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NCAA Football: BBVA Compass Bowl Preview for Pittsburgh vs. Ole Miss

Lost in the weekend before the National Championship and during NFL playoffs, there’s Saturday’s BBVA Compass Bowl. The Big East – SEC match up includes Pittsburgh (6-6, 3-4) vs. Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5).

The Panthers are familiar with this bowl as its their third consecutive appearance. For the Rebels, they’ll have to shake off some bowl rust as their last one came in 2009. But they know how to play in the postseason, winning their last eight of nine bowls.

This is the first meeting between the two and this should be interesting.

The Panthers feared losing their first-season coach Paul Chryst after rumors swirled that since Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas, the coach would return to Wisconsin for the top spot; Chryst had coached there and played quarterback for the team. He shot this down with a statement of commitment to Pitt; a collective sigh of relief could be heard in Pittsburgh.

Chryst said via ESPN, “I feel fortunate to be here and I like what we’re doing and I love doing it with the guys that we’re doing it with. That’s a pretty good feeling.”

Pitt QB Tito Sunseri

On Saturday, Pitt will bring some offensive talent to the game. Its senior quarterback Tito Sunseri passed for 3,103 yards (66.5 percent completion), 19 touchdowns and two picks. Accuracy is this player’s strength as it’s been nine games (270 passes) without a interception; this represents the longest steak in the nation.

When was Sunseri’s last pick? On Sept. 15 in the 35-17 win over then No. 13 Virginia Tech.

Fortunately his offensive line watches out for him, improving from last year as Sunseri had been sacked 61 times in 2011 vs. 2012’s 34 occurrences.

Sunseri’s 2012 play landed him at the No. 2 spot in the Big East with his 154.9 rating.

One of his weapons of choice is running back Ray Graham. For the regular season, he had 222 carries for 1,042 yards (4.7 yard average) and 11 touchdowns.

His breakout game of the season came in the 29-26 triple OT loss against Notre Dame. Graham ran a season-high 172 yards on 24 carries with one touchdown. Against the three ranked teams Pitt played this season (wins against Rutgers and Virginia Tech), Graham rushed for 399 yards with five scores.

His fellow back, freshman Rushel Shell, ran for 562 yards and four touchdowns this season.

There’s opportunity for this duo to have a good game on Saturday as the Rebels give up a 133.3 rushing-yard average.

As for Ole Miss, they’re playing under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. He took over a 2-10 team from 2011 with all eight losses against conference teams.

This season they went 3-5 in the SEC and returned to postseason play.

The school was happy with this outcome and gave Freeze a contract extension that should give the team some security until 2016.

For the Rebels, their field general is sophomore Bo Wallace. The versatile player threw for 2,843 yards (63.4 percent completion), 19 touchdowns and 15 picks. He can also run and leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns on 135 carries for 363 yards.

Ole Miss RB Jeff Scott

This is a good thing as the Rebels rely on their running game. The team has averaged 169.7 yards with 23 scores.

Junior running back Jeff Scott has rushed for a career-high season with his 828 yards and six touchdowns. In the team’s last game against Mississippi State, he had 28 carries for 111 yards.

As for Saturday’s game, the key may be the passing defense. While you have one quarterback with two interceptions for the season, the other one has 15 interceptions. You have the Panthers as a No. 25 ranked passing defense vs. the Rebels’ No. 85 ranking.

If Sunseri can continue his solid play and see his two running backs gaining yards, Pitt should get the win but don’t count Ole Miss out (-3.5, 53.5 o/u).


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