Champs Sports Bowl Game of the Week: West Virginia at Pittsburgh
The Champs Sports Bowl Game of the Week is a preview of a pivotal matchup featuring teams from the Big East and/or ACC that could impact the bowl picture.
West Virginia (7-3, 3-2 Big East) at Pittsburgh (6-4, 4-1 Big East)
Saturday, Nov. 26 — Noon
Heinz Field – Pittsburgh, Pa. (ABC)
Pittsburgh leads series, 61-38-3
Last meeting: Nov. 27, 2009 (West Virginia 19, Pittsburgh 16)
West Virginia Outlook
With two weeks left in the season, West Virginia is the only Big East team with a chance to crack the nine-win barrier. The Mountaineers’ three losses have come by a combined 14 points, but two came in conference games. They need a win against Pittsburgh and a Connecticut loss to win the conference championship.
West Virginia ranks in the top three of the conference for both rushing and passing offense. Quarterback Geno Smith has been stellar in the teams’ wins — 16 touchdowns and just two interceptions — but lackluster in losses — three touchdowns and four picks. Running back Noel Devine (82.8 yards per game, six touchdowns) hasn’t been the home run threat many expected him to be going into the year. However, much of the teams’ success can be attributed to their defense, which is the best in the conference in all major categories. The Mountaineers hold opponents to just 157.1 yards passing, 88 yards rushing and 12.9 points per game.
Pittsburgh remains in control of its destiny in the Big East despite a tumultuous season. A preseason conference favorite, the Panthers suffered disheartening early nonconference losses then recovered to win four out of their five league games, with the lone loss coming to fellow contender Connecticut. They lead the conference in just one major category — time of possession.
Although the season has been short on team highlights, redshirt sophomore quarterback Tino Sunseri has emerged as a capable leader, throwing for 201.9 yards per game with 14 touchdowns and only six picks. The running back duo of Ray Graham (80.4 yards per game, eight scores) and Dion Lewis (73.7 ypg, eight scores) have kept the Panthers balanced on offense.
Impact on Bowl Picture
If the Panthers win out, they would make first BCS appearance since 2004. A loss would put them at 7-5 overall and on the brink of the Champs Sports Bowl picture. With one more overall win heading into this game, West Virginia would remain in the hunt for Orlando regardless of the outcome, but would improve their chances with a victory over the conference favorite. UConn holds a tiebreaker over both teams and could sneak into the BCS with two consecutive wins and a Pittsburgh loss, which would then leave both Pitt and WVU available for the Champs Sports Bowl.
The Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia rivalry is the 14th oldest in college football and the name “Backyard Brawl” refers to the close proximity of these schools (they are only separated by 75 miles along Interstate 79). The 100th (2007) meeting between the Panthers and the Mountaineers was the most memorable of this rivalry. Pittsburgh, who was 4-7 at the time, traveled to Morgantown and upset the No. 2 team, an undefeated West Virginia, 13-9, and crushed the Mountaineers’ road to the BCS National Championship. That game was named ESPNU’s “Game of the Year”.
RECORD: 16-8 (6-6CSB)
Florida Tuskers Coach
PICK: West Virginia
RECORD: 16-8 (6-6 CSB)
PICK: West Virginia
RECORD: 13-11 (6-6 CSB)