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Kenny Pickett’s health key to Pittsburgh cover against Miami

The availability of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is a crucial piece of information for Saturday’s game against Miami.

If Pickett plays, even if he’s less than 100 percent, I like the Panthers as 13-point underdogs to the Hurricanes.

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said Thursday that Pickett, who briefly left last week’s 31-30 loss to Boston College with an ankle injury, had “worked his tail off” this week during practice. But he didn’t say if Pickett would play against Miami.

“I don’t talk about injuries,” Narduzzi said. “But we’re pretty healthy right now.”

The Pitt defensive line is one of the country’s most dominant units against the run and pass. The Hurricanes have a vulnerable offensive line, which Clemson helped expose last week, and an average group of cornerbacks outside of Elijah Blades.

The Panthers have been one of the nation’s unluckiest teams and undervalued in the market. Plus, if there’s a time to back them, it’s as a big underdog, as they’ve covered five of their last seven such games.

If Pickett plays, take Pitt.

Four more plays (home team in CAPS):

Kentucky (+6½) over TENNESSEE: The Vols just lost to Georgia, ending their eight-game winning streak. Next week? Rival Alabama. If there’s such a thing as a bad schedule spot, this is it. Kentucky doesn’t have much of a passing attack, but the Wildcats average 5.0 yards per carry. A total in the mid-40s suggests a low-scoring game. Kentucky also is allowing just 3.1 yards per carry. This game should get decided late.

Virginia-WAKE FOREST Under 58: Cavaliers QB Brennan Armstrong got knocked out of the North Carolina State game and was still in concussion protocol Thursday. But even if he plays, expect a more run-heavy approach for Virginia, which just got an NCAA waiver for Indiana transfer running back Ronnie Walker Jr. The Cavaliers are allowing 3.4 yards per carry. So even if Wake Forest runs at a fast tempo, I don’t expect a huge point total.

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (+8) over Army: The Black Knights are the country’s purest option team, running on a nation-high 84.7 percent of their snaps. UTSA just played one-possession games at Alabama-Birmingham, which features the program’s best-ever running back in Spencer Brown, and Brigham Young, which features arguably one of the country’s best five offensive lines. Army will gain yards on the ground, but it’s not going to embarrass UTSA. In a low-possession game, the Roadrunners will score enough to keep it within one possession.

North Carolina (-13) over FLORIDA STATE: Seminoles wideout Tamorrion Terry surged against Jacksonville State and Notre Dame as the team turned to Jordan Travis at quarterback. But Terry is out indefinitely with a knee injury, and Travis hurt his throwing hand, though he insisted this week it’s OK. Florida State still is nursing injuries at offensive line and defensive back. After a shaky start, Tar Heels QB Sam Howell has hit some deep balls. With the way North Carolina has run the ball, I’m skeptical Florida State has the tools to keep pace.

Last week: 2-3

Season: 12-13

Christopher Smith of AL.com and BetOnline is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Follow @cfblocksmith on Twitter.

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