GAME NOTES: The Pittsburgh Panthers will take on the Bowling Green Falcons in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26 at Ford Field.
Paul Chryst's Panthers had an up-and-down season that saw wins against both Duke and Notre Dame, but the team's first season in the ACC was still considered a minor disappointment, with a 6-6 overall record and a 3-5 mark in the conference.
Adam Scheier will be the interim coach for the 10-3 Falcons after Dave Clawson accepted the head coach position at Wake Forest. The Falcons are coming off their biggest win of the season, knocking off the Northern Illinois Huskies in the MAC Championship Game, 47-27.
The two teams have only met three times with the Panthers holding the advantage 2-1. In their last meeting however, Bowling Green beat Pittsburgh 27-17 at Heinz Field in 2008.
The Panthers are paced offensively by their passing attack. They are averaging 236.8 yards passing per game, and 12.3 yards per completion. Tom Savage led the aerial attack with 21 touchdowns and only nine interceptions on his 376 passing attempts.
The running game was not as productive for Pittsburgh as they averaged just 114.9 ypg, on just 3.34 yards per carry. The Panthers have two key rushers in Isaac Bennett (4.8 ypc, seven TDs) and James Conner (4.8 ypc, seven TDs).
Outland Trophy and Bednarick Award winner Aaron Donald is the Panthers' top defensive player with 26.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks, which ranks 10th in the nation. Despite his efforts, Pittsburgh is still allowing 27.2 ppg which is 70th in the nation.
This is Pittsburgh's sixth straight bowl appearance and 11th since 2000. If the Panthers win it will be their first winning season since 2008.
Coach Chryst is excited for his team's chances against the Falcons.
"We're excited for the chance to play in another game against such a quality opponent. Bowling Green was impressive not only in their MAC Championship win, but all season long and we have a competitive game of football ahead. We are grateful to the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and the City of Detroit for offering us this opportunity."
Falcons quarterback Matt Johnson lit up Northern Illinois in the team's last game by throwing for 393 yards and five touchdowns en route to upsetting the then 14th-ranked Huskies.
Johnson has had a very strong year this season and the MAC Championship game just typified that. He threw for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns with only seven interceptions.
An efficient passing attacked is backed up by a very strong rushing game. The Falcons are the 27th ranked rushing team in the nation, averaging 207.5 ypg at a clip of 4.9 ypc. Travis Greene led the attack with 1,555 yards on the ground with 11 touchdowns.
Bowling Green was led by its dominant defense this season. The Falcons have the eighth ranked defense by only allowing 308.7 ypg. They also keep teams from scoring by having the fifth ranked scoring defense, allowing just 14.8 points per game.
Coming off the Falcons' first MAC Championship in 21 years and third bowl bid in the last five years, Coach Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest. Scheier has been chosen to take over and patrol the sidelines for Bowling Green in this game. It is a challenge that he is up for.
"I am honored to serve as Bowling Green's interim head coach. The opportunity to lead this group of young men as we put the finishing touches on this special season is both humbling and exciting. This team and in particular, this group of seniors, has established a championship culture here at BG and I am confident that we will represent BGSU and the MAC well at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl."
It will be tough for Pittsburgh to overtake the very strong and balanced Falcons. The Panthers have had some good wins this season but there up-and- down year will likely end on a sour note in the Motor City.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bowling Green 34, Pittsburgh 17