to recover from a season-opening 31-17 loss to Youngstown State and that may be a good thing. The Panthers dive right into the Big East schedule at Cincinnati on Thursday. Pittsburgh will no doubt come in angry and will face a new-look Cincinnati team playing its first game. The Bearcats are replacing their quarterback, top running back and two first-team, all-Big East players on defense. However, Cincinnati is a contender. Munchie Legaux takes over at quarterback with some experience and has talented receivers. The Bearcats also have seven starters back on defense. Pittsburgh, which is 8-3 overall and 3-1 at Cincinnati, has to be heartened by the return of running back Ray Graham from knee surgery. Still, the Panthers’ inexperienced defense must improve quickly for first-year coach Paul Chryst.
PITTSBURGH (0-1, 0-0 Big East): The Panthers did not play well on either side of the ball against Youngstown. Their defense, with eight new starters, had its streak of 25 games with at least one sack snapped and Youngstown converted 11 of 16 third-down opportunities. Chryst suspended six players for disciplinary reasons before the opener, including starting defensive tackle Tyrone Ezell, but few stepped up. Graham, who led the league in rushing before getting injured in the eighth game last year, returned to average more than five yards per carry. Quarterback Tino Sunseri will make his 28th straight start after throwing for 239 yards Saturday.
CINCINNATI (2011: 10-3, 5-2 Big East): The Bearcats have plenty of practice time this month, with only two games until a Sept. 29 clash with Virginia Tech. That should help them focus on the only Big East game until Oct. 26. Legaux was impressive in three starts last season, going 2-1, and has veteran receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Anthony McClung among his options. The pair combined for more than 90 receptions and 1,200 yards in 2011. Senior George Winn and promising sophomore Jameel Poteat will replace running back Isaiah Pead. All-Big East safety Drew Frey leads the defense for coach Butch Jones.
1. Cincinnati has won at least 10 games in four of the last five years and at least tied for the league title three of last four.
2. Pittsburgh has won its last four Big East openers, and five of its last six.
3. Cincinnati’s Pat O’Donnell led the Big East in punting last season.