Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss: BBVA Compass Bowl Breakdown
Pittsburgh (6-6) vs. Ole Miss (6-6)
Jan. 5, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: Both teams fought to become bowl eligible, so expect the Panthers and Rebels to play a close game. Pitt may have a .500 record, but it defeated two then-ranked teams -- No. 13 Virginia Tech and No. 18 Rutgers -- and barely fell to BCS-bound Notre Dame in triple overtime. Indeed, Paul Chryst's Panthers were a missed field goal away from handing the Fighting Irish their only loss of the year. Meanwhile, though Ole Miss failed to stage a major upset of its own (it went 0-4 against ranked teams), it came within 15 seconds of shocking LSU in Baton Rouge. The Rebels boast a dangerous ground attack, led by Jeff Scott and Barry Brunetti, who combined for 173 rushing yards in Ole Miss' pivotal Egg Bowl victory over rival Mississippi State in the regular-season finale.
• Keep an eye on: Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, who hasn't thrown an interception in nearly four months. Since his fourth-quarter pick against Virginia Tech on Sept. 15, Sunseri has thrown 270 consecutive passes without an interception -- the longest active streak in college football. He finished the regular season with an astounding 19-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. It's helped that Sunseri has been better protected up front this season. He was only sacked 34 times in 2012, as opposed to 61 times in 2011.
• Did you know: Pitt will now have competed in all three editions of the BBVA Compass Bowl. The Panthers defeated Kentucky in 2011 but lost to SMU in 2012. The bowl was previously called the PapaJohns.com Bowl from 2006-10.
• Final analysis: Look for two factors to define this game: interceptions and passing defense. In contrast to Sunseri's two picks, Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown 15 interceptions. And while the Panthers boast the 25th-ranked passing defense, the Rebels' unit ranks a mere 85th. If Sunseri can continue to display the form he showed during the regular season, expect the senior -- with some help from standout backs Ray Graham and Rushel Shell -- to lead Pitt to a hard-fought win.
• The pick: Pittsburgh 27, Ole Miss 24