Bowling Green's matchup with Pittsburgh presents an opportunity to put a check mark of success beside another of the Falcons' preseason goals.
The Falcons have a 10-3 overall record after beating previously undefeated and nationally ranked Northern Illinois, 47-27, in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
"One of our goals every year is to beat a BCS team," fifth-year senior tight end Alex Bayer of Bowling Green said. "This year we had our two chances, and we didn't come through.
"In my five years here I still haven't beaten a BCS-level team, so I'm excited to get another chance at it. Especially in my last year, to be able to go out and play another game, we're excited."
For Pittsburgh (6-6) becoming bowl eligible in the first year of play in the Atlantic Coast Conference is a positive. Pitt is filling an at-large spot in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, which has the eighth selection of Big Ten teams, but that league only had seven bowl-eligible teams,
Pitt was not selected for one of the ACC's seven contractual bowl tie-ins.
The Panthers tied with Maryland for the worst conference record among the 11 bowl-eligible ACC teams, and the Terrapins received the final ACC bid to the Military Bowl.
The Panthers were unpredictable during the season posting victories over Duke and Notre Dame, but losing to Navy.
Pittsburgh faces a tough task against Bowling Green.
The Falcons have a top 10 defense, which allowed only 44 points in Bowling Green's last five games, all victories.
Bowling Green's offense has also been rolling of late, scoring 223 points in the last five games. The Falcons have a strong running attack, and the passing game is improving every week.
"We're excited for the chance to play in another game against such a quality opponent," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said in a statement released by Pitt officials.
"Bowling Green was impressive not only in its MAC championship win but all season long, and we have a competitive game of football ahead."
Bowling Green will have to contain Pitt's wide-receiving tandem of Tyler Boyd and Devin Street, who both earned all-conference honors.
The Falcons will also have to contend with Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the ACC's defensive player of the year.
Another story line is Bowling Green redshirt sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson, a Pennsylvania native who has special motivation in playing Pittsburgh. He was not recruited by the Panthers, because he was deemed to be too short.
Johnson tweeted on Sunday afternoon before the announcement that he was hoping Pitt would be Bowling Green's opponent.
"I didn't mean to offend too many people, but it is what it is, it's out there, and it's just a little motivation that I'll use," Johnson said. "I know a lot of guys on the team. I've played with them, and I've played against them in high school ... It's going to be exciting going up against guys I know personally."
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
--Matt Johnson of Bowling Green has developed into a top quarterback, passing for 3,195 yards with 23 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He is a mobile quarterback, being able to make plays with his feet to keep drives alive.
--LG Dominic Flewellyn and C David "Chief" Kekuewa, both seniors, are mainstays on the line for Bowling Green. Flewellyn leads the team with 46 consecutive starts. Both were first-team all-conference selections.
--S Jerry "BooBoo" Gates, a safety, is the first player in school history to score touchdowns via interception, fumble, kickoff and punt returns.
--LB D.J. Lynch leads the Falcons in tackles with 78, and he is very active from his outside spot.
--DT Aaron Donald of Pitt is the Atlantic Coast Conference defensive player of the year. He is a disruptive defender with 26 1/2 tackles for losses, and 10 sacks this season. He also has 16 quarterback hurries.
--Freshman WR Tyler Boyd has made an immediate impact for Pitt. He has 1,001 yards receiving, and is first on the team in all-purpose yards with 1,534 yards, averaging 127.8 yards per game. Boyd also has rushed for 108 yards and had 425 yards in kickoff returns. He was a second-team all-conference performer.
--QB Tom Savage of Pitt is minus-208 yards rushing as the Panthers have allowed 41 sacks, but he has thrown for 2,834 yards and 21 touchdowns with nine interceptions while completing 61.2 percent of his passes.
--DB Jason Hendricks leads Pittsburgh with 75 tackles.
BOWL HISTORY: Bowling Green is making its 11th appearance in a bowl game, and the Falcons are 4-6, with the last win coming in the 2004 GMAC Bowl, now the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Pitt is playing in its 11th bowl since 2000 and its sixth consecutive since 2008. The Panthers are 12-17 all-time in bowl games.
Pitt holds a 2-1 lead in the all-time series with Bowling Green. The two teams most recently played in the first game of the 2008 season, when the Falcons beat No. 25 Pitt, 27-17, at Heinz Field. It was the first time the Panthers lost to a MAC team at home.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "(Pitt) beat Notre Dame and they beat Duke in Duke's best year ever. Obviously they can play. Certainly the program's going in the right direction (and) they're geographically friendly. We are thrilled to have the Falcons back with us this year, after such an outstanding 2013 championship season. "The Falcons' nationally ranked 2003 team and their sizable fan base brought one of the most exciting games in our bowl's history to Detroit."
-- Ken Hoffman, Little Caesars Pizza Bowl executive director.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Scouting the running game: Travis Greene moved from wide receiver to running back in the spring and ended up breaking Bowling Green's career rushing record. He rushed for 133 yards and a touchdown in the MAC title game and has 1,575 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in the Falcons' zone-read rushing scheme. Greene has topped 100 yards rushing in nine of 13 games. William Houston had been used as a short-yardage back and he has 11 rushing touchdowns this season for the Falcons. Pittsburgh is ranked No. 112 in the nation in rushing with a total of 1,379 yards this season. Isaac Bennett leads the way with 795 yards on 166 carries with seven touchdowns. James Conner has rushed for 570 yards on 120 carries, also with seven touchdowns.
Scouting the passing game: Redshirt sophomore QB Matt Johnson came in for three-year starter Matt Schilz in the third series of the opener, and has been the starter for the last 12 games. Johnson is an accurate passer, and he can make plays running the ball. In the MAC title game he was 21-of-27 passing for 393 yards and five touchdowns. For the season, Johnson is 217-of-337 (64.4 percent) for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns. Johnson spreads the ball around, with his five touchdown passes in the MAC title game going to five receivers. The Falcons have six receivers with 20 or more receptions this season, including TE Alex Bayer, second on the team with 34 receptions for 536 yards and three touchdowns. Without a running game, Pittsburgh struggled to protect Tom Savage, and the Panthers allowed 41 sacks, No. 118 in the nation. Savage was 230-of-276 (61.2 percent) for 2,834 yards, with 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Freshman WR Tyler Boyd set the school record for receptions by a freshman with 77, and he has 1,001 yards and seven touchdowns. Devin Street has chipped in with 51 receptions for 854 yards and seven scores.
Scouting the run defense: Bowling Green is ranked in the top 10 nationally in points allowed, and total defense. The Falcons have veterans in the front seven, who can stop the run and also put pressure on the passer. The starting front four is healthy and fifth-year senior DT Ted Ouellet is closing out his career with some big games. The Panthers have DT Aaron Donald, the ACC defensive player of the year and an All-American candidate, anchoring their defense. Donald has 10 sacks for the season and 28 1/2 sacks for his career. Donald also leads the nation in tackles for losses per game at 2.2 and he has 26.5 career tackles for losses. He is a finalist for four national awards.
Scouting the pass defense: Bowling Green has four veterans in the secondary, with CBs Aaron Foster and Cam Truss playing well. S Jerry "BooBoo" Gates is a playmaker and a two-time first-team all-conference selection. Bowling Green allows only 308.7 yards per game, eighth-best in the country. The Falcons are also fourth in the FBS, surrendering only 166.2 yards per game through the air.
Pitt is allowing 213.5 yards per game and the opposition has scored 18 times through the air. Ray Vinopal leads the team with three interceptions.
Scouting the special teams: Bowling Green's Tyler Tate leads the team in scoring with 104 points. He is 56-of-58 on extra points and 16-of-20 on field goals, including a 52-yarder in the MAC title game victory over Northern Illinois. Brian Schmiedebusch is averaging 39.8 yards per punt on 44 attempts, with 19 punts being downed inside the 20-yard line. Ryan Burbrink was second-team all-conference as a punt returner while Jerry "BooBoo" Gates and Ronnie Moore are the kickoff returners for the Falcons. For Pitt, Chris Blewitt is 37-of-38 on extra points and 11-of-14 on field goals. P Matt Yoklic is averaging 43.1 yards per punt on 66 kicks, with 17 being downed inside the 20-yard line. Tyler Boyd and Lafayette Pitts return kickoffs, and Kevin Weatherspoon is the punt returner.
Intangibles: Bowling Green is finishing the season on a strong note and playing with a lot of confidence. The Falcons have won five straight games, outscoring their opponents, 223-44, in that span. Bowling Green is a veteran team that wants to go out a winner. Pittsburgh started the season 3-1, but lost four of its last six games. A total of 12 true freshmen have played for Pitt this season.
--LB Justin Ford, is working through concussion issues for the Falcons, and could be ready for the bowl game. With LB Gabe Martin, an all-conference performer, out for the season, Ford was next up at rover before he was injured.
--RB Fred Coppet, who is the backup for Bowling Green's Travis Greene, is working through concussion issues, and he could be ready for the bowl game. His presence will help keep Greene fresh.
--OL Juantez Hollins of Pitt was suspended for a violation of team rules and has missed the entire season. The junior played in 12 games last year, starting seven.
--DB Jahmahl Pardher of Pitt, a freshman, is out for the season after knee ACL surgery.
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