Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green:
Coming off their big upset in the MAC Championship game, Bowling Green (10-3) looks to improve on their domination on both sides of the ball when they look to fly high against Pittsburgh (6-6) who dropped 4 of their final 6 in their inaugural season in the ACC. Bowling Green is 1-2 against Pittsburgh after taking the last matchup 27-17 at Heinz Field in 2008.
Interim coach Adam Scheier replaces former coach Dave Clawson, who left to take the job at Wake Forest. He previously served as special teams coordinator. Bowling Green hired Eastern Illinois' Dino Babers as coach on Dec. 18. The Falcons are fifth in the nation with 14.8 points allowed per game and are averaging 35.4 to rank 27th. It remains to be seen how much or if anything will change with Scheier at the helm. Matt Johnson (217/337 3195 23 TD 7 INT) feasted on a vulnerable Northern Illinois defense in a 47-27 clinching championship by throwing for 393 yards and 5 TD passes to as many receivers. Shaun Joplin (48-822 3 TD) was mostly doubled but Alex Bayer (34-536 3 TD) was left open in the flat and over the middle catching 7 passes for 124 yards including ample gains after the reception due to key downfield blocking. Ronnie Moore (26-535 7 TD) led Bowling Green in scoring receptions and gained a team high 145 yards receiving in the win over the Huskies. The Falcons also execute well in the running game and option offense. While Johnson has run for 5 scores of his own, Travis Greene (261-1555 6.0 11 TD) is the primary back with the speed and agility to bust loose successful runs into the open field behind a protective line. Greene ran for 126 yards and a score caught another pass for a TD giving the Falcons balance and numerous options in the passing and ground attack.
Tom Savage (230/376 2834 21 TD 9 INT) put up some good numbers in an otherwise mediocre season for Pitt, who barely qualified for a bowl game. Top target Tyler Boyd (77-1001 7 TD) caught 9 passes for 98 yards in a season ending 41-31 loss to Miami. If Devin Street (51-854 7 TD) plays he will be ending his career at Pitt as the all time leading receiver in terms of catches. Developing with a new QB for the future could mean rebuilding for the Panthers going forward. Issac Bennett (166-795 4.8 7 TD) had his second best effort of the season running for 141 yards and a score against the Hurricanes.
The Panthers however could suffer some holes to fill on defense in the future. In addition to losing Jason Hendricks and K'Waun Williams, Aaron Donald's loss could really hurt on the line. No one else really stepped up as a pass rusher this season and if the line can't get enough pressure, things could be very difficult for the secondary. Bowling Green's defense gives up only 14.8 points per contest, good for 5th in the nation and are also solid on offense averaging nearly 36 which is 29th in the country. Sporting one of the larger point differentials on both sides of the ball, the Falcons will rally behind Scheier in one of the more lopsided bowl matchups. Not good news for a Pitt offensive line that allowed 41 sacks this season. Of course having the seventh easiest schedule out of 124 FBS teams will allow your offense to run up its numbers. Still, they put up 47 points against Northern Illinois, who has proven to be a respectable MAC team. A high time of possession for Bowling Green is a must in order to stress out Pittsburgh’s already flustered offense.
The pick: Bowling Green -5 (4 gyros)
Totals lean: over 50