The duel between the Pitt Panthers and the SMU Mustangs is a great game to make BBVA Compass Bowl picks on, but we are wondering if the Arizona State Sun Devils shouldn’t sponsor this game. SMU’s Head Coach June Jones was once reported to have the job, and Pitt’s former coach Todd Graham is the man that ended up with it just 11 months after taking the job in the Steel City. Needless to say, it should make for a great game in Sweet Home Alabama.
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BBVA Compass Bowl Matchup: SMU Mustangs vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
BBVA Compass Bowl Date/Time: Saturday, January 7th, 1:00 ET
BBVA Compass Bowl Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
BBVA Compass Bowl Odds: Pittsburgh -3
BBVA Compass Bowl Total: 48
BBVA Compass Bowl TV Coverage: ESPN, ESPN3.com
The big question in this game is how these teams are going to react to their coaching situations. Generally, we would like to think that the Panthers would find some way to rally around without their head coach, while we think that SMU may still have some questions for Jones about his loyalty, especially since he skipped out on his previous employers, the Hawaii Warriors rather quickly and with a huge element of surprise when he came here to Dallas for the Mustangs. There’s no doubt that the better schemer in this game is going to be Jones, as he has won some big time bowl games at pretty much all of his stops along the way, and he has had some extra time to prepare for this one on January 7th.
Remember that these Mustangs are the team that kept the TCU Horned Frogs from being in the BCS this year. On the road, the team was able to pull off an OT victory against what turned out to be a darn stout TCU team. However, two weeks later, the Mustangs were crippled by the Southern Miss Golden Eagles, who went on to win Conference USA, and they haven’t covered a spread since that points and were lucky to escape with a win over the Rice Owls in the regular season finale as 13 point favorites. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh had to beat the Syracuse Orange in its final regular season game just to make a bowl, but in the end, this was a team that really played better ball down the stretch, covering five in a row in conference and coming up with three wins and two just crushing late defeats in games against the Big East co-champs, Cincinnati and West Virginia that could have been won.
There are definitely some injury concerns on both sides. SMU’s best season in quite some time was last year, and QB Kyle Padron and RB Zach Line were leading the way. Padron was benched right at the start of the year and was miserable when he was in there, but missing Line really hurts. Beyond him, RBs Rishad Wimbley and Jared Williams only combined for 65 carries and 303 yards on the campaign, a far cry from the 1,224 yards and 17 TDs that Line had on the ground by himself. Predominantly a running team, the Panthers have been in trouble trying to find healthy running backs of late. RB Ray Graham, who was arguably the best back in the Big East this year, has been sidelined for the last month and won’t be available for this one either, and his backup, RB Zach Brown has missed a few games with a sternum injury as well. He at least has a shot of playing in the BBVA Compass Bowl, but hopes aren’t high that he can give it a go for the full game.
We just don’t see the Mustangs being able to pull this one out. We’ve doubted Jones and have been wrong before, but this isn’t nearly as good of an SMU team as he normally has to work with. One other note to remember about Pitt… This is a team that has now had four different head coaches in the last 13 months. Dave Wannstedt was fired, Mike Haywood was dismissed before ever really settling down with the job after some off the field legal issues, and Graham has now hopped out of town. If the team can survive that and still live to tell about a bowl game, there is no way that we can doubt that it will win it as well.
Free BBVA Compass Bowl Pick: Pittsburgh -3
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