The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Sports

December 2, 2012

Pitt's bowl trip an Alabama getaway for 3rd straight year

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Pittsburgh is making its third straight trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl, facing a resurgent Mississippi team.

The Panthers and Rebels will meet on Jan. 5 in a matchup of 6-6 Big East and Southeastern Conference teams which are led by first-year coaches.

Pitt became bowl eligible for the fifth consecutive season with Saturday’s 27-3 rout of South Florida, rebounding after losing its first two games to Youngstown State and Cincinnati.

Paul Chryst’s Panthers also took No. 1 Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing.

“While it is unusual to play in the same bowl three years in a row, we are excited to be facing a traditional program like Ole Miss,” Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. “This game is held in a great football city and our hosts have already discussed giving our team some different experiences on this trip. We are proud of how our team finished the regular season and we’re excited they can play one more game together.”

The Panthers are joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season.

Mississippi won its sixth game with a 41-24 upset of Mississippi State for the program’s first Egg Bowl win in four years. Rebels coach Hugh Freeze led a resurgence of a team with one Southeastern Conference win over the previous two seasons and coming off a 2-10 year.

Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork praised Freeze “for the fantastic turnaround.”

“I especially want to congratulate our seniors and the rest of the team for their hard work and for buying into the cultural change for our program,” Bjork said.

The Rebels are 8-1 in their last nine bowl games dating back to a 13-0 win over Air Force in the 1992 Liberty Bowl.  Making it back to the postseason for the first time in three years is a boost, Freeze said.

“I think it accelerates our journey, our process,” he said. “Not just the extra practices, but the extra media coverage ... we’re one of the teams still playing.”

Freeze said he doesn’t know much about Pitt, beyond that the Panthers took Notre Dame down to the wire and got better as the season went along.

Running back Ray Graham and quarterback Tino Sunseri give Pitt a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time.

The Panthers came to Birmingham the last two trips with interim coaches after Dave Wannstedt was released from his contract and Todd Graham left for Arizona State.

They beat Kentucky 27-10 two years ago and lost to SMU 28-6 last season.

“We’ve been given a great opportunity to play a quality program like Ole Miss,” Chryst said. “I know they finished the season strong and looked impressive in winning the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State.”

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