Bowl Breakdown: BBVA Compass
Pitt and SMU have both been impacted by Arizona State's coaching change
With elite d-linemen and porous o-lines, expect to see numerous sacks
Both teams lost their starting tailbacks, but Pitt can rely on other areas
Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5)
Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Reason to watch: To see the chaos that Arizona State inflicted on two tradition-rich programs? Not only did the Sun Devils hire former Pitt coach Todd Graham in one of the most vilified moves of the year, they also hired SMU's June Jones before rescinding their offer on Dec. 8. ASU has left both programs in disarray, with distractions likely to play a role in the game's eventual outcome. It also serves as a chance to watch quarterbacks take a beating. Panthers' linemen Brandon Lindsey and Aaron Donald combined for the third-highest sack total (18.5) of any teammates in the nation, while Pitt's porous offensive line allowed 57 in return, a whopping 10 more than any other FBS program.
Keep an eye on: The ground game. Both Pitt and SMU lost dynamic running backs to injuries, with Ray Graham suffering an ACL tear on Oct. 26 and Zach Line tearing his toe tendon on Nov. 12. Their offenses subsequently sputtered. SMU gained just 316 yards per game in Line's absence (as opposed to 412 before the injury), while Pitt's scoring average dipped from 26.5 to 24.3 points. And look for turnovers to play a decisive role. The Mustangs own the nation's worst turnover margin (-17), with inconsistent quarterback J.J. McDermott tossing 13 interceptions since the start of October. That's bad news against a Pitt secondary that's picked off five passes in its last four games.
Did you know: The Big East is 5-0 in BBVA Compass Bowl history, including two victories over Conference-USA foes (East Carolina in '06, Southern Miss in '07). Pitt is a seasoned Compass Bowl veteran: It defeated Kentucky 27-10 last year in a game in which embattled quarterback Tino Sunseri passed for a meager 96 yards.
Final analysis: In a showdown of Big East movers and shakers (Pitt bolted for the ACC on Sept. 18, SMU joined the conference on Dec. 7), the Panthers' defense will prove to be the difference. Pitt boasts a star-studded defensive front in Donald, Lindsey and Chas Alecxih (5.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss), and a shutdown secondary in Antwuan Reed and Jarrod Holley. SMU wideouts Darius Johnson and Cole Beasley will reach the 1,000-yard milestone (they're currently at 998 and 954 yards, respectively), but Pitt will induce enough mistakes to topple the Mustangs down the stretch.
The pick: Pitt 31, SMU 24
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