Little Caesars Bowl 2013: Pitt vs. Bowling Green TV Info, Predictions and More
Bowling Green just snatched away Northern Illinois' chances at a BCS berth by capturing the MAC Championship.
It's reward? A date with the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
And the Panthers will be no pushover. Although they finished just 6-6, the Panthers have wins over the likes of Notre Dame and Duke. However, they also have losses to teams like Navy and Georgia Tech.
Time: 6 p.m. ET, Dec. 26, 2013
Place: Ford Field, Detroit, Mich.
Radio: TBC Sports Radio
Bowling Green Falcons Keys to Victory
Establish the tone with RB Travis Greene
With 11 touchdowns and over 1,500 yards on the ground, Bowling Green has one of the best running backs in the country. He's also perfectly complemented by quarterback Matt Johnson, who's carried the ball over 100 times and gotten five scores off those carries.
As a team, the Falcons rank 27th in the nation in rushing, so it's definitely the team's forte. As for the Panthers, they rank just 60th in the country in stopping the run game. So expect the Falcons to take control of this game on the ground.
Don't let Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage get into a rhythm
Tom Savage looks like one of the country's best quarterbacks in some games. Others, not so much. For instance, against Duke he threw for 424 yards and six touchdowns. But against Virginia the very next week, he threw two picks and was limited to 191 yards.
The Falcons rank just fifth in the MAC with 28 sacks. They also have just eight interceptions as a team. But if they can force Savage to be uncomfortable early and often, that'll open the door for Bowling Green to run away with the game.
Pittsburgh Panthers Keys to Victory
Tom Savage has to have a good game
Bowling Green is ranked 34th in rush defense, so any offensive success the Panthers have will have to come from Savage's arm. He's had an impressive year, racking up over 2,800 yards passing with 21 scores.
But he's also been inconsistent at times, such as when he threw for over 400 yards against Duke then less than 200 the next game against Virginia.
If Pittsburgh wants to have a shot at beating one of the nation's hottest teams, Savage has to do it through the air.
The Panthers have struggled with turnovers all year. With eight fumbles lost and nine interceptions, Pittsburgh ranks just 10th in the ACC with a minus-one turnover margin.
While minus-one isn't an incredibly bad mark, to beat a sound team like Bowling Green you have to be sound yourself.
Bowling Green is one of the best teams in the nation at being opportunistic as it led the MAC in turnover margin. So the Panthers can't let the Falcons impose their will on them.
Players to Watch from Bowling Green
QB Matt Johnson
Johnson has been a steady performer for the Falcons all season long, and he'll certainly be leaned on in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
The sophomore signal-caller from Pennsylvania has racked up 3,195 yards passing and a 23-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Against Northern Illinois, he outperformed Heisman Trophy candidate Jordan Lynch by throwing for 393 yards and five scores.
He also completed 21 of 27 of his passing attempts in the MAC Championship Game, so expect that momentum to carry over to the bowl season.
RB Travis Greene
The Falcons possess one of the most balanced offensive attacks in all of college football. Behind Johnson's play is the consistent showings by running back Travis Greene. His 1,555 yards rank 10th in the nation.
Greene's been extremely consistent over the season, having nine games of 100 yards or more rushing and just three below that mark. His lowest output was 43 yards against Indiana.
Of his 13 games of over 100 yards, Greene has racked up five of them over the past five games, so he'll look to keep that streak going against Pittsburgh.
Players to Watch from Pittsburgh
QB Tom Savage
The Panthers' signal-caller ranks 37th in the nation in passing yards (2,834) and 29th in passing touchdowns (21).
In his team's games against Duke, Notre Dame and Miami, Savage looked like one of the ACC's best quarterbacks. But in matchups against Virginia, Virginia Tech and Old Dominion, he looked like one of the conference's worst.
His season high for passing yards in a game is 424 against Duke. His low is 104 against Old Dominion, the same team that got stomped 80-20 against UNC.
Savage is certainly capable of racking up the numbers against Bowling Green. But he'll have to be in his Duke or Notre Dame form to do it.
WR Tyler Boyd
Despite being just a freshman, Tyler Boyd has been Pittsburgh's go-to receiver in 2013. He leads the team with 1,001 yards receiving and has also hauled in seven touchdowns.
In September, he had three straight games with over 100 yards receiving and even had three touchdown grabs against Duke.
Boyd has also been an efficient rusher, racking up 108 yards on just 11 carries and also scoring a touchdown on the ground this year.
What They Are Saying
Pittsburgh Head Coach Paul Chryst in a statement regarding the Little Ceasar's Pizza Bowl, per Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
“We’re excited for the chance to play in another game against such a quality opponent,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. “Bowling Green was impressive not only in their MAC Championship win, but all season long and we have a competitive game of football ahead."
Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson on the Panthers' selection the bowl, per the team's website:
The location and the date are ideal for Pitt fans to be able to enjoy being a part of the bowl experience. A bowl appearance is significant in many ways, especially as Coach Chryst continues to build this program toward our next championship. We are grateful to the people of Detroit for making this possible. We will have an excited team arriving in Detroit for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson on NIU QB Jordan Lynch's Heisman candidacy, per ESPN:
"There was a lot of talk about Jordan Lynch being up for the Heisman," Johnson said. "It's well-deserved, but I did take it a little personal."
Pittsburgh is under good direction with Chryst. Although they had an up-and-down season, wins against teams such as Duke, who played for an ACC title, and Notre Dame are certainly positive signs for the program.
However, the Panthers simply aren't good enough to handle the balance of what is a terrific Bowling Green offense. The Falcons rank in the top 40 in the nation in both passing and rushing.
And they proved they can beat the best teams with their MAC Championship win over Northern Illinois, a win that ended the Huskies' chances at a BCS berth.
Plus, it's hard not to choose a 10-win team over a six-win team.
Predicted Final Score: Bowling Green 38, Pittsburgh 24