What: Little Caesars Pizza Bowl
When: Thursday, Dec. 26, 6 pm ET (ESPN)
Where: Ford Field (65,000), Detroit, Mich.
Opening Line: Bowling Green -5 1/2
What matters: Bowling Green will begin the post-Dave Clawson era, after the head coach that led the Falcons to the MAC title defected to Wake Forest on Dec. 10. Special teams coordinator Adam Scheier will serve as interim head coach and will be tasked with leading the program to its first bowl win since beating Memphis in the 2004 GMAC Bowl. An 11th win would match the most in a season for the Falcons, last accomplished in 2003. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is trying to avoid the ignoble fate of two straight losing records caused by bowl losses. The Panthers finished 6-7 after dropping the BBVA Compass Bowl to Ole Miss last season, their first under head coach Paul Chryst. Pitt's most recent bowl win came in the 2010 BBVCA Compass Bowl over Kentucky.
Who matters: Bowling Green's Matt Johnson (3195 passing yards, 23 TD, 5 INT) may have been the best MAC quarterback not named Jordan Lynch, finishing atop the league in passing efficiency and yards per completion. Running back Travis Greene (1555 yards, 13 TD) had a big year as well. For Pittsburgh, quarterback Tom Savage (2834 passing yards, 21 TD, 9 INT) and wideouts Tyler Boyd (77 receptions, 7 TD) and Devin Street (51 receptions, 7 TD) were consistently productive.
Matchup question: Can Pittsburgh score? It's a simple question, but considering Bowling Green's NCAA ranks of No. 5 in scoring defense (14.8 points per game) and No. 2 in red zone defense, it's a fair one to ask. The Panthers didn't move the ball very effectively this season (102nd in NCAA total offense) and struggled to protect Savage (41 sacks allowed), facts that will make getting on the board that much more difficult.
Prediction: Bowling Green's preparation for this bowl figures to take a hit given the likely churn on the team's staff, and that favors Pittsburgh. But the strength of the Falcons' defense is a tough thing to ignore, as is the fact that no opponent (including bowl teams Ohio, Buffalo and Northern Illinois) has gotten within 17 points of Bowling Green since October. Bowling Green 27, Pittsburgh 17.