When the Pittsburgh Panthers go head-to-head with the Bowling Green Falcons in the 2013 Little Caesars Bowl on Thursday night, the college football world will be focused on the major underlying storylines in this battle.
There are many critics who believe that Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-5 ACC) doesn’t deserve to be on this stage with six losses, and Bowling Green (10-3, 7-1 MAC) couldn’t have asked for a more ideal opponent to showcase its ability against than the Panthers.
Here is all the vital viewing information for Thursday’s game, along with its storylines.
Where: Ford Field, Detroit
When: Thursday, Dec. 26, at 6 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Top Storylines to Watch
Matt Johnson is Red Hot
In case you haven’t heard yet, or don’t follow the Falcons, Bowling Green sophomore quarterback Matt Johnson is red hot this season.
Not only did Johnson lead his team to a stunning 47-27 victory over then-No. 16 Northern Illinois in the MAC title game on Dec. 6, but he also outperformed Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch by amassing 393 yards and five touchdowns in the win.
With momentum on the Falcons’ side, the sophomore quarterback also has a personal interest in this matchup. The Pennsylvania native was passed up by Pitt during the recruiting process, and he told David Goricki of The Detroit News about his feelings toward the Panthers:
It’s a little self-motivation for me, no doubt. You could say I have a little chip on my shoulder. It’s not a personal vendetta against this Pitt coaching staff because they weren’t even there at that time. I was looked at by (then-Pitt coach) Dave Wannstedt my freshman year, but it was Coach (Todd) Graham (now head coach at Arizona State) who passed me by. I just want to show my home state how I can play.
After throwing just 28 times in his freshman season, Johnson won the starting job in 2013 and grew as a player each week. He looked solid through the first portion of the season, but back-to-back losses in October forced the quarterback to make some adjustments.
During the Falcons' current five-game winning streak coming, Johnson has thrown for 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Johnson has 3,195 yards passing this season to go with 23 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Falcons’ success begins and ends with Johnson’s performance.
Can Pitt’s Offense Solve Bowling Green’s Defensive Riddle?
Pitt is coming off a devastating 41-31 loss to the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 29 in which the Panthers were utterly dismantled on both sides of the ball.
The Panthers did manage to rack up 31 points—although it came in garbage time against a mediocre Hurricanes defensive unit—but the program will be going up against one of the toughest defenses it has faced all season in the Falcons.
Bowling Green comes into the game with the eighth-best statistical defense in the nation, allowing just 308.7 yards per game. With teams averaging just 14.8 points per game against the Falcons, Pitt’s struggling offense is in serious trouble.
After shutting down Lynch in the MAC championship game, the Panthers’ 104th-ranked offensive unit is in serious trouble. The team’s average of 351.8 yards per game is not that impressive considering the lack of elite defenses in the ACC, and the Falcons will expose Pitt's weaknesses.
Unless Pitt has a secret weapon up its sleeve, Bowling Green is going to dominate this matchup.
*Stats via CFBStats.com.