Little Caesars Bowl breakdown: Bowling Green vs. Pittsburgh
Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Pittsburgh (6-6)
Dec. 26, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)
• Reason to watch: To find out which Bowling Green team will show up, the one that lost to Indiana 42-10 on Sept. 14, or the one that won its final five games to capture the school's first MAC title in more than 20 years. The Falcons put together their finest performance in a 47-27 rout of previously unbeaten Northern Illinois in the conference championship. Bowling Green made Heisman Trophy finalist Jordan Lynch look human, and quarterback Matt Johnson went 21-of-27 for 393 yards with five touchdowns. However, coach Dave Clawson left for Wake Forest on Dec. 10. Questions have suddenly emerged.
Interim coach Adam Scheier and his players are saying the right things. At a Little Caesars Bowl media event, senior linebacker Paul Swan said that Bowling Green's upperclassmen are trying to keep the team focused on the game and not the "cloud of unknowns." But those unknowns could weigh on the Falcons. The Panthers also enter this matchup something to prove: Pittsburgh's last two seasons ended with bowl losses and 6-7 records.
• Keep an eye on: Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The 6-foot, 285-pound force was named ACC Defensive Player of the Year and brought home the Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. Donald has 10 sacks and an FBS-leading 26.5 tackles for loss. Bowling Green boasts a pair of first-team All-MAC offensive linemen (Chief Kekuewa and Dominic Flewellyn), but they haven't faced anyone of the caliber of Donald.
• Did you know: Nine teams played bowl games following head coach departures in 2012, and those squads finished 4-5. (Arkansas State, Cincinnati, San Jose State and Texas Tech won; NC State, Northern Illinois, Purdue, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin lost.) Though Paul Chryst is currently finishing his third year at Pitt, the Panthers are familiar with the upheaval of a coaching change. They won their bowl game in '10 after Dave Wannstedt resigned, but they lost in '11 after Todd Graham bolted for Arizona State.
• Final analysis: If Bowling Green plays the way it did against Northern Illinois, it should win handily. But if the Falcons aren't quite as sharp, the nation's premier defender could dictate the game. Panthers quarterback Tom Savage and company will do just enough to pull off the upset.
• The pick: Pittsburgh 24, Bowling Green 21