Pitt going back to Compass Bowl, to face SEC opponent Ole Miss

Jerry DiPaola
| Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, 7:16 p.m.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson spent much of his Sunday trying to find the best bowl game for his football team. In the end, Pitt is going where it is most wanted — the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala., for the third consecutive season.

Pitt (6-6, 3-4) will play Ole Miss — the last qualifier from the SEC — on Jan. 5 at historic Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The game will be televised by ESPN.

Like Pitt, Ole Miss (6-6, 3-5) needed to win its final regular-season game to become bowl eligible, beating rival Mississippi State in the annual Egg Bowl, 41-24, on Nov. 24.

After Pitt beat South Florida on Saturday, Pederson spoke with bowl, network and Big East officials, and coach Paul Chryst, before finally accepting the Compass bid.

“There was a lot of discussion and juggling,” Pederson said. “At the end of the day, this compelling matchup was really what (Compass Bowl officials) wanted.

“We probably went through a myriad of discussions as to what might happen. This was the best available.”

Pederson said there was talk about reviving the Backyard Brawl between Pitt and West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, but bowl officials opted for in-state Syracuse against the Mountaineers.

The Orange shared first place in the Big East with Louisville, Rutgers and Cincinnati, finishing ahead of fifth-place Pitt. Syracuse also defeated Pitt, 14-13.

“The Pinstripe Bowl felt like they had to move quickly (Sunday), and at that point, they weren't sure who the other side of the game was going to be,” Pederson said.

“They weren't 100 percent sure they were going to have West Virginia. They decided to go with Syracuse, which is in their home state. They were good about it.”

The other possibility for Pitt was the Beef ‘O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla., where the opponent would have been Conference USA runner-up Central Florida, which is leaving next year for the Big East.

“The opportunity to play an SEC team was appealing when I first talked to coach Chryst about it,” Pederson said.

“He was excited about playing another power conference team, especially one that has played as well as (Ole Miss) had.”

The Rebels had lost 14 consecutive SEC games before coach Hugh Freeze inherited the program this year,.

They knocked off Auburn, Arkansas and No. 24 Mississippi State while holding fourth-quarter leads against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and No. 7 LSU before losing. Early in the season, however, Ole Miss lost to Texas, 66-31.

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace threw five touchdown passes to beat Mississippi State, finishing the season with 2,843 passing yards, 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Schools returning to bowl games in consecutive years appears to be a trend in college football.

Wisconsin is going to the Rose Bowl and Boise State will play in the Las Vegas Bowl for the third consecutive year.

“It's unusual but not unprecedented,” Pederson said. “Even though you are in the same city, the game really takes on the spirit of the two teams that are playing, and these are two teams that are playing well.”

Pitt, which was 4-6 two weeks ago, will be going to a bowl game for the fifth consecutive season after a rocky, up-and-down season.

“I'm just glad we're talking about all this,” Pederson said.

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can reached at jdipaola@tribweb.com or 412-320-7997.

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