The Pitt Panthers will meet the Eastern Michigan Eagles in the 2019 Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan.
After a 7-5 regular season, Pitt has a postseason destination for the 11th time in the last 12 years. Granted, the Panthers have yet to win a bowl in three attempts under Pat Narduzzi.
Eastern Michigan hasn't won a bowl since 1987, but the 6-6 Eagles are preparing for only the fourth postseason trip in program history. Chris Creighton has done a remarkable job turning a longtime MAC doormat into a perennial six-win contender.
Both programs are making their first-ever appearance in this bowl, and Pitt holds a 2-0 advantage in the all-time series.
2019 Quick Lane Bowl Information
When: Thursday, Dec. 26 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN (WatchESPN)
Odds: Pitt -11 (Caesars)
As usual, you never really knew what to expect from Pitt.
The reigning ACC Coastal champions began the season with a loss to Virginia, the eventual division winner. Following an uninspiring win over Ohio, Pitt fell to rival Penn State in head-shaking fashion when Narduzzi elected to kick a field goal while on the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter trailing 17-10.
On the bright side, the Panthers recovered with a dramatic upset of then-No. 15 UCF thanks to a trick-play touchdown. That victory sparked a streak of four straight one-score wins for Pitt.
However, close victories over Delaware and subpar ACC teams Duke and Syracuse didn't inspire much confidence. The winning streak ended in a 16-12 loss to a flailing Miami squad.
Pitt bounced back to topple Georgia Tech and secure bowl eligibility, then added a triumph over North Carolina to reach 7-3. But the Panthers ended the regular season with a 28-0 shutout loss at Virginia Tech and 26-19 letdown to Boston College.
"I feel like we underachieved this season, tremendously," senior linebacker Saleem Brightwell said after that loss to BC, per Alan Saunders of Pittsburgh Sports Now. "I feel like especially with the players we have and the staff, to be 7-5 this year, it's a fall-off from what we should have been."
The blame largely falls on an ineffective offense that scored just 20.1 points per game, which ranked 115th nationally. Even worse, Pitt averaged 11 points in five losses despite having a second-year starting quarterback in Kenny Pickett.
Still, a win in the Quick Lane Bowl would allow Pitt to finish 8-5 for the third time under Narduzzi.
Eastern Michigan Eagles
The highlight of EMU's year happened in mid-September when the team sprung a 34-31 upset at Illinois. The Eagles have made a habit of taking Big Ten money and winning the game, too.
But the Eagles couldn't keep up that level of performance.
The next week, Eastern Michigan needed a last-second blocked punt to survive FCS opponent Central Connecticut State. Now, to be fair, this is a spectacular way to win a game. Matthew Sexton blocked, recovered and returned it for a touchdown.
Nevertheless, that the Eagles soon endured four losses in the next five outings should be no surprise. Yet because college football is consistently odd, their lone victory in that rough stretch happened opposite a division-title contender in Western Michigan.
Road victories over Akron and Northern Illinois sealed EMU's first back-to-back six-win seasons since 1986-89. Senior running back Shaq Vann posted two of his three 100-yard efforts in those wins.
Though the Eagles lost to Kent State in the regular-season finale, they managed to secure a bowl invite anyway. Creighton knows his program was fortunate to get a call.
"[It's] fun to have gone to two bowl games back-to-back," he said. "Been to three now in four years. We haven't won any of them. Got in by the skin of our teeth this year."
If Eastern Michigan can engineer an upset, the program will celebrate its first bowl victory in 32 years and second in its history.
Follow Bleacher Report writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR