Saturday, January 5, 2013
Pregame: BBVA Compass Bowl
By Edward Aschoff
Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4 Big East) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Who to watch: It's pretty obvious that the most popular person wearing a football jersey in the state of Mississippi is Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief. The 6-foot-2, 214-pound sophomore gobbled up the defensive backfields of LSU and Mississippi State during the last two weeks of the season, catching 13 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns. Now, he takes on a Pittsburgh defense that is giving up less than 200 passing yards a game through the air. The Panthers have also given up 12 passing touchdowns while collecting 13 interceptions. Expect Pitt free safety Jason Hendricks to try and take Moncrief out of deep-ball situations. He was one of the Panthers' most productive defenders this fall, and is Pitt's last line of defense against Moncrief. In order to get the most out of Ole Miss' offense, the Rebels must feed Moncrief.
What to watch: Pitt has quite the dynamic duo in quarterback Tino Sunseri and running back Ray Graham. Because of their solid play this fall, the Panthers have their first 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season. The Panthers will try to establish the run to open up the pass, but it will do so against quite the line. Ole Miss' defensive line really came along this fall. What was supposed to be down year for the Rebels up front turned out to be pretty eventful. The Rebels rank third in the SEC with 34 sacks (2.8 per game) and totaled 92 tackles for loss during the regular season. The Panthers struggled with protection during the season, giving up a Big East-leading 34 sacks, which means Rebels defensive end C.J. Johnson, who leads Ole Miss with 6.5 sacks, could be in for a productive day.
Why to watch: Sure, these are two 6-6 teams going at it, but both come into the game with very interesting storylines. Remember, Pitt began the season 0-2, which included an embarrassing loss to Youngstown State to start the season. But the Panthers bounced back in a big way, winning four of their last six games. They ended the season with wins against Rutgers and South Florida by a combined score of 54-9. They also took Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing by a field goal. Thanks to the guidance of first-year coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels are in their first bowl game since 2009, and won six games after totaling just six wins in the previous two seasons. If not for a couple of second-half meltdowns, the Rebels might have won eight games this season.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Pittsburgh 21. The Rebels weren't supposed to be here, but Freeze's transformation of the program made Ole Miss a legitimate team in the SEC West this season. The momentum from that Egg Bowl win will carry over into a big win in Birmingham. Pittsburgh's defense has been pretty good all year, but the Rebels' spread and their heavy amount of speed will be too much for the Panthers late in the game.