Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6) vs. Bowling Green Falcons (10-3)
Dec. 26, 6 p.m. ET, Detroit (ESPN)
PITTSBURGH PANTHERS BREAKDOWN
The Panthers got to six wins this season, but this team was pretty unpredictable for most of the year. One week, they lose to Navy, a few weeks later they beat Notre Dame. Still, becoming bowl eligible in Year 1 in the ACC should serve as accomplishment given all the unknowns.
What was problematic for Pittsburgh to overcome this season were major inconsistencies on the offensive line, in the run game and in the secondary. Special teams mistakes proved to be costly at times, too, including in a 34-27 loss to North Carolina that featured two Tar Heels punt returns for scores.
Without an effective run game, Pitt struggled to protect quarterback Tom Savage and find a rhythm on offense. Pitt ranked No. 112 in the nation in rushing offense, and No. 118 in sacks allowed (41), a continuing problem the Panthers have been unable to fix over the past three seasons.
The bright spot, of course, was the performance of All-American candidate Aaron Donald, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. Donald leads the nation in tackles for loss per game (2.2), and his 26.5 total tackles for loss ranks sixth in ACC history. Donald also has 10 sacks on the season, ranking him second in the nation in active career total sacks with 28.5.
Pitt also got major contributions from freshmen this year. Receiver Tyler Boyd set the school record for receptions by a freshman with 77 and hit the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He is the first Pitt player to achieve that feat since Jon Baldwin in 2009. Twelve true freshmen played for Pitt this season, giving the Panthers and coach Paul Chryst hope for improvement to come in the years ahead. -- Andrea Adelson
BOWLING GREEN FALCONS BREAKDOWN
Bowling Green cost the MAC millions of BCS dollars, but the Falcons don’t need to apologize.
They knocked Northern Illinois out of a second straight BCS bowl by winning the MAC championship game 47-27 on Friday. The impressive victory capped a breakthrough season under fifth-year head coach Dave Clawson, as Bowling Green lost only one conference game (to Toledo) and played Mississippi State to within a point on the road.
Like most successful MAC clubs, the Falcons thrive on offense, averaging more than 35 points per game. Sophomore Travis Greene ranks among the top running backs in the FBS with 1,555 yards, and sophomore Matt Johnson has thrown for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns -- five of those coming against Northern Illinois. But Bowling Green also is ranked in the top 10 nationally in both points allowed and total defense.
No wonder Clawson has become a hot coaching commodity. BCS or not, the Falcons will be hard to handle in the postseason. -- Brian Bennett