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
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
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