Kickoff: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN), at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.
Spread: Mississippi by 3
Watchability: Two middling teams that struggled to reach six wins facing off at the tail-end of the bowl season. No, thanks, unless you're a fan of one of the schools.
Shining stars: Mississippi -- QB Bo Wallace. The Rebels aren't exactly a powerhouse offensively, but Wallace did well for himself in 2012. The sophomore finished fourth in the SEC in total offense, rushing for 363 yards and a team-high eight scores. His favorite target through the air is fellow sophomore Donte Moncrief, who finished the season strong with 334 yards and five touchdowns in the team's final two games. Pittsburgh -- RB Ray Graham. It was an up and down season for Graham, who entered the campaign expected to be one of the nation's best backs. Graham was banged up for most of the season, but he had his best game at top-ranked Notre Dame, when he carried 24 times for 17 yards in a triple overtime loss.
Who could steal the show: Mississippi -- LB Denzel Nkemdiche. Though his brother, Robert -- a top-ranked prep player -- may be getting all the attention, Denzel has been no slouch in his first season of action at Ole Miss. Named a freshmen all-american by various publications, Nkemdiche led the Rebels in tackles and tackles for loss. Plus, he saved his best for big games. Against Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, and LSU, Nkemdiche had a total of 34 tackles, 5.5 TFL, a sack, and four forced fumbles. Pittsburgh -- WR Devin Street. A favorite target of Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri, Street has big play ability. Against bowl teams Syracuse and Louisville in back-to-back matchups, Street had 21 catches for 241 yards. Street could be in for a huge day if the Rebels' defensive focus is Graham and senior wide receiver Mike Shanahan; the latter led the team in catches in 2012.
Magic number for Mississippi: 90.2. Ole Miss was best in the SEC in terms of red-zone scoring, converting 37 of 41 opoortunities into points, good for 90.2 percent.
Magic number for Pittsburgh: 8. Pitt is tops in the country in terms of turnovers, only giving the ball away eight times this season. In the last seven games, the Panthers only have a single turnover.
3 keys to a Mississippi win
- Ground game: Ole Miss has a solid rushing attack in Jeff Scott, who averaged better than 75 yards per game. A strong outing from Scott would fuel the offense, allowing more space for Wallace to operate through the air.
- Contain Pitt's backs: Aside from Graham, freshman Rushel Shell is a load out of the backfield. The Rebels need to keep both backs in check, forcing Sunseri and the Panthers to be one dimensional.
- Stay hot: The Rebels have won eight of their last nine bowl games, and excitement levels are high in Oxford after an encouraging first year from coach Hugh Freeze.
3 keys to a Pittsburgh win
- Avoid letdown: This will be the Panthers' third trip to Birmingham in as many seasons. Either the Panthers are comfortable or bored.
- Stay hot: Like Ole Miss, Pitt is under the direction of a first year coach in Paul Chryst. In addition, the Panthers won their last two game over Rutgers and South Florida by a combined 54-9.
- Showcase Graham: This will be the last game for Pitt running back Ray Graham, who could up his draft status after a tumultuous season. Feed him.
Prediction: Mississippi 22, Pittsburgh 17
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