Pittsburgh v. #21 Navy
Navy-Marine Corps Stadium — Annapolis, MD
December 28, 2015 — 2:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
The doldrums between Christmas and New Year’s have arrived, and perhaps you are stuck back at work during this final week of 2015. What better way to break a case of the Mondays than to clandestinely watch some college football? This contest features a former Big East school against a new member of the conference it escaped. This game is your chance to watch the NCAA’s all-time career touchdowns leader in his final game before representing his country, which you can’t say every postseason. It almost feels like a slap in the face that a 10-win school was invited to play a bowl game on its home field, but there’s no better audience to send off the NCAA’s best-ever scorer than his compatriots.
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Pitt was an Iowa game-winning field goal away from beginning the season 7-0, but their early success feels mainly like a mirage manifested by a soft early schedule. They did manage to reach 6-1 despite the loss of stud tailback James Conner, who blew out his MCL in the season opener against FCS Youngstown State. Even with the loss of Conner, though, the Panthers still depended on their ground game to hold on to the ball as much as possible — Pitt ranked 15th nationally in time of possession, spending nearly 33 minutes per game with the pigskin. They are great at keeping drives moving downfield as well, converting on over 43 percent of third downs and an astounding 85 percent of fourth downs. If Pittsburgh can extend drives and shorten the amount of time Navy gets with the football, the Panthers could walk away bowl victors in Pat Narduzzi’s first year as a head coach.
After over a century of ardent independence, the Midshipmen joined a conference for the first time in the US Naval Academy’s history this season… and they nearly won that conference in their first attempt. Their only two losses came against teams that will be playing in New Year’s Six bowl games, and their 10 wins came by an average margin of victory over three touchdowns. They boast quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who holds a series of national scoring records and will get to play his final game before assignment into his Navy post on his home turf. The Middies boasted the nation’s second-best rushing offense, a top-25 scoring offense, and — as one might expect from a service academy — were the least-penalized team in the country and enjoyed the second-best turnover margin. Pitt will have its hands full in Annapolis.
What is Likely to Happen
Navy is a 3.5-point favorite to win this bowl game, essentially being granted the home-field advantage and nothing more by Vegas. Pittsburgh, though, scored eight fewer points per game and allowed a field goal more to opponents. That hardly sounds like a recipe for postseason success. What you are likely to see happen is Reynolds making one final statement before beginning his new career, eventually cracking a tough Pitt rushing defense to help the Midshipmen beat the spread and win outright. There might not be a single passing touchdown in this game, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t provide plenty of fireworks for viewers. Ken Niumatalolo (who recently turned down the BYU vacancy to stay in Annapolis) will have his decision to remain at Navy justified by the school’s third consecutive bowl victory, setting up the Midshipmen as an early favorite in the AAC race for 2016.
Navy 31, Pittsburgh 21
|2015-2016 SPORTS UNBIASED BOWL PREVIEWS:|
|DECEMBER 19-24: New Mexico | Las Vegas | Camellia | Cure | New Orleans | Miami Beach | Idaho Potato | Boca Raton | Poinsettia | GoDaddy | Bahamas | Hawai'i
DECEMBER 26-30: St. Petersburg | Sun | Heart of Dallas | Pinstripe | Independence | Foster Farms | Military | Quick Lane | Armed Forces | Russell Athletic | Arizona | Texas | Birmingham | Belk | Music City | Holiday
DECEMBER 31-JANUARY 11: Peach | Orange | Cotton | Outback | Citrus | Fiesta | Rose | Sugar | TaxSlayer | Liberty | Alamo | Cactus | CFP National Championship