The Pittsburgh Panthers take on the Houston Cougars in the 2014 Armed Forces Bowl on Friday, January 2nd. This contest will be played inside Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, TX, which is the home field of the TCU Horned Frogs.

Pittsburgh (6-6, 4-4 ACC) finished in a tie for third in the ACC Coastal division this season. The Panthers are 13-17 all-time in bowl games. They beat MAC champion Bowling Green 30-27 in the Little Caesars Bowl last year.

Houston (7-5, 5-3 AAC) finished in a tie for fourth in the American Athletic Conference this year. The Cougars are 9-12-1 all-time in bowl games. They lost to Vanderbilt by a final of 24-41 in the 2013 Compass Bowl.

Kickoff for the 2014 Armed Forces Bowl is scheduled for 12:00 EST Friday afternoon with ESPN providing the television coverage. If you are interested in wagering on this game, you’ll find Pittsburgh as a 3-point favorite over Houston with a total set of 54 points.

My Early Lean: Pittsburgh -3

This is one of the rare bowl games where both teams will have interim head coaches. I usually like to fade teams with interim coaches, but since that’s not a choice in this one, I’ll back the team that I feel is better and in the better situation. I believe that team is the Pittsburgh Panthers, who are extremely happy to be playing in a bowl with the way they had to fight at the end of the season to get in one.

Indeed, the Panthers needed wins in each of their final two games to get in. They played arguably their two best games of the entire season in those two contest. They beat Syracuse 30-7 at home as 7-point favorites, outgaining the Orange by 190 total yards in the win. They then went on to beat Miami 35-23 on the road despite being 10.5-point underdogs in that game. They have certainly earned their way to a bowl game, and they’re not going to just pack it in now even though head coach Paul Chryst bolted for Wisconsin.

I like the fact that the Panthers had to play the tougher schedule in the tougher conference this season. Pittsburgh played seven bowl teams this season, going 3-4 against them with wins over Boston College, VA Tech and Miami. Yes, it did lose to four bowl teams, but three of those came by 5 points or less to Iowa (20-24), UNC (35-40) and Duke (28-51). The other was a 28-56 loss to Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech in a game they simply gave away by committing six turnovers.

Houston only got to face four bowl teams this season as it played one of the easiest schedules in the country. It went 1-3 against those bowl teams. Its three losses came to BYU (25-33), UCF (12-17) and Cincinnati (31-38). Its lone win came against Memphis (28-24) by four points. So, the Cougars only beat one bowl team all season. That’s why they cannot be trusted to cover the 3-point spread in this game.

The Cougars only beat one bowl team all season. That’s why they cannot be trusted to cover the 3-point spread in this game.

Pittsburgh’s numbers would indicate that it is much better than a .500 team at 6-6. It is scoring 31.7 points per game while putting up 434.2 yards per game. It is giving up just 25.6 points per game and allowing 348.7 yards per game. So, the Panthers are outgaining their opponents by an average of roughly 86 yards per game. I still believe the Panthers are one of the better teams from the ACC despite their mediocre record.

Pittsburgh has by far the better offense in this one with three big-time playmakers at the three biggest positions. Quarterback Chad Voytik has been solid this year, completing 62.7% of his passes for 2,011 yards with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Houston hasn’t seen a running back like James Conner, who has rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 touchdowns while averaging 6.0 per carry. Tyler Boyd (69 receptions, 1,149 yards, 8 TD) is one of the best receivers in the country as well.

Houston is 12-25 ATS in its last 37 road games after gaining 525 or more total yards in its previous game. The Cougars are 16-31 ATS in their last 47 road games after gaining 325 or more passing yards in their last game. Houston is 2-5 ATS in its last seven bowl games.