Pitt and Eastern Michigan will meet for just the third time ever on the football field when the two programs face off in Detroit representing the ACC and the MAC, respectively, in the Quick Lane Bowl. While both coaches have been been successful guiding their respective programs to the postseason in recent years, the Quick Lane Bowl will mark the first FBS bowl victory for either Pitt's Pat Narduzzi or Eastern Michigan's Chris Creighton.
Narduzzi has guided the Panthers to four bowl appearances in his five years as Pitt's head coach, amassing a 35-29 record and logging 24 ACC wins (tied for third in that time span) with an ACC Coastal Division title in 2018. But losses to Navy, Northwestern and last year to Stanford in the Sun Bowl have left Narduzzi without realizing that one last coaching goal for the early part of his tenure: a postseason win.
Creighton is no stranger to postseason wins, getting out of the first round in all three appearances with Wabash at the Division III level during his seven-season run with the Little Giants in the 2000s, but he and the Eagles are still in search of a bowl win. The program hadn't appeared in a bowl game since 1987 before Creighton led bowl appearances in 2016 and 2018, and that 1987 California Bowl win against San Jose State remains Eastern Michigan's lone bowl victory.
So who wins this battle in Detroit on Thursday night? Let's take a closer look at the matchup and storylines to follow before making some expert picks both straight up and against the spread.
Event: Quick Lane Bowl
Date: Thursday, Dec. 26 | Time: 8 p.m. ET
Location: Ford Field -- Detroit, Michigan
TV: ESPN | Live stream: WatchESPN.com
Pitt: The Panthers' success in 2019 has been largely a credit to a defense that's been one of the best units in the country. Pitt ranks No. 5 nationally in total defense (4.44 yards per play allowed), No. 8 in rushing defense and No. 12 in opponent's passer rating. It all starts up front with the defensive line and All-ACC defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman. The redshirt sophomore leads the nation's interior defensive linemen with 10.5 sacks, and has helped lead a pass rush that ranks second nationally with 4.08 sacks per game. Twyman changed his number to 97 before the season in honor of Aaron Donald, who was the last interior defensive lineman to lead the team in sacks. Not only was the number change wholeheartedly endorsed by Donald, but Twyman has done his part to live up to the reputation.
Eastern Michigan: Keeping Pitt's pass rush at bay is going to be the biggest key for Eastern Michigan and its MAC-leading passing attack. The Eagles threw the ball an average of 34.5 times per game and led the conference in both passing yards per game (280.8) and passing touchdowns (25). Quarterback Mike Glass enters the game coming off one of his most prolific performances of the year, completing 29 of 37 passes (78.4 percent) for 386 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a narrow loss to Kent State on Black Friday. Pitt's defense isn't going to allow Glass to have an easy evening throwing the ball around the yard, but if he can hit on enough big plays in scoring opportunities and avoid costly turnovers, the Eagles might have a chance to pull off the upset as double-digit underdogs.
Quick Lane Bowl prediction, picks
It doesn't seem to matter the opponent, Pitt finds itself in close games. The average margin in Pitt's seven wins this year was just 5.86 points per game, and the largest margin of the season was 10 points (twice, against Ohio and Georgia Tech). Given the stakes of the bowl game and the expectation of a low-scoring affair, I'll take the underdog and all those points. Pitt will win, but I think EMU can hit on enough big plays through the air to keep it inside the number. Pick: Eastern Michigan (+11)
Who wins Eastern Michigan vs. Pittsburgh? And what critical x-factor makes one side of the spread a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see which side of the spread you should be all over Thursday, all from the seasoned expert who has hit nearly 70 percent of his picks on these teams.