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Pitt RB Israel Abanikanda Has a Golden Opportunity in Front of Him

Forecasts favor a good night for the Pitt Panthers' star tailback against Georgia Tech.

PITTSBURGH -- The Pitt Panthers open ACC play this week and on paper, it seems like the 21.5-point spread in their favor is justified. 

No. 24 Pitt is at home, riding the high of blowout wins from the last two weeks, and getting healthier after injuries plagued them through Weeks 1, 2 and 3. 

Meanwhile, the head coach-less Yellow Jackets are vulnerable in the run game, allowing 11th -most yards on the ground in the FBS. Their special teams were poor for as long as Geoff Collins coached them. Maybe that changes after Collins was fired following a loss last week to UCF, but I wouldn't bet on it. 99% of the same team that surrendered 316 and 284 yards on the ground in back-to-back weeks.

Panthers running back Israel Abaniknada has put together a phenomenal season to date. Carrying the offense while it suffered key injuries along offensive line, at quarterback, receiver and running back, Abanikanda has racked up 721 all-purpose yards - the second most in the country - and seven total touchdowns - tied for seventh most in the country. 

A golden opportunity is in front of him. Week 5 brings the perfect storm, quite literally, for Abaniknada. Against a Power 5 opponent with the running game on a roll and rain falling all night long, forecasts favor a big night from Pitt's star tailback. 

His two best games have come against Western Michigan and Rhode Island. Abanikanda played well against Tennessee but another strong outing against a Power 5 opponent will give him legitimacy. He can prove something tonight and vault himself into the conversation for national awards. No matter the state of Georgia Tech's program, they recruit at a Power 5 level and their status as an ACC school grants them a certain baseline level of respect. 

It is certainly early and a good game against Georgia Tech won't guarantee Abanikanda follows the same trajectory as former Pitt quarterback and Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett. But the race is wide open, no runaway favorite exists and Abanikanda can throw his hat in the ring by dominating the Yellow Jackets in primetime against a high major opponent. 

Abanikanda has been the best Panther on the field through four games and when the level of competition takes a step up, so does the reward for playing well. He will be focused on helping his team get a win, but the Panthers have a vested interest in their starting running back getting the ball early and often. 

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