The Pittsburgh Panthers out of the ACC will try to break a four-game bowl losing streak when they take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles of the MAC in this year’s Quick Lane Bowl. Game time is set for 8:00 EST on Thursday, December 26 at Ford Field in Detroit. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.
Oddsmakers list the Panthers as 10.5-point favorites with an over/under of 49 points. Be sure to check out all of this year’s bowl game betting odds.
The Panthers put together another solid season under Pat Narduzzi. Despite a sluggish start to the season, Pitt rattled off six wins over seven games during the middle part of the season, starting with an upset over Central Florida. Late in November, the Panthers had a chance to retain their ACC Coastal Division title, only to lose their last two games to Virginia and Boston College.
In the end, Pitt had to settle for a 7-5 season, including a 4-4 record in ACC play. On the bright side, the Panthers have been to a bowl game every year but one since 2008. However, the Panthers are just 3-7 in bowl games during that time, including four straight losses. The silver lining for Pitt is their last bowl win came at Ford Field back in 2013 when they were also matched up against a MAC team.
Eastern Michigan, meanwhile, will count themselves lucky just to make it into a bowl game. The Eagles were just 3-5 in conference play this year, meaning they actually finished last in the MAC West Division behind three teams that didn’t receive bowl invitations. However, a 3-1 non-conference record, including an upset over Illinois early in the year, helped get EMU to a bowl game for the third time in the last four years.
Despite the up and down season, head coach Chris Creighton deserves a lot of credit for rebuilding the program over the last six years. The Eagles were 3-21 over his first two seasons, but he has them at 25-25 over the last four seasons. Keep in mind that before Creighton took EMU to a bowl in 2016, their most-recent bowl appearance was in 1987. The next step for the Eagles is to win a bowl game for the first time since 1987 after losing 23-21 to Georgia Southern in last year’s Camellia Bowl.
This game isn’t as much of a mismatch as one would think for an ACC-MAC game. Plus, the Panthers haven’t won a game by more than 10 points all season, not even when they played MAC foe Ohio or FCS Delaware early in the season. The Panthers will probably win, but they faltered lateen the season, so I have enough doubt to lean toward Eastern Michigan and the points in this game.
My biggest concern with Eastern Michigan is their defense. The Eagles gave up over 30 points per game this year, a number that jumped to 36 points against bowl-eligible teams. A part of me worries that they won’t have the athletes to compete with a power-conference opponent on that side of the ball.
That being said, the Panthers are not that explosive offensively. In contrast with past years, Pitt’s rushing attack wasn’t all that impressive, averaging just 3.5 yards per carry on the season. EMU’s biggest problem defensively this year came against the run. Without a standout running back, I’m not sure the Panthers can fully take advantage of Eastern Michigan’s shortcomings on defense.
Instead, the Panthers will lean on quarterback Kenny Pickett, who had an up and down year. Pickett had just 10 touchdown passes on the season compared to nine interceptions. Despite two high-level receivers in Taysir Mack and Maurice Ffrench, Pickett averaged less than seven yards per pass attempt. The Eagles were actually solid against the pass most of the season. That makes me think Pitt will remain solid but unspectacular on offense, making a 10.5-point spread difficult to cover.
With the Panthers averaging just under 22 points per game, it’ll be up to the Pitt defense to help create separation. Pittsburgh’s defensive line might have been the best in the ACC outside of Clemson this season. Despite some issues in the season finale against Boston College, the Panthers were solid against the run most of the season. They also excelled at putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, amassing 49 sacks in 12 games.
Unfortunately for Pitt, the Eagles are a better passing team than running team. EMU managed to average 29 points per game without much of anything on the ground. Instead, they looked to senior quarterback Mike Glass, who threw 22 touchdown passes this year and averaged better than eight yards per pass. Glass is athletic enough to run away from pressure and makes plays with his legs when he needs to. He also threw at least three touchdown passes to five different receivers, which will make it hard on the Pitt secondary to focus on just one receiver.
All things considered, Pitt isn’t good enough offensively to pull away from teams and Eastern Michigan is too good offensively to beat by a wide margin. This could actually be one of the more compelling bowl games, especially with the Eagles playing less than 40 miles from their campus. I don’t know if the Eagles can win, but I think they’ll make Pitt work for it and at least beat the spread.