Pittsburgh and Mississippi meet for the first time when the schools play in the BBVA Compass Bowl on Saturday, January 5 at 1 p.m. EST at Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. This is the third year in-a-row that the Panthers have landed in this bowl game.
Ole Miss, under first-year head coach Hugh Freeze, improved by four wins from 2-10 a year ago. The former Rebel assistant spent the 2011 season at the helm of Arkansas State, where he won the Sun Belt title. Ole Miss had dropped 14 straight SEC games prior to this season, but scored three league wins in 2012.
Pitt is under the leadership of Paul Chryst, its sixth head coach since late 2010. The former Wisconsin offensive coordinator was announced on December 22, 2011 as the replacement for Todd Graham who left for Arizona State after just one season. The school's head coaching upheaval began after the 2010 season when Dave Wannstedt was forced to resign. His assistant and former SMU head coach Phil Bennett was acting head coach in Pitt's bowl game that year. Michael Haywood was then hired December 16, 2010 but was fired 16 days later after he was arrested and jailed on New Year's Eve on a domestic violence charge. Graham was hired on January 14, 2011 but when he left after the final regular season game that year, and defensive coordinator Keith Patterson was interim head coach in the 2011 bowl game.
Both teams come into the game with 6-6 records and qualified for the postseason in the 11th hour by winning their final game of the regular season. In Pitt's case, it took back-to-back wins over Rutgers and USF in which it dominated both opponents with 27-6 and 27-3 victories. Ole Miss halted a 3-game losing streak with a 41-24 win over Egg Bowl rival Mississippi State.
Big East teams are 5-1 in BBVA Compass Bowls with the lone loss coming last season, when SMU was a 28-6 winner against Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh is 12-2-2 all-time against current members of the SEC, while the Panthers are 1-0 against SEC schools in the BBVA Compass Bowl, having defeated Kentucky 27-10 in the 2010-2011 game.
For Ole Miss, this is their first appearance in this bowl game. The Rebels are 0-1 against Big East opponents in the postseason after falling to West Virginia in the 2000 Music City Bowl. From 1965-1977, Mississippi regularly played its road games against Alabama at Legion Field, but hasn’t played at the facility since then.
The Rebels haven't played in any bowl game since 2009 and have only made 5 bowl appearances in this millennia. But Ole Miss has made the most out of the opportunities they have had with wins in their last four bowl trips. Mississippi downed Nebraska in the 2002 Independence Bowl, and followed that success with 3 Cotton Bowl victories over Oklahoma State (2003 and 2009) and Texas Tech (2008). The 4-bowl winning streak, as of January 2, ties them for the 2nd with BYU and Boise State for the longest current bowl winning streak, behind Auburn and Florida State with 5 each.
Ole Miss is 21-12 overall in bowl games to tie for the 3rd-best bowl winning percentage with Penn State among teams with 20 or more postseason appearances. Additionally, the 21 victories rank 13th.
Pittsburgh is 12-16 in bowl games.
The Panthers, who list Dan Marino, Curtis Martin and Tony Dorsett among their alumni, have a 3,000-yard passer and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history.
QB Tino Sunseri has thrown for 3,103 yards with 19 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He has thrown 270 consecutive passes without an interception, which is the longest active streak in the nation.
Pittsburgh RB Ray Graham was an has rushed for 1,042 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Mike Shanahan and Devin Street led Pitt receivers as Shanahan hauled in 58 receptions for 926 yards and five touchdowns, while Street had 66 catches for 892 yards and four TD's.
The Panthers committed just eight turnovers in the regular season to tie Ohio for the fewest nationally. Pittsburgh ranks 16th in total defense (325.9 ypg) and 21st in points allowed (19.7 ppg). DE Aaron Donald has a Big East-leading 18.5 tackles for loss while safety Jason Hendrcks led the conference with five interceptions.
Mississippi ranks sixth nationally in tackles for loss, averaging 7.7 per game. LB Denzel Nkemdiche leads the team with 78 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions.
On offense, Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace has thrown for 2,843 yards and 19 touchdowns with 15 interceptions, and rushed for 363 yards and 8 touchdowns.
Mississippi RB Jeff Scott has rushed for 828 yards and 6 touchdowns and has 1,049 all-purpose yards.
The Rebel receiving corps is led by Donte Moncrief who has 60 catches for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns. No other receiver has more than 465 yards.
Ole Miss has allowed three special teams touchdowns this season.
The Congrove Computer Rankings at CollegeFootballPoll.com project Pitt as a 4-point winner.