June Jones and J.J. McDermott hope to get SMU's offense in gear against Pitt. (Michael Ainsworth, Dallas Morning News)

Compass Bowl-Pittsburgh vs Southern Methodist University-Pick and Analysis

Birmingham, Alabama hosts the BBVA Compass Bowl which marks the final Saturday game of the season. It could be called the Sun Devil bowl since both teams have been seriously affected by the Arizona State head coaching search.

Coach June Jones of SMU was rumored to have the job, but didn’t and his agent has said some choice things about how it was handled. Coach Todd Graham left Pittsburgh to head West to the desert instead, and he’s left quite the controversy behind him because of how he handled it. Everybody will try and put all the conflict behind them and focus on the game this Saturday at 1:00 EST and here’s how I think it’ll all go down…

Bowl Breakdown

June Jones up-tempo offense has won him 99 games at the college game and to get number 100 he’ll be facing Keith Patterson, who served as Graham’s coordinator before becoming Pitt’s fifth interim or full-time coach in 13 months. Jones has tried to turn around the SMU program and has brought it just its 3rd bowl game since emerging from its “death penalty” in 1989.

Jones uses a typically a pass-heavy offense (remember Hawaii?) and this year is no different. Sr QB J.J. McDermott, threw for 3,182 yards and 16 touchdowns got picked 16 times as well. His 2 receivers Darius Johnson and Cole Beasley should go over 1,000 yards on the season in this game. While the passing game ranks in the top 25 in the country, the Mustangs offense will be missing it’s leading rusher Zach Line who had 1,224 yards and 17 touchdowns before a season ending toe injury. Line will be replaced by 2 freshmen RB’s, Rishaad Wimbley and Jared Williams.

Pitt will also be down its leading rusher as Ray Graham’s season ended mid-October after a fantastic start to the year. Fill-in Zach Brown has shown he’s a capable replacement but doesn’t have the same workhorse ability or explosiveness that made Graham one of the top runners in the nation. The Panthers are quarterbacked by Tino Sunseri who should reach the 2,500 yard plateau in this game and has thrown 10 picks and 10 TDs while being sacked an amazing 53 times (worst in the FBS). The Pitt O-line will have to step up and keep Tino up-right if they expect to finish this season like they did last year’s with a win in the Compass Bowl under an interim coach.

The SMU defense that will look to exploit that offensive line finished in the middle of the pack along with the Panthers D and although both QB’s throw interceptions, neither defense had a lot this year. Pitt’s advantage is that they’ve been playing better lately going 3-2 over their last 5 with the 2 losses being to Cincinnati and WVU by a total of 4 points. The Mustangs went 2-4 in their last 6 and struggled offensively at times, but looked good in their finale over Rice.

Unforunately, the Todd Graham departure probably took any momentum away from the Panthers, and I think in a warm-weather game in Alabama the passing offense of SMU will have enough to get it done. The pressure from the Mustangs on defense will overwhelm the Panthers, and they’ll go down in this year’s Compass Bowl 27-13.

I do like the overall direction of the Pitt program and think that Wisconsin O-Coordinator Paul Chryst is a great hire, but that won’t really matter in this one since he won’t be on the sidelines and his recruiting days have just begun…

Pro Prospects:

Lucas Nix-Pitt-OL:Nix is a versatile O-lineman who could go in the 3rd or late 2nd round if does well at the combine. He will play in this one despite some pending charges for public drunkenness and criminal mischief.

Taylor Thompson-SMU-DE: Thompson was first team conference USA the last 2 years. He had had 41 stops, 7.5 for loss, six forced fumbles and a team-high seven sacks in 2011, and if anybody terrorizes Tino in this one, it will probably be Thompson. He’s a giant, and could excel if he can get past some character concerns and could turn out to be a nice later round pick.

Enjoy the last Saturday of college football! Here’s hoping this one’s a good game to close the Saturday slate with…

Tags: Bowl Mania Bowl Picks College Football Picks Compass Bowl June Jones Pitt Pittsburgh SMU Todd Graham

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