Before I forget, I'll be around commenting during the Compass Bowl game - if you're not there, drop in. We'll have an open gamethread up starting in the morning that will be up all day.
So the game is finally here ... and I do mean finally. It's been pretty easy to forget with the holidays, basketball issues, and a new head coach that Pitt actually has another game to play to close out this disastrous season. And let's be clear, it was a disaster.
That said, it'd be nice to see Pitt get to seven wins and have a fourth straight winning season. I'd really like to try to find reasons why Pitt won't win this game, and if pressed, I could probably come up with a few. But like last year, I've got the same feeling about this one. There's no reason why the Panthers shouldn't win.
So what's the deal with SMU, anyway? Here's my take.The first thing is that SMU's had some coaching drama of their own. June Jones appeared headed to, ironically, Arizona State. But that fell through and he was sent with his tail in between his legs going back to the Mustangs, assuring everyone he loves it there, of course.
On the field, the Mustangs were 7-5 this season. They actually have a better signature win (TCU) than Pitt does this year, but have otherwise been pretty lackluster. They were, as expected, blown out against their two biggest opponents. Texas A&M crushed them by 32 and Houston beat them by 30.
SMU is really a feast or famine type of team when you look at their results from this season. Strange SMU fact: Nine of their 12 games were decided by more than 20 points. Wait, what?
No, seriously - look it up.
Okay, so you know that thing we do with bashing Tino Sunseri? SMU has a similar polarizing QB. J.J. McDermott, is part of the reason the team's been blown out sometimes. He's thrown a pick in ten of the Mustangs' 12 games and has thrown at least two on four occasions. The difference is, though, that he throws for a lot of yards and that's bad news for Pitt's pass defense. He has more than 3,000 passing yards on the season and has led SMU to a No. 23 ranking in the nation in that department.
Pitt does, however, catch a break in the running game department - and I think that's what will make the difference. Zach Line, who had 1,200 yards on the season, was lost due to a toe injury and won't be playing. So, how'd SMU do once he went down?
In the first game against Houston, they rushed a total of 26 times for 24 yards. Ouch. Now, they rebounded in the next game against Rice, going for 189 yards. But Rice ranks near the bottom of Division I in rush defense, so that game was a bit misleading. If Pitt can shut down the rushing game, and I think they will, forcing McDermott to throw so much is going to be a recipe for disaster for SMU. He'll rack up some yards, but I think he'll be forced into some mistakes as well.
As for Pitt, I've been breaking them down all season - I don't think I need to do it again. The one thing, of course, is how they'll deal with the coaching situation. But here's the thing - they dealt with it last year and didn't have much trouble beating Kentucky. The one thing I was concerned about was how they might play for Keith Patterson, Todd Graham's lifetime chum. But (and I'll have more on this later), the fact that he's not joining Graham in ASU proved me wrong and showed that he was at least a bit stunned that he left. I think the players acknowledge that and will definitely be playing hard on Saturday.
Pitt is more talented and if they play anything resembling a good game, should win this one.