Little Caesars Bowl: Pittsburgh vs. Bowling Green
Schedule analysis: Pittsburgh (6-6) played nine bowl-bound teams this season. They started their first season in a new conference with a promising 4-2 record. The losses came on Labor Day to Florida State and at Virginia Tech in October. The Panthers defeated New Mexico, ACC Coast champs Duke, Virginia and Old Dominion. The second part of their season was struggle for the Panthers. They defeated two bowl teams in Notre Dame and Syracuse, but lost to Navy, Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami. One of Pittsburgh’s most impressive wins was against Duke but that was early in the season before the Blue Devils started playing their best football. The win against Notre Dame was a revenge game for the Panthers and the Fightin’ Irish proved to be a very inconsistent team this season. After starting the season 5-3, Bowling Green (10-3) ended the season on fire. The routed Miami (OH), Ohio and Eastern Michigan before beating Buffalo by 17 on the road. Their reward was a date with undefeated Northern Illinois in MAC Championship. The Falcons dominated Northern Illinois 47-27 at Ford Field.
Miles from stadium: Pittsburgh is 287 miles from Ford Field in Detroit. Bowling Green is 82 miles away. There might be a home field advantage for the Falcons because they are close and familiar with playing at Ford Field.
Motivation: A trip to Detroit might not excite many football teams but Pittsburgh will be very happy. They played in BBVA Compass Bowl the three years so a change of scenery will be welcome. Bowling Green returns to the stadium where they won the MAC championship. However, this time they will be without coach Dave Clawson who took the Wake Forest job.
Pick: Pittsburgh +4
Pittsburgh just finished bowl eligible but played a tougher schedule than Bowling Green. I’ll take the underdog especially with the Bowling Green coaching change.
Poinsettia Bowl: Utah State vs. Northern Illinois
Schedule analysis: Utah State (8-5) started the season 3-2 with narrow losses at Utah and USC. Then quarterback Chuckie Keeton sustained a season-ending injury in the first quarter of their sixth game against BYU. The Aggies dropped that game and the next one against Boise State. Utah State regrouped and their defense played better on a five game winning streak to end the regular season. The best wins came against at UNLV and a home shutout of Colorado State. Utah State lost to Fresno State 24-17 in the Mountain West championship game. Northern Illinois (12-1) cruised thought their schedule. They opened the season with a win at Iowa and also defeated Purdue 55-24. The Huskies defeated Ball State and Toledo in November. Northern Illinois was a win away from a likely BCS bowl but lost to Bowling Green by 20 in the MAC championship.
Miles from stadium: Utah State is 826 miles away from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. Northern Illinois is 2,009 miles away. It’s a far travel for each school but a trip to San Diego in December might be enticing for fans.
Motivation: Utah State is happy to play in this bowl. Their season was in danger when their star quarterback got injured. They rebounded nicely and won the Mountain West games they were supposed to win. Northern Illinois had their BCS dreams crushed in the MAC championship game. It will be difficult for the Huskies to be motivated about playing in this bowl when they were so close to a BCS game for the second season in a row.
Pick: Utah State +1.5
Utah State had a better strength of schedule, have the better defense and are the more motivated team in this bowl game.