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Pitt to face MAC champ Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

| Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013, 8:54 p.m.
Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson scrambles for a first down against Northern Illinois during the second half of the Mid-American Conference on Friday, Dec. 6, 2013, in Detroit.

Five years later, Pitt has its rematch with Bowling Green.

After losing four of its final six regular-season games, Pitt accepted an invitation Sunday night to play Mid-American Conference champion Bowling Green (10-3, 7-1) on Dec. 26 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit.

Pitt owns an all-time record of 29-3 against MAC schools, including a 27-17 loss to Bowling Green in the 2008 opener. Pitt finished 9-4 that season, but the loss was one of the most deflating in Pitt history after a 13-9 upset victory against No. 2 West Virginia to end the 2007 season.

The Panthers will play in a postseason game for the sixth consecutive season. They played the past three years in the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., where they went 1-2.

Pitt is one of a record 11 ACC bowl-eligible teams. But Pitt (6-6, 3-5) was forced to settle for a game that is not affiliated with the conference because the ACC has firm ties to only nine bowls.

All 11 teams accepted bowl bids, led by ACC champion Florida State. The Seminoles will play Auburn in the national championship game Jan. 6. Pitt and Maryland (7-5, 3-5) are the only bowl-bound ACC teams with losing conference records.

The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has a per-team payout of $750,000.

Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson, who threw five touchdown passes Friday in a 47-27 victory against previously undefeated Northern Illinois in the MAC championship game, was hoping to play Pitt in the Little Caesars Bowl. He tweeted before bowl officials and the ACC announced Bowling Green's opponent: “Please be Pitt. Remember when I was too short to play for you.”

Johnson (6-foot, 194 pounds) was a three-star recruit from Bishop McDevitt in Harrisburg in 2011.

While leading the upset of Northern Illinois, Johnson completed 21 of 27 passes for 393 yards against the Huskies, who were rankedNo. 14 and would have gone to a BCS bowl with a victory.

“We're excited for the chance to play in another game against such a quality opponent,” Pitt coach Paul Chryst said in a statement released by Pitt officials. “Bowling Green was impressive not only in its MAC championship win but all season long, and we have a competitive game of football ahead.”

Bowling Green has won five games in a row. Two of its losses were on the road to Indiana of the Big Ten, 42-10, and Mississippi State of the SEC, 21-20. Bowling Green also lost at home to Toledo, 28-25. After the Toledo game, Bowling Green started its winning streak, outscoring five opponents 223-44.

In 13 games, Johnson completed 217 of 337 passes for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns. Running back Travis Greene ran for a school-record 1,555 yards this season.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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