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 ESPNU network and it features University of Kentucky Wildcats takes on Mississippi State University Bulldogs at Davis Wade Stadium.
First year head coach Joker Phillips has his Wildcats at 4-4 overall on the season but only 1-4 in SEC play. Kentucky opened the season with three consecutive victories, but things have gone down hill since. The Wildcats have lost four of their last five games, including a 44-31 setback to Georgia last weekend.
Kentucky senior running back Derrick Locke, 574 yards 7 touchdowns, is listed as questionable for this weekend’s game with a shoulder injury. All-purpose threat junior Randall Cobb has rushed for 195 yards and 3 touchdowns while catching passes for 511 yards and 5 touchdowns. Cobb has thrown 3 touchdown passes as well on just 4 completions and has scored on a punt return, proof that he is a threat every time he touches the football.
Senior quarterback Mike Hartline, 2144 yards 17 touchdowns 4 INTs, is completing 67.4 percent of throws and is highly underrated. Kentucky is averaging 34 points per game and 428.5 total yards per game this season.
Head coach Dan Mullen has the Bulldogs 6-2 overall this season and 2-2 in the SEC and are playing as a nationally ranked team for the first time since 2001. They rallied for a 29-24 win last weekend against UAB to bring the total to 5 straight, earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007.
Mississippi State junior quarterback Chris Relf, 815 yards 6 touchdowns 3 INTs, is only completing 55.3 percent of his throws. The Bulldogs are also expected to get junior running back Vick Ballard, 516 yards 11 touchdowns, while averaging 6.6 yards per carry and he is clearly key to the offense’s success. The receiver to watch is sophomore Chad Bumphis, 461 yards 4 touchdowns.
Defensively Mississippi State is limiting opponents to 17 points per game and 335.5 total yards per game to rank 13th nationally. Senior linebacker Chris White is a real standout on defensive with his 71 tackles and 12 tackles for loss with 5 sacks.
Kentucky owns the all-time series with a 21-16 series advantage over Mississippi State.
PICK: University of Kentucky Wildcats
This game goes down on the ESPN2 network and it features the Auburn University Tigers takes on the University of Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium.
Head coach Gene Chizik takes his undefeated Tigers to Lexington to improve on their 5-0 record and 2-0 in the SEC. The Tigers are close to being a one man show with Heisman Trophy hopeful in junior quarterback Cameron Newton, 928 yards 12 touchdowns 4 INTs and has rushed for 474 yards 5 touchdowns. Newton has provided an equal balance of nearly 200 ypg on the ground and air. Newton is completing 68.5 percent of his passes and carrying the ball for 6.2 ypc.
Two of Newtons favorite targets is junior wide receiver Darvin Adams, 284 yards 2 touchdowns, and sophomore Emory Blake, 173 yards 3 touchdowns. Newton also benefits from sophomore running backs Onterio McCalebb, 336 yards 2 touchdowns, and freshman Michael Dyer, 334 yards 2 touchdowns, to keep defenses guessing as who will carry the ball.
Defensively Auburn has success stopping the run only allowing 92.8 ypg on the ground at basically 2.6 ypc. The star of the defense is junior defensive tackle Nick Fairley who already has 11.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks.
Head coach Joker Phillips tries to regroup his Wildcats after losing to Ole Miss 42-35 last weekend in which it drop them 3-2 overall and 0-2 in the SEC. Kentucky is lead under center by senior quarterback Mike Hartline, 1222 yards 8 touchdowns. Hartline has looked for senior wide receiver Chris Matthews, 287 yards 5 touchdowns, when going down field.
However the Wildcats are also a balanced team and have more than a few weapons besides Hartline and his arm. Kentucky has running backs Derrick Locke, 543 yards 7 touchdowns, and junior Randall Cobb, 121 yards one touchdown and catching for 335 yards 3 touchdowns. The Wildcats are averaging 36 ppg and 453.6 total ypg, and has converted on 44 percent of its third down conversion attempts.
Kentucky has two star players on its defense in junior defensive tackle Luke McDermott who has 3 sacks and junior linebacker Danny Treviathan who has 42 tackles including 8 tackles for loss.
Auburn owns a commanding 24-6-1 series advantage over Kentucky.
PICK: Auburn University Tigers
This game goes down on the ESPNU network and it features the University of Kentucky Wildcats taking on the University of Florida Gators in Gainesville.
Florida’s head coach Urban Meyer comes into this game just one victory short of reaching a 100 for his career as his Gators are 3-0 and that comes after a 31-17 victory at Tennessee in last weekend’s SEC opener.
The Gators though haven’t been all that impressive on the offensive side of the ball only averaging 319 total ypg. Junior quarterback John Brantley, 452 yards 5 touchdowns, has had the difficult task of replacing Tim Tebow still hasn’t thrown an interception yet which is a streak of 140 consecutive passes dating back to 2008. The Gators do have the luxury of having junior running back Jeff Demps, 310 yards 2 touchdowns, who is averaging 6.9 ypc.
The defensive side of the ball is where Florida has really stood out limiting opponents to 276.7 total ypg including just 92.3 ypg on the ground. The unit has also been opportunistic, forcing 12 turnovers with 10 coming on interceptions. Senior linebacker Brandon Hicks led the way last week with 6 tackles and 1.5 sacks but senior safety Ahmad Black takes the team honors for the season with 24 tackles and 3 interceptions.
The Wildcats are watched by first year coach Joker Phillips who is 3-0 and is the first Kentucky coach to win his first three contests on the job since Bear Bryant did so in 1946. The offense for the Wildcats has taken care of business up to this point averaging 44 points and 497.3 yards without committing a turnover.
Kentucky has senior quarterback Mike Hartline, 680 yards 5 touchdowns, to thank for that as he has also completed 72 percent of his throws. The Wildcats have also gotten senior leadership out of the running back position from Derrick Locke, 372 yards 5 touchdowns. Kentucky has gone over 200 rushing and 200 passing yards in each game this season which has provided a very well balanced attack.
Defensively the Wildcats has only forced just four turnovers but has limited opponents to just 257.7 total ypg including only 109.7 ypg through the air. Last weekend, Kentucky smothered the Akron Zips to just 172 yards of total offense. The production has been as a unit for the Wildcats but it’s early stars have been sophomore defensive end Taylor Wyndham and junior linebacker Danny Trevathan who leds the team with 20 tackles including 6 for a loss.
Florida owns a 43-17 advantage in the series with Kentucky having won the last 23 meetings including a 24-4 mark in Gainesville. It’s the second longest active losing streak in Divison I, trailing Kentucky’s 25 game run of losses versus Tennessee.
PICK: University of Florida Gators
The 11th annual Music City Bowl will feature the Kentucky Wildcats of the SEC taking on the Clemson Tigers of the ACC from Nashville, Tennessee.
Kentucky finished the regular season with a 7-5 record, and all five losses came against SEC opponents. The Wildcats opened the season with a 2-3 mark, but five of their last seven outings resulted in victory but lost the finale against Tennessee. Despite that disappointing ending, Rich Brooks did a tremendous job keeping the Wildcats on track despite numerous injuries. The team won at least seven games for the fourth consecutive season, the first time that has been done at Kentucky in nearly a century, since 1909-12. Also, the club set the school record for consecutive non-conference wins with 18, the nation’s second-longest active streak.
Kentucky figures to have quarterback Mike Hartline available for this game who has been sidelined since October 10th when he injured his knee against South Carolina. In the six games that he has played this season, Hartline has completed 59.4 percent of his passes for 802 yards and 6 touchdowns with 7 interceptions. Morgan Newton has played in Hartline’s absence, and he has connected on 55.4 percent of his attempts for 608 yards with 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. But it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is because Randall Cobb is the man. Cobb is an all-around player that has 37 catches for 427 yards and 4 touchdowns and rushed for 537 yards and 10 touchdowns. Derrick Locke leads the team in rushing though with 843 yards and 6 touchdowns. Kentucky is generating 27 ppg and 336.1 total ypg.
Defensively the Wildcats are limiting opponents to 22 ppg on 362.9 total ypg. The Wildcats have allowed 16 rushing scores and 16 passing touchdowns and will be without top linebacker Sam Maxwell cause of shoulder surgery.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers won the ACC’s Atlantic Division with a 6-2 record and are 8-5 overall. Three of the five losses have come by five or fewer points to a team ranked in the current top-10, proof that the club has been competitive all season.
Clemson quarterback Kyle Parker has guided the Tigers to eight wins this year as the starter, tied for the most among freshman signal callers nationally. He has set freshman records at the school for touchdown passes, passing yards and completions. His favorite target is Second Team All-ACC wideout Jacoby Ford, who has 53 catches, while First Team All-ACC tight end Michael Palmer has 41 grabs, a Clemson record for a tight end.
Still all of those players are complimentary to ALL-SGE-NCAA Football Team member C.J. Spiller, who very well may be the best all-around offensive player in the nation. Spiller, the 2009 ACC Player of the Year, enters bowl season with 7,416 all-purpose yards in his career, third best in NCAA history. He needs 349 yards to become the all-time NCAA leader. He has 50 touchdowns in his career, second only to the 56 accumulated by Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. A threat as a runner, receiver and kick returner.
While Clemson is scoring 31 ppg and gaining 366.5 total ypg, the club is limiting opponents to 21 ppg and 317.2 total ypg. The Tigers are led by Brandon Maye, who has posted 103 total tackles, seven of which have been tackles for loss. Ricky Sapp has 15 tackles for loss to his credit, including five sacks, and Clemson has posted an impressive total of 21 interceptions, helping to overshadow the 19 touchdown passes that the club has allowed. The play against the run has been strong, as foes are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
The Wildcats hold an 8-4 series lead over the Tigers, which includes a 28-20 victory in the most recent meeting back in 2006.
PICK: Clemson University Tigers