BBVA COMPASS BOWL STORYLINES
1. Pittsburgh will be playing in Birmingham for the third straight year, but for the first time with the same man who coached the team during the regular season (Paul Chryst). Dave Wannstedt was fired prior to the team’s 27-10 win over Kentucky after the 2010 season before Todd Graham missed last season's 28-6 defeat against SMU to take over at Arizona State.
2. The Panthers boast a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. Tino Sunseri has thrown for 3,103 yards – the third highest single-season total by a Pittsburgh quarterback – while running back Ray Graham recovered from preseason knee surgery and has rushed for 1,042 yards.
3. Mississippi will be making its first bowl appearance since the 2009 season under first-year coach Hugh Freeze. Like Chryst – who was rumored to be a top candidate for the Wisconsin opening before Utah State's Gary Andersen accepted the job – Freeze will be staying put after signing an extension and leading the Rebels back to .500 after a dismal 2-10 record last season under Houston Nutt.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Mississippi -3.5
ABOUT PITTSBURGH (6-6, 3-4 Big East): The Panthers – who will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season – will be appearing in a bowl game for the fifth consecutive year and have reason to feel optimistic about their chances after a 4-2 finish, including a near-upset of No. 1 Notre Dame. Graham has already solidified his place among the most productive running backs in school history as he enters his final college game with 3,271 yards rushing and 4,943 all-purpose yards – both good for second place all-time with the Panthers. The Panthers committed only eight turnovers this season – tied with Ohio for the fewest in FBS.
ABOUT MISSISSIPPI (6-6, 3-5 SEC): The Rebels are 21-12 all-time in bowl games and have won eight of their past nine in the postseason. Quarterback Bo Wallace, who paced the Rebels with eight rushing scores, leads a ground game that has scored 23 touchdowns and averaged 169.7 yards this season in Freeze’s spread attack. Wallace threw for 294 yards and five touchdowns in the team’s last game – a 41-24 victory over Mississippi State – but moving the ball may not come as easy since Pittsburgh’s defense ranks in the top 25 in several categories: total (16th), scoring (21st), pass (24th) and rush (tied for 24th).
PREDICTION: Pittsburgh 24, Mississippi 20