Friday, January 7, 2011
BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt (7-5) vs. Kentucky (6-6)
By Brian Bennett
With all the coaching turmoil surrounding Pittsburgh this past month, it could be easy to forget the Panthers still have a game to play. They'll kick it off in one of the last bowl games of the season Saturday in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., vs. Kentucky. A Pitt victory would give the Big East a winning record in the postseason, as the league is currently 3-2. Here's a quick preview:
WHO TO WATCH: Pittsburgh wide receiver Jon Baldwin. It's all but assuredly the junior's final college game before he goes to the NFL, and Pitt's offense usually only excels when he's fully involved in the game. Kentucky is not a great defensive team but does have a decent secondary, as the Wildcats finished No. 20 in pass defense this season. It will also be interesting to see how Baldwin is used after he publicly complained about his role in the offense following Dave Wannstedt's forced resignation last month.
WHAT TO WATCH: How focused and organized the Panthers are. The last month has been incredibly strange, with not one, but two head coaches being dismissed. The players weren't even sure who would coach them in the bowl game until Wannstedt announced Monday he would not be going to Birmingham. The program might have a new coach in place before kickoff. Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett will be serving as interim head coach, but the staff is missing defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley and offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, who both went to work for Rutgers. Where the players' heads are is anybody's guess, and it wouldn't be surprising to see Pitt struggle after all this dysfunction. Then again, maybe playing a game will serve as a major relief.
WHY WATCH: If for no other reason than to see the soap opera unfold on national TV. In strictly football terms, there will be a lot of playmakers on the field, like Kentucky's Randall Cobb. But the Wildcats have their own problems, starting with the loss of suspended starting quarterback Mike Hartline. Still, it's a team that nearly beat Auburn this season and upset South Carolina. Every Big East vs. the SEC matchup is worth watching for league respect, and Pitt needs to win a nonconference game against somebody of note this season.
PREDICTION: Kentucky is no juggernaut, especially without its quarterback. But Pitt also will be missing Big East defensive player of the year Jabaal Sheard and starting defensive tackle Myles Caragein because of injuries. Throw in all the off-the-field drama and the Panthers' inability to win big games all year, and I just don't see how they can claim a bowl victory. Make it Kentucky 31-21.