Pittsburgh Panthers (7-5) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (6-6)
Jan. 8, noon ET (ESPN)
Pittsburgh take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: If you would have told Pittsburgh before the season it would be be playing an SEC team in a bowl, the Panthers would have envisioned the Sugar Bowl, or maybe even the BCS title game. Expectations ran that high.
Playing Kentucky in something called the BBVA Compass Bowl? Never. But that's how disappointing this season has been.
Pitt was widely expected to win the Big East, and it did earn a share of the conference title. But it was one of the hollower championships you'll ever find as the Panthers finished 7-5 and spit the bit in all their crucial games (Utah, Notre Dame, Miami, UConn and West Virginia).
The offensive line was a mess early, but problems ran deeper than that. First-year starting quarterback Tino Sunseri had his ups and downs, reigning Big East defensive player of the year Greg Romeus barely contributed because of injuries, the linebackers looked lost, etc. But mostly, Pitt just kept making mistakes in costly situations.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt still has enough individual talent -- like running back Dion Lewis, receiver Jon Baldwin and defensive end Jabaal Sheard -- to beat just about anybody, especially a middling SEC team like Kentucky. But as a team, Pitt has been untrustworthy in big situations, and that's why Wannstedt is on the hot seat.
The Wildcats (6-6) had high hopes for this season and looked like they might be on the verge of breaking through after rallying from an 18-point halftime deficit to beat South Carolina at home on Oct. 16. But that wound up being their final real highlight, and they lost three of their last four SEC games, including a 25th consecutive setback to Tennessee.
The thing Kentucky did do all season was keep defenses on its toes. Senior quarterback Mike Hartline had his best season with 3,178 passing yards and 23 touchdowns. It hurt the Wildcats when senior running back Derrick Locke went down during the middle of the season with a shoulder injury. He’s back now and should be completely healthy for the bowl game.
The Wildcats’ top playmaker, and one of the best all-around players in the country, is junior receiver Randall Cobb. Cobb accounted for 16 touchdowns four different ways this season and is ranked second nationally with 2,192 all-purpose yards.