Saturday, January 5: Compass Bowl in Birmingham, AL at 1:00 pm EST
Mississippi Rebels (6-6) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6)
January 5th, and yet we're back to the 6-6 teams.
Vegas line/spread: Mississippi by 3 1/2 (over/under 54)
Mississippi is favored to win a somewhat low-scoring game, though the over/under has climbed by a few points in the last week.
|Game-comparisons||win %||vs. Spread
Mississippi is 34th in the Strength power rating and Pitt #42. The Rebels win more than 3 in 5 of the game comparisons, helped by Pitt's first two games which were abysmal. The Rebels win the majority against the spread, too.
Strength power rating: Mississippi 31, Pittsburgh 25 by Median: Ole Miss 32, Pitt 23
Mississippi's strength is offense, where they rank #27 in adjusted scoring. Pitt's defense ranks 29th, so that's the better of the matchups. Pitt's #60 offense will square off against Ole Miss' 47th-ranked defense. That comes out to a 6-point expected winning margin for the Rebels.
Best games: Pittsburgh 35, Mississippi 34 Worst: Ole Miss 44, Pitt 38
Pitt's best game was a loss to Notre Dame; if they play that well and Mississippi repeats their performance against Mississippi State, it will be a very, very close game, maybe an overtime game. Mississippi had a terrible defensive performance against Texas, but that team would still handily win if Pitt played like they did in their season opener.
Comparing the teams based on yardage, Ole Miss should end up with a small advantage—maybe 15 yards—enough for a 3-point win. They're 35th in adjusted yardage differential, with Pitt just behind at #49. The rankings for offense and defense are very similar to the teams' scoring offense and defense rankings: Ole Miss has the #35 offense and #47 defense, while Pitt has the #60 offense and #29 defense.
Adjustments to yardage estimate: Mississippi 26, Pittsburgh 24
- Interceptions: Pitt ought to win the interception battle in a typical game, with a big enough expected advantage that we give them just over 2 points.
- Forced fumbles: Pitt rarely forces fumbles and rarely coughs it up, either; there shouldn't be many of these and neither team has an edge.
- Sacks: To make up for the lack of fumbles we will probably have a lot of sacks. In an average meeting between these teams Pitt would have 3 and Ole Miss 3 or 4. Advantage, Mississippi by perhaps 1/2 point.
- Red zone%: Red zone play should be roughly even; both teams have top 25 offenses in the red zone and top 30 defenses. Both teams gain around 1/2 point.
- Kicking game: No edge here.
- Kick returns: Pitt has an advantage on kickoff returns thanks to Mississippi's #111-ranked coverage; both teams should have luck on punt returns, as Pitt ranks 15th in fielding and #124—last in the nation—on punt coverage. Both teams add over 1/2 point.
Summary: In the end Pitt pulls closer by a point thanks to an expected edge in interceptions, but Ole Miss keeps their lead due to an edge in sacks and punt returns.
When Mississippi has the ball
|Mississippi rushing offense: #54
||Pittsburgh rushing defense: #25
Mississippi doesn't have much of a running game, as Jeff Scott leads the team with 828 yards and QB Bo Wallace #2 with 363. But ex-QB Randall Mackey and backup QB Barry Brunetti both have over 250, too, and it all adds up to a slightly-above-average running game. Pitt's rushing defense is borderline top 25 quality, however, and should hold the Rebels under 140 yards.
|Mississippi passing offense: #39||Pittsburgh passing defense: #48 per att: #26|
|Mississippi interceptions thrown ranking: #107||Pittsburgh interceptions picked ranking: #46|
|Mississippi quarterback protection rank: #103||Pittsburgh pass rush rank: #29|
Mississippi's pass offense is a little better than their running game, and Pitt's defense is weaker here, so this is where the Rebels will probably have the most success. Bo Wallace passed for 2,843 yards and 19 touchdowns, with top target Donte Moncrief about 50 yards shy of 1,000 receiving with 10 TDs. Mississippi should have over 250 yards through the air.
There are some caveats, however. The first is that Pitt's per-attempt defensive rating is pretty good, so the passing game will meet resistance. Second and third, Ole Miss is terrible on turnovers and protecting the quarterback. Wallace has thrown 15 interceptions this season, so Pitt will be looking to take advantage of that. He's also been sacked 27 times (+6 more for the other QBs), and Pitt's pass rush is pretty strong; hence our prediction of 3 or 4 sacks during the game for Pitt. These factors mean that when Mississippi passes they accept a lot of risk to go along with the reward.
When Pittsburgh has the ball
|Pittsburgh rushing offense: #71
||Mississippi rushing defense: #27
Surprisingly, despite having three 200+ yard games Ray Graham hadn't had a 1,000 yard season until this year. He had 922 in 2010, 958 in 2011 before tearing his ACL, and now 1,042 in 2012. Along with Rushel Shell (562) yards, he carried the Pitt ground game, but once you subtract out sack yardage Pitt's rushing totals were well below average. Mississippi's rushing defense is the equal of Pitt's, almost, and should hold the Panthers to around 120 yards—including sack losses, naturally.
|Pittsburgh passing offense: #43||Mississippi passing defense: #59 per att: #43|
|Pittsburgh interceptions thrown ranking: #7||Mississippi interceptions picked ranking: #25|
|Pittsburgh quarterback protection rank: #106||Mississippi pass rush rank: #19|
Tino Sunseri's 5th season was his 3rd as a starter, with a different coach each of those years. He had his best year by far in 2012, throwing for 3,103 yards, completing 66%, with a fantastic 19:2 TD:int ratio. Mike Shanahan and Devin Street caught the bulk of his passes; Street had 66 catches for 892 yards, Shanahan 58 for 926. Mississippi's pass defense is average and Sunseri should have around 260 yards.
Interceptions have not been a problem for Pitt, to say the least; Sunseri hasn't thrown a pick since the third game of the season. Ole Miss' defense will provide a challenge and might get one, but more than that would be a big surprise. Where they should focus is the pass rush, as they rank in the top 20 in adjusted sacks while Pitt has given up a terrible 34 this season. Believe it or not, that's a huge improvement for the Panthers as Sunseri was sacked 60 times last year.
Mississippi's season (6-6)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (1)
Wins vs. SR Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (6) to losing teams (0)
- Central Arkansas 49-27
- UTEP 28-10
- Texas 31-66
- @ Tulane 39-0
- @ #3 Alabama 14-33
- #9 Texas A&M 27-30
- Auburn 41-20
- @ Arkansas 30-27
- @ #11 Georgia 10-37
- Vanderbilt 26-27
- @ #6 LSU 35-41
- Mississippi State 41-24
Mississippi kicked off the season with a couple of decent wins, got destroyed by Texas, then shut out Tulane 39-0. So far none of the teams they beat were any good, but they were 3-1. The bad news is that they had two of the best teams in the country coming up. They actually did better against Alabama and Texas A&M than most teams did, losing only by 19 on the road to the Tide and by 3 points to the Aggies.
They took advantage of the terrible seasons that Auburn and Arkansas were having to notch two more wins, and at 5-3 only needed one more win for bowl eligibility. They'd have to wait, however, as Georgia thrashed them, Vanderbilt beat them by a point, and LSU beat them on a last-minute touchdown. From the last two performances it was clear they had a good shot to beat rival Mississippi State at home, and they did so with style, 41-24. In the end their only really bad performance was against Texas, and that was limited to a defensive breakdown; the offense did well.
Pittsburgh's season (6-6)
Wins vs. bowl-eligible teams (2)
Wins vs. SR Top 25 teams (0)
Losses (6) to losing/FCS teams (2)
- Youngstown State 17-31
- @ Cincinnati 10-34
- Virginia Tech 35-17
- Gardner-Webb 55-10
- @ Syracuse 13-14
- Louisville 35-45
- @ Buffalo 20-6
- Temple 47-17
- @ #1 Notre Dame 26-29 3OT
- @ Connecticut 17-24
- Rutgers 27-6
- @ South Florida 27-3
In football, dramatic improvement during the season is pretty rare. The difference between a team's first week and final game often isn't much at all. But Pitt certainly was a different team after it got its first two losses out of the way.
The debut of Paul Chryst, their 6th coach in 3 years, didn't go well; the Panthers were spanked at home by decent FCS team Youngstown State. They didn't do much better 5 days later against Cincinnati, losing 34-10 on the road. But on game three—10 days after the Thursday night Cincy game—Pitt had solved a lot of their basic problems and upset Virginia Tech 35-17. They beat a 2nd FCS team, Gardner-Webb, before hitting another rough patch: The offense stalled against Syracuse, then the defense faltered against Louisville, and the offense again had a terrible game in the Buffalo win. The Temple win was their best since Virginia Tech and evened their record at 4-4.
Then they played at Notre Dame and took the Irish into three overtimes before falling. The Irish, of course, finished 12-0; who would have guessed following week 2 that Pitt would be capable of something like that? The heartbreak of the narrow loss probably carried through to the UConn loss. And after that 2-game-losing streak, they had a 2-game winning streak, their pattern all season long. The final two were the Panthers' best two wins as they crushed Rutgers and South Florida. Four of Pitt's last 5 games were very good performances; now they just have to break the pattern if they want to get a bowl win.
Tight end Jamal Mosley, 7th on Mississippi with 171 receiving yards, is doubtful for the game. Pitt's main punt returner, WR Cameron Saddler, may still be out with disciplinary issues.
- Mississippi's season: +4 wins; Pitt's season: +0 wins
- Mississippi's momentum: +0 wins; Pitt's momentum: +2 wins
- Mississippi won final game: YES; Pitt won final game: YES
- Mississippi glad to be there? YES; Pitt glad to be there: YES
- Mississippi time zones from home: 0; Pitt time zones from home: 1;
- Mississippi coaching situation: stable; Pitt coaching situation: stable
Sometimes 6-6 teams aren't the most excitable lot, having just stumbled their way into a bowl game despite a lackluster season. But it's probably safe to say that both these teams are very happy to be going bowling.
Mississippi was 2-10 last year. There's not a team in the world that goes from 2-10 to 6-6 and is unhappy about it. They defeated a couple of teams that had been beating them regularly (Auburn and Arkansas), beat their in-state rival Mississippi State, and played LSU very close. As for Pitt, the expectation level after the 0-2 start had to be pretty low; they looked as likely to go 0-12 as they did to get to a bowl game. But things turned around and the team kept getting better.
Both teams feature 1st-year coaches. The fact that both are still here, coaching the bowl game, is kind of a big deal. Mississippi's Hugh Freeze has been head coach at a different school each year from 2009 to 2012, so the fact that he didn't take any open jobs is encouraging. Likewise, Pitt has played musical chairs with the head coaching position, and Todd Graham left after one season. Paul Chryst came from Wisconsin where the head coaching job opened up after the season ended, but he didn't consider pursuing it.
This is another tough pick. Both teams should be very motivated and definitely have the feel of programs on the rise with their respective new coaches. There shouldn't be a problem with getting a great effort out of either team. Ole Miss went from 2-10 to 6-6, and Pitt recovered from a terrible 0-2 start to become bowl-eligible. Both finished the season with a strong win.
Both teams showed they can play with the very best teams in the nation, even if they came up short. Ole Miss played Alabama better than most teams and took both LSU and Texas A&M to the brink. For their part, Pitt took Notre Dame into 3 overtimes before falling.
Passing will probably be each team's engine of production during the game. Overall Pitt's offense looks like it's more prone to success; Sunseri may get sacked a lot, but he probably won't throw picks, and that puts them ahead of Ole Miss in the passing department. The running game isn't expected to work well for either team, but we like Ray Graham's chances—playing in his last game for Pitt—better than Jeff Scott's.
Pitt's season was a strange one, with the first 2 games incredibly bad and the last 2 great. It's probably fair to remove the first two from consideration, and if you do that Pitt is only a 1 point underdog in our Strength ratings. It's probably not fair to figure they'll do as well as they did in the final two games, but they were just as good for most of their last five games—except for the letdown game following Notre Dame. We think Pitt will break their pattern of 2-wins/2-losses and get their third win in a row, and both teams will put forth a fantastic effort.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Mississippi 26
More previews, odds, and predictions: View the complete 2012-2013 bowl game schedule.