BBVA Compass Bowl
Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)
Jan. 5, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
About the Panthers: Pitt is going to its fifth consecutive bowl game after winning its final two games to reach bowl eligibility. This Pitt team has been hit and miss. At times – in a triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame, for example – the Panthers have shown flashes of being a fantastic team with a strong running game and a decent passing game. At other times, it’s been in total disarray. It’s hard to figure out which team is going to show up week-to-week, but coach Paul Chryst seems to at least have the program heading in the right direction led by senior running back Ray Graham, who has 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns this season, and senior quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has passed for 3,103 yards and 19 touchdowns.
About the Rebels: Speaking of teams that appear to be headed in the right direction… After two losing seasons, including a 2-10 campaign that ushered coach Houston Nutt out the door a year ago, Ole Miss is competitive again. New coach Hugh Freeze has the Rebels believing as they were in almost every game last year. After going 0-8 in conference play a year ago, the Rebels were 3-5 and could have just as easily been 6-2. Ole Miss’ losses to Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and LSU – all bowl teams – were by an average of 3.33 points. Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace is still kind of feeling things out, but led the Rebels with 2,843 yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, and also rushed for 363 yards and eight scores.
Key number: 2
Sunseri has thrown just two interceptions this season and has gone nine consecutive games without throwing a pick. His last was in a 35-17 win over Virginia Tech on Sept. 15. Ole Miss picked its final two opponents – LSU and Mississippi State – off twice each.
The breakdown: This game might be a little heavy on the rushing even though both rushing defenses are among the best in the country. Pitt has relied on Graham all season to carry it and that won’t change in this bowl. Graham will want to have a strong finish to what has been an up-and-down season and he could find some success against a rushing defense that allows 133.33 yards per game. On the flip side, Ole Miss’ two-headed rushing attack of Wallace and running back Donte Moncrief, who has 948 yards and 10 touchdowns, will try to find a hole in a Panthers’ defense that has been one of the better sides all season. Pitt ranks No. 17 in total defense, but is as good against the pass as the run. This might be a sluggish offensive game with whoever has the ball last coming away victorious.
Frank Schwab: Pitt 21, Ole Miss 17
Paul Chryst started slow in his first season as Pitt's head coach, but the Panthers started to play better by the end of the season. There is some talent on that roster, as shown when Pitt came so close to winning at Notre Dame. Ole Miss played well late too, but beating Mississippi State to get bowl eligible might have been its bowl game.
Graham Watson: Ole Miss 24, Pitt 17
This is a tough game because these teams are so similar on offense and defense. Pitt has been a lot better with ball security, but you never know which team is going to show up. At least Ole Miss has been consistent this season even if the wins weren’t always there. I think Ole Miss’ tough conference schedule helps pull it to victory.
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