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BBVA Compass Bowl Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers Vs. SMU Mustangs

BBVA Compass Bowl - Pittsburgh Panthers vs. SMU Mustangs
Birmingham, AL (Legion Field) - Jan. 7, 2012 - 1 p.m. (ESPN)
This Season:
Pittsburgh 6-6 (4-3)
SMU 7-5 (5-3)

Offense 2011
Team Pittsburgh SMU
Rush Yds. 151.17 118.17
Pass Yds. 211 277.83
Pts. Scored 25.75 25.67
Defense 2011
Team Pittsburgh SMU
Rush Yds. 121.58 127.33
Pass Yds. 233.25 223.92
Pts. Allowed 22.42 24.50

With Graham bolting for Arizona State and only telling his players by forwarded text message (they surprisingly didn't appreciate it), Pitt finds itself in the Compass Bowl for the second straight year without a head coach. In the 2010 season, the Panthers were able to overcome adversity and defeat Kentucky. Do they have what it takes to win again this season under interim coach Keith Patterson?

When you look at the defensive stats for Pittsburgh and SMU, you see two very similar teams. SMU leans more heavily on the pass on offense but both score about the same amount of points in the end. The "high octane" offense Todd Graham pledged to bring to Pitt (or was it Tulsa, Rice or now Arizona State) never developed. Similarly, June Jones, who didn't get the Arizona State job, hasn't seen his Run 'N' Shoot have the success at SMU that it had at Hawaii. He'll be looking for his 100th collegiate win on Saturday.

Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri will get sacked. It's an uncomfortable fact about this season. The Panthers are the worst team in the nation at keep their quarterback upright and have conceded 56 sacks on the year. SMU doesn't take as many sacks but they have a hard time holding onto the ball. They are dead last in the country in turnover margin at -1.42. Nineteen of their 31 lost turnovers are interceptions. That's welcome news for a Panthers team that struggled to create turnovers against opposing quarterbacks.

Both teams lost their leading rushers (Ray Graham for Pitt and Zach Line for SMU) before the bowl season. Both teams have quarterbacks who turn the ball over about as much as they score touchdowns (Sunseri for Pitt and J.J. McDermott for SMU). So what's going to give one team an edge? I think Pitt will be able to use the running game more effectively than SMU and not expose Sunseri as much to the flaws of the passing game.

Prediction - Pitt 23, SMU 16

For more coverage of the Big East's bowl season, check out our Bowl games section.