This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features University of Pittsburgh Panthers taking on University of Kentucky Wildcats in the 5th annual BBVA Compass Bowl, formerly the Papajohns.com Bowl at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
Pittsburgh, 7-5, 5-2 Big East, Panthers head coach Dave Wannstedt announced his resignation shortly after the season ended after a 42-31 record over six seasons. That left his Alma matter in search of a new head coach in which they thought they had their man in Miami of Ohio Michael Haywood but after he was arrested on felony assault charges he was fired leaving the Panthers without a coach. Wannstedt, who originally planned to coach the Panthers in this Compass Bowl, changed his mind on Monday. As a result Pitt Athletic Director Steve Pederson has named defensive coordinator Phil Bennett the team’s interim coach.
Pitt is a rather mediocre offensive football team as it is averaging 26 ppg and 367.8 total ypg. Dion Lewis didn’t have as great a season as most expected but his 956 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns are impressive nonetheless. He gets plenty of help from Ray Graham, who brings 832 yards and 8 touchdowns into the game. While Lewis averages 4.9 yards per carry, Graham owns a far more impressive mark of 6.4 ypc.
As for Pittsburgh’s passing attack, Tino Sunseri has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,476 yards with 15 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. His top target is clearly Jon Baldwin, who has hauled in 52 receptions for 810 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The man to watch on defense for Pittsburgh is Jabaal Sheard who has 14.5 tackles for loss and 9 sacks while adding 4 forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Kentucky, 6-6, 2-6 SEC, Wildcats will be led in this showdown by first year head coach Joker Phillips as the highlight for Phillips first season was a victory over South Carolina which marked the biggest comeback in school history, as UK rallied from a 28-10 halftime deficit for a 31-28 win.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline has been suspended thus ending the senior’s career as he was arrested and was charged with second degree disorderly conduct, alcohol intoxication in a public place and failure to notify the department of transportation of a change of address. As a result, sophomore Morgan Newton is expected to be under center. Newton has attempted just seven passes all season, as he watched Hartline complete 66.2 percent of his attempts for 3,178 yards with 23 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.
Randall Cobb, one of the nation’s most versatile players, threw three touchdown passes for the Wildcats while rushing for 401 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cobb, who also returned a punt for a touchdown, has done most of his damage from the receiver position, as he has hauled in 79 receptions for 955 yards and 7 touchdowns. Chris Matthews is another receiver to watch, as he has 57 catches into 897 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Kentucky is generating 33.0 ppg and 437.2 total ypg, numbers that will be difficult to reach considering Hartline’s suspension and the strength of the Pittsburgh defense. Derrick Locke has rushed for 816 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing four games, and the tailback figures to get plenty of work against the Panthers.
This game marks the first-ever meeting between Pittsburgh and Kentucky.
PICK: University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Cincinnati’s Bearcat mascot was cited for disorderly conduct after a snowball-throwing incident in the stands during a game against Pittsburgh.
Heavy snow covered the field and stands for the Big East game on Saturday afternoon. When Pitt’s Dion Lewis scored the second of his three touchdowns in the half, students pelted him with snowballs and were told to stop.
A school spokesman says the mascot also was told to stop throwing snowballs in the stands by an officer then the Bearcat shoved the officer and both of them ended up on the ground. The mascot was detained and cited. He was not identified.
A backup mascot took his place at halftime.
This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features University of Pittsburgh Panthers taking on the University of Connecticut Huskies at Rentschler Field.
Pittsburgh is looking to go 4-0 in league play for the second straight season, and is riding on a three-game winning streak in which they outscored the opposition 106-38. This past weekend the Panthers had no trouble against Louisville, as coach Dave Wannstedt’s squad grabbed a 20-3 victory over the Cardinals.
The Panthers are not explosive offensively, but the team possesses a very balanced attack that is averaging a healthy 29 ppg. Coach Wannstedt has two solid options out of the backfield in Ray Graham and Dion Lewis, and both players have paced Pitt’s ground game, which is churning out a respectable 156.2 ypg.
The rushing attack has been successful because Tino Sunseri has done a terrific job passing the ball. Through eight games, Pitt’s quarterback has completed 65.9 percent of his throws, and although he has just 1,672 yards, he comes into this contest with 12 touchdowns against 4 interceptions.
While the offense has done a commendable job, it has been the play of the defense for Pittsburgh, that has the Panthers leading the Big East. Coach Wannstedt’s unit is one of the best in the nation, and is currently holding opponents to just 19 ppg. Pitt came into the season with a commitment to stop the run, and so far the Panthers have been outstanding in that area, limiting teams to a mere 93.8 ypg on just 3.0 yards per carry.
This unit has been slightly suspect against the pass however, as opponents are averaging 205.2 ypg through the air.
The Huskies snapped a two-game slide the last time they were in action, defeating West Virginia by a 16-13 margin in overtime. It was the first league win on the year for UConn, which is currently a perfect 4-0 at home this season.
Randy Edsall doesn’t have an evenly keeled offensive as Pitt, but they do possess a dangerous ground attack (174.8 ypg), that is led by one of the top running backs in the nation. Jordan Todman has suffered through some minor injuries this season, but that has not stopped the back from churning out 954 yards and nine scores in seven games.
However, Todman and the rushing attack has the pressure of carrying this offense, because so far Zach Frazer has been unable to produce under center. The quarterback has completed just 55.5 percent of his throws on the year and comes into this contest with only two touchdowns and 771 yards.
Inconsistent play has riddled this defensive unit, and Connecticut’s lackluster effort at times is a big reason for the team’s mediocre 4-4 mark. The Huskies have allowed 10 touchdowns through the air, and teams are enjoying 200.4 ypg against UConn in that area, but the real problem for this unit has come against the run, as teams are gashing UConn for 163.9 ypg.
The Panthers have won the last two meetings against Connecticut to even the series at three games apiece. However, at Rentschler Field, the Huskies own a slim 2-1 edge over Pitt.
PICK: University of Pittsburgh Panthers
This game goes down on the ESPN network and it features former Big East rivals the University of Miami Hurricanes taking on the University of Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Head coach Randy Shannon is looking to rebound his Hurricanes against his former boss Dave Wannstedt after being thrashed by the Ohio State Buckeyes 36-24. Wannstedt was Miami’s defensive coordinator from 1986-88 when Shannon was a starting linebacker for a Hurricanes team that won the 1987 national championship. Wannstedt later drafted Shannon while he was a coordinator with the Dallas Cowboys, then hired him as his linebackers coach in 2000 with the Miami Dolphins.
Junior quarterback Jacory Harris, 22-39 for 232 yards one touchdown 4 INTs, had probably his worst game of his college career has his 4 interceptions proved very costly and was a far cry from his 3 touchdown no interception performance against Florida A&M in the opener. Senior running back Damien Berry, 94 yards, was the one real bright spot in the loss to the Buckeyes as he racked up major yardage against a tough defense. Senior wide receiver Leonard Hankerson is another player to keep an eye out for as he is clearly Harris favorite target with 13 receptions and 205 yards.
Shannon’s defense wasn’t bad against the Buckeyes they just where put in bad spots by the offense in ability to produce. Ohio State gained 181 yards on the ground but was only really able to turn out 3.7 ypc. Junior linebacker Sean Spence lead the defense with 8.5 tackles, including two for a loss.
Wannstedt’s Panthers have their own problems, from off-the-field suspensions of freshman running back Jason Douglas and sophomore offensive lineman Keith Coleman to losing the Big East’s co-defensive player of the year last year senior defensive end Greg Romeus to injury.
The Panthers do have sophomore tailback Dion Lewis who has been held to just 102 yards in two games so far this season. Lewis was even held to a career low 27 yards against Division II against New Hampshire. Sophomore backup running back Ray Graham stepped up though and put up 115 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 9 carries in the same game. Sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri, 40-62 for 459 yards 3 touchdowns 2 INTs, has been very impressive in his first year starting. Sunseri will depend on the running game heavily but when he has to go to the air he has a true threat in junior wide receiver Jon Baldwin, 171 yards 2 touchdowns.
The Panthers defense failed to register a single sack in the opener versus Utah, but came up with 6 against New Hampshire but will be going against Miami without Romeus. Junior defensive tackle Chas Alecxih had a career day in the last game with 3 sacks.
The Hurricanes own a 21-9-1 lead in the rivalry and they have won the last six encounters, including a 28-14 triumph in 2003. Pittsburgh is 1-10 against ranked non-conference opponents since 1996.
PICK: University of Miami Hurricanes
This game goes down on the Versus network and it features the University of Pittsburgh Panthers take on the University of Utah Utes. Clearly the pressure is on both teams to perform well coming out of the gate and live up to expectations.
Pittsburgh settled for its first bowl victory in seven years last season after being on the verge but missing out on a BCS Bowl game. The Panthers earned a victory over North Carolina in the Meineke Bowl to give them their first double-digit win season since 1981, 10-3 with a 5-2 record in the Big East Conference.
The Panthers are led on offense by sophomore running back Dion Lewis. He exploded onto the scene with a total of 10 100-yard rushing games as he averaged 138.4 ypg, ranking first in the Big East but also third in the nation. He had an average of 5.5 yards per attempt and a total of 17 touchdowns.
However, the success of the Panthers will rest on how quickly redshirt sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri can replace Bill Stull, who has just 17 career pass attempts. The offensive line though is stocked with juniors and seniors and that should help keep Sunseri upright as well as open the necessary holes for Lewis to run through.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt will once again have his finger prints all over the defense which was 17th in the nation in stopping the run and was tops in sacks with 3.6 per outing. Tackles for loss was another highlight for the group, registering more than 7.5 to rank 9th in the country. The team returns two beasts on that play on that side in Greg Romeus, 8.5 sacks, and Mick Williams, 17 tackles for loss. The Panthers linebackers are no slouches either and might actually be their strenth with Tristan Roberts, Greg Williams and Dan Mason.
The Utes haven’t allowed a visiting team to win in their home stadium since Sept. 8, 2007, 17 consecutive. Head coach Kyle Whittingham picked up his first win with the program back in 2005 when he and the Utes won against Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl. The Utes are looking to continue the momentum they finished off last season with win over California in the Poinsettia Bowl, finishing 10-3 and was 6-2 against the rest of the Mountain West Conference.
The Utes offense will be in the hands of sophomore quarterback Jordan Wynn who took over for Terrance Cain in the eighth game last year and threw for 1,329 yards with 8 touchdowns and 4 INTS. Coach Whittingham has two good running backs in Matt Asiata and Eddie Wide and they both will share the load. Wide put together 6 straight 100-yard rushing games, 1,069 yards and 12 touchdowns.
This is the second meeting between these teams. Utah defeated Pittsburgh 35-7 in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl to cap off a 12-0 season.
PICK: University of Utah Utes
The 8th annual Meineke Care Care Bowl will see the Pittsburgh Panthers take on the North Carolina Tar Heels in Charlotte North Carolina.
Head coach Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers enter the Meineke Car Car Bowl at 9-3 and 5-2 in the Big East Conference with their last lost coming to Big East champion Cincinnati, 45-44. Pitt is still competing for its first 10-win campaign since finishing 11-1 behind Dan Marino in 1981. This is Pitt’s 26th all-time bowl appearance and it has gone 10-15 in such games. The Panthers have dropped three straight postseason bouts, including a 3-0 setback to Oregon State in the 2008 Sun Bowl.
The biggest surprise for Pitt this season is without question tailback Dion Lewis, who rushed for 1,640 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. Lewis has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven straight games and is just 47 yards away from breaking Tony Dorsett’s school record for rushing yards by a freshman. Bill Stull has benefited from the attention paid to Lewis, as he has completed 64.6 percent of his tosses on the season. The senior gunslinger has thrown for 21 touchdowns against 8 interceptions and averaged 205.8 passing ypg. His main target is Jonathan Baldwin who caught for 1,080 yards and 8 touchdowns. Tight end Dorin Dickerson is one of the best in the country and grabbed a team-best 10 touchdowns.
The Panthers lead the nation with 44 sacks on defensive and defensive end Greg Romeus highlights the team with 8 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. The secondary have also recorded 14 interceptions against just 15 passing touchdowns surrendered. Safety Dom DeCicco leads the team and the secondary with 85 stops and three picks.
As for the Tar Heels they earned its way to the bowl game with an 8-4 record and 4-4 in the ACC. The Tar Heels are making their 27th all-time appearance in a bowl game and their second straight to the Car Care Bowl. UNC lost to West Virginia, 31-30, in the 2008 Car Care Bowl, dropping the program to 12-14 in bowl games.
Butch Davis Tar Heels have had their fare share of struggles on offense this season, averaging just 311.4 total ypg. T.J. Yates has thrown 12 touchdowns but also 14 interceptions in a total of 1,953 yards. Greg Little is the main outlet for Yates with 55 receptions for 637 yards and 3 touchdowns. Ryan Houston took over after starter Shaun Draughn was lost due to a shoulder injury late in the season in the backfield has rushed for 630 yards and 9 touchdowns.
The Tar Heels are limiting opponents to a mere 16 ppg and only 267.8 total ypg, while recording 31 sacks and 28 turnovers. The defense has been especially good against the run and ranks ninth nationally, allowing only 92.8 ypg and just 2.8 yards per carry. The unit has also fared well versus the pass and ranks in the Top 10 in interceptions with 19. Robert Quinn is one of the best pass rushers in the nation, leading the Tar Heels with 11 sacks and 19 tackles for loss. Corner Kendric Burney and safety Deunta Williams have combined for 11 interceptions and 314 return yards on those picks.
This is the seventh meeting between Pitt and UNC on the gridiron, with the Tar Heels holding a 4-2 edge in the series. The teams last met in 2000, when the Tar Heels notched a 20-17 victory over the Panthers at Three Rivers Stadium.
PICK: University of North Carolina Tar Heels
Pittsburgh’s shocking upset of West Virginia in Morgantown two years ago was a positive end to an otherwise disappointing season. There have been few low points for the Panthers since.
Pittsburgh will try to avoid looking too far ahead when it visits West Virginia on Friday night in the 102nd meeting of the teams’ intense rivalry. Pittsburgh (9-1, 5-0 Big East) attention is focused on their annual showdown with the Mountaineers, a game often referred to as the “Backyard Brawl.”
Pitt has won the last two meetings with West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), including a 13-9 victory in Morgantown in 2007, which kept the Mountaineers from playing for the national title.
Coach Dave Wannstedt acknowledges the Panthers’ 2007 win over the Mountaineers as a turning point for his program. Pittsburgh had come into that game 4-7. In the two years since, the Panthers have gone 18-5, and they have been a consistent presence in the Top 25.
West Virginia, meanwhile, saw coach Rich Rodriguez leave two weeks after that upset defeat. The Mountaineers went 9-4 under Bill Stewart last season and have spent only two weeks in the rankings this season. This is the first time since 2003 that the teams have met with the Panthers in the Top 25 and the Mountaineers unranked.
Dion Lewis, the freshman running back leads the Big East with 129.1 rushing yards per game. Lewis needs only 38 more yards to surpass Pitt’s LeSean McCoy for the Big East’s freshman rushing mark.
Handing off the ball to Lewis is quarterback Bill Stull, has silenced doubters with his effective play this season. Stull has completed an efficient 66.3 percent of his pass attempts and has thrown 18 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Stull’s favorite targets are wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin and tight end Dorin Dickerson. Baldwin is obviously the deep threat, catching 40 balls for 840 yards, while Dickerson is a red zone target, with 10 of his 43 catches resulting in a touchdown.
The Mountaineers are sure to test Pitt’s run defense, as they are churning out 183.5 ypg on the ground this season. WVU is averaging 4.8 yards per carry and has scored 23 of its 35 offensive touchdowns on the ground.
The speedy and elusive Noel Devine leads the run game, although the 5-8, 176- pounder has been slowed by some minor injuries of late. Still, Devine has enjoyed a standout campaign with 1,098 yards and 10 scores, and his 5.7 yard per carry average is indicative of his explosiveness.
Helping to take some of the pressure off Devine is quarterback Jarrett Brown, who has proved too be an effective runner in his own right, gaining 366 yards and five scores on the ground. Brown has had success with his arm as well, hitting on 65.1 percent of his tosses with 11 more touchdowns. Jock Sanders is clearly the favorite target of Brown, as his 62 catches are nearly double the next closest player on the roster.
Friday is West Virginia’s final home game. It’s trying to go undefeated in Morgantown for the first time since 1993.
PICK: University of Pittsburgh Panthers
Notre Dame’s spot in the Top 25 is gone after a surprising loss, and with that likely went its hopes of a trip to a BCS game. Boasting its highest ranking in 20 years, Pittsburgh’s chances of representing the Big East in a major bowl game are growing stronger by the week.
The Panthers final two games will determine if they’re conference championship material, but they won’t be looking past it’s showdown with the Fighting Irish, who visit Heinz Field hoping to avoid an eighth straight loss to a top-10 opponent.
Pitt (8-1) is off to its best start since Dan Marino’s senior season in 1982, which was also the last time the program was ranked in the top 10 this late in the season.
Dave Wannstedt Panthers haven’t been ranked this high since being No. 7 on Oct. 24, 1989, but they also haven’t really been tested. Pitt has won its five conference games by an average of 17.8 points, piling up 481 yards last Saturday in a 37-10 rout of Syracuse.
Pitt visits rival West Virginia and hosts Cincinnati in its final two games, and the contest against the Bearcats could be a de facto Big East championship and BCS elimination game.
The Fighting Irish (6-3) likely lost their chance at grabbing a BCS bid after a stunning 23-21 home loss to Navy last Saturday dropped them from the rankings. The Panthers’ players, though, are hardly treating it as a tune-up.
Dion Lewis has been arguably the biggest reason for the Panthers’ resurgence. LeSean McCoy declared for the NFL draft after his sophomore season, leaving Pitt with a big hole in the backfield, but it hasn’t missed a beat with Lewis. The 5-foot-8 freshman is seventh nationally with 126.6 rushing yards per game and needs 190 yards to surpass McCoy’s Big East freshman record of 1,328.
Notre Dame will certainly need to do a better job stopping Lewis than it did against the Midshipmen, who gained 6.1 yards per carry in racking up 348 on the ground. That, plus three Irish turnovers, allowed Navy to control the clock and overcome a career-high 452 yards passing from Jimmy Clausen.
The biggest difference in Clausen this season has been his efficiency. Michael Floyd (124.8) and Golden Tate (117.7) rank third and fourth, respectively, in the nation in receiving yards per game, and Clausen has continued to find them without turning the ball over. He’s thrown three interceptions in 308 attempts after throwing 17 in 440 as a sophomore.
Both Floyd and Tate had 100 yards receiving against Pitt last season in South Bend, part of a 271-yard, three-touchdown day for Clausen. That wasn’t enough for a win, though, as the Panthers overcame three interceptions to win 36-33 in four overtimes.
Clausen will have his hands full Saturday against a Pitt defense that’s first in the nation with 39 sacks, led by junior end Greg Romeus’ 7 1/2.
Notre Dame’s defense ranks 88th against the pass (237.4), and this season Bill Stull seems much more prepared. Stull missed the game against the Irish last season with a concussion, and threw nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his other 12 contests as a junior. He was the Big East’s fifth-highest rated passer (119.9).
This season, Stull is fifth nationally in pass efficiency (161.6). He’s been sacked eight times after going down 25 times last season and has thrown 17 touchdowns – nine to Dorin Dickerson – and four interceptions.
Pitt has lost both games against Notre Dame at Heinz Field, falling 42-21 in the last matchup Sept. 3, 2005 – Charlie Weis’ first game on the sidelines for the Irish and Wannstedt’s coaching debut with his alma mater.
PICK: University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish
The Rutgers Scarlet Knights get to travel outside the realm of the Big East to take on the Army Black Knights. Rutgers owns a 4-2 mark on the year which may not seem very impressive, but those 2 losses were to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh who are most likely the two best teams in the Big East. Rutgers has played well outside of those games, but it has been to inferior competition.
The Scarlet Knights get the chance to display their talent in front of the nation this week. Their challenger will be the rushing threat of Army. The Black Knights have struggled to get into the end zone this season which is a big reason they are slightly under the .500 mark, but Army did knock off a pretty impressive win against Vanderbilt a few weeks back.
Army is a rushing team that will come at you a number of ways similar to the Georgia Tech offense, the Black Knights run tons of options and mis-direction type plays. Freshman QB Trent Steelman leads the team in rushing with 117 keepers for 405 yards this season. Steelman is averaging 3.5 yards per carry, but running back Patrick Mealy is carrying the ball for nearly 7 yards a pop and has a couple of big plays on the season resulting in 386 total yards.
Fullback Kingsley Ehie is a big back that lacks speed, but can move the pile. Ehie has touched the ball 73 times this season equaling 313 yards. These 3 impact players help make up the nation’s number 11 rushing offense.
The Scarlet Knights rush defense ranks right outside the top 10 nationally allowing just 91 yards per game. The defense did have trouble stopping the talented Pitt freshman Dion Lewis last week. Rutgers QB Tom Savage hasn’t put up great numbers, but limits his mistakes and only has 1 interception in his first season in college football.
Senior wide out Tim Brown is a seasoned veteran that knows how to make plays and has earned a solid 548 receiving yards on the season with 3 scores. Rutgers keeps the ball on the ground behind tailback Joe Martinek who has 5 scores and averages 5 yards per carry.
PICK: Rutgers University Scarlet Knights