College football fans are already gearing up for the 2013 BCS National Championship Game, but it’s a little too early to start looking ahead.
The BBVA Compass Bowl is set for Jan. 5, and though the game won’t feature marquee programs, it will offer an exciting matchup between two evenly-matched teams.
Ole Miss has won eight of its last nine bowl games, while Pittsburgh makes an appearance in the Compass Bowl for the third straight year, this time under head coach Paul Chryst.
The Panthers offense will feature senior quarterback Tino Sunseri, who threw for 3,103 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. Sunseri didn’t put up big touchdown numbers, but he escaped the regular season with just two interceptions and was one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Big East in 2012.
Ole Miss finished 6-6 on the season, but the Rebels faced a tough schedule this year. They lost to Alabama, Texas, Georgia and LSU en route to a 3-5 record in the SEC. Still, Ole Miss features an offense that scored nearly 31 points per game this season, and the Rebels should have another strong offensive showing against Pittsburgh.
Sophomore wide receiver Donte Moncrief will be a key to an Ole Miss victory Jan. 5. The 6’3”, 216-pound target caught 60 passes for 948 yards and 10 touchdowns this season with the Rebels, but he’ll face a Pittsburgh defense that allowed just 197 yards of passing offense per game in 2012. A big game for Moncrief will mean a strong performance from the Ole Miss offense.
Pittsburgh’s offense, meanwhile, will revolve around senior running back Ray Graham. Graham rushed for 1,042 yards on 4.7 yards per carry this year. He also added 11 rushing touchdowns and was a big reason for the Panthers’ balance on offense.
The Ole Miss defense ranked No. 52 in the nation this year, allowing 385 yards per game in the regular season. In order for the Rebels to shut down Pittsburgh’s offense, they will need to limit Graham’s effectiveness and force Sunseri to air it out often.
Both Ole Miss and Pittsburgh are led by coaches with a lot to prove. Chryst and Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze are in their first year with their respective programs, and both are looking to revitalize programs that haven’t always lived up to expectations.
Neither team is particularly explosive on offense or dominant on defense, so the Compass Bowl should yield a close game and an exciting finish. Given the remaining games on the bowl schedule, this game will have a lot to live up to.