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The BBVA Compass Bowl might look like just another bowl betting bash featuring a pair of mediocre teams from power conferences, but there are a ton of storylines that go along with the duel on Saturday after that kicks off a triple header of football action including the NFL playoffs.
BBVA Compass Bowl Matchup: Kentucky Wildcats vs. Pittsburgh Panthers
Date: Saturday, January 8th, 12:00 ET
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
BBVA Compass Bowl Line: Pittsburgh -3.5
Wildcats Notes: This is the first bowl game for Head Coach Joker Phillips, who did a fantastic job taking care of this team this year in spite of the fact that many thought they would struggle to get into the second season. Kentucky survived the rugged SEC this year to finish at .500 and would love nothing more than to be able to pull off the upset here at Legion Field to finish up the campaign with a winning record. If he is going to do that though, it is going to have to happen with QB Morgan Newton calling the shots, not QB Mike Hartline. Hartline, who had a fantastic senior season, was suspended for this game and has not made the trip to Birmingham with the team. Newton, just a sophomore, is the future of the Kentucky program, and he brings a significantly tougher challenge to the table than Hartline does for the U-Pitt defense. No, Newton really isn't set to break all sorts of passing records, but he does have great legs, making this offense very, very fun to watch. Mr. Do It All, Randall Cobb is inevitably going to be taking some snaps as well as the Wildcat signal caller. Cobb threw the ball 10 times this year and accounted for 58 yards and three TDs. He was the second leading rusher on the squad as well with 401 yards and five scores. And of course, he was the top receiving option as well with 79 receptions, 955 yards, and seven TDs. Don't forget about the play of WR Chris Matthews either, though. This explosive star only caught 57 passes, but he averaged 15.7 yards per catch, giving him 897 yards and nine TDs on the year. RB Derrick Locke had 816 yards and 10 TDs on the ground as well. UK's defense had some bad games this year, like when it allowed 44 to the Georgia Bulldogs and 48 to the Florida Gators, but in totality, things weren't really that bad. The Wildcats held teams to just 344.9 yards and 28.5 points per game, numbers which probably would be good enough to beat the BBVA Compass Bowl odds on Saturday.
Panthers Notes: Trying to find a man that can take control of the Panthers right now is a hard enough task. Head Coach Dave Wannstedt was forced to resign at the end of the season, and the man that was hired to replace him, former Miami Redhawks Head Coach Mike Haywood, was fired on New Year's Day amidst allegations stemming from a domestic violence case. That alone, might be causing enough turmoil to cause the Panthers not to want to really show up here in Birmingham. On top of that, U-Pitt really didn't play well down the stretch, losing to both the Connecticut Huskies and West Virginia Mountaineers in games that really should have been won. Instead of playing in the BCS, something that seemed like a foregone conclusion going into the month of November, here it is in Birmingham, playing in a second tier game against a second tier team. Still, the Pittsburgh defense can make a real difference here at the BBVA Compass Bowl. This team allowed just 298.6 yards per game this year, ranking No. 9 in the land, though we must remember that this schedule wasn't nearly as tough as the one that the Wildcats faced. Do watch out for both RBs Dion Lewis and Ray Graham, who combined to account for almost 1,800 yards between them on the ground on the season. They also scored a combined 20 times. QB Tino Sunseri will be starting his first career bowl game as well after a 2010 season in which he threw for 2,476 yards and 15 TDs against eight picks.
The Final Word: We're not really so sure why the line in this game keeps going in Pitt's favor. We're not so certain that Kentucky isn't the better team in this game, and we really know that the Panthers probably don't have a lot of motivation to be here. Don't be surprised if Cobb, Newton, and company just continually find ways to puncture hole after hole in this Pittsburgh defense, and if that's the case, the Cats very well could run "Wild" in Birmingham.
BBVA Compass Bowl Free Pick: Kentucky +3.5
BBVA Compass Bowl Prediction: Kentucky 38 – Pittsburgh 20