Fans of the Bowling Green Falcons (10-3, 7-1 MAC) came to the 2013 MAC Championship Game en masse, and the Falcons responded with an inspired 47-27 victory over 12-0 Northern Illinois to win their first conference championship in 21 years. The reward for both the team and their fans is a post-Christmas trip to Detroit on Thursday, December 26th for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl and a match-up with the Pittsburgh Panthers (6-6, 3-5 ACC).
This will be the 17th annual edition of this bowl game, which was known as the Motor City Bowl until 2009. The MAC has participated in the bowl in each of its previous 16 seasons and is 7-9 in those games. However, the MAC has lost seven of the last nine contests. In fact, no MAC team other than Central Michigan has won this game since Bowling Green defeated Northwestern following the 2003 season. BGSU is the first MAC champion to play in the game since 2007.
BGSU started the season 5-3 and fell behind in the race for the MAC's Eastern Division title with a last-minute 28-25 loss at home to Toledo. Since that time, the Falcons have been almost unstoppable. In their last five games, they have outscored their opponents 223-44 (average of 44.6-8.8), and 27 of the opponents' points came against then-undefeated NIU. They have scored at least 45 in four of those five games and won by margins of 42, 49, 51, 17 and 20.
The Falcons are ranked first in the MAC (and near the top of FBS) in points allowed, total yards allowed, as well as both rushing and passing yards allowed. However, BGSU also has a prolific offense. The offense ranks second in the MAC in passing yards and third in rushing yards, total yards, and points scored. Quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for 3,195 yards and 23 touchdowns as a sophomore, while running back Travis Greene rushed for 1,555 yards and 11 scores. That rushing total ranks as the best in one season in BGSU history.
The Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has acted as one of the MAC's primary bowl games for the last 17 seasons. Bowling Green's appearance will be their second in the game's history. They defeated Northwestern 28-24 following the 2003 season. Bowling Green is making their second consecutive bowl appearance and third in five years under the leadership of Dave Clawson, but BGSU's last bowl win came after the 2004 season.
The Pitt Panthers are the first ACC to ever play in this game. They've had a very up-and-down season, to say the least. After getting waxed by Florida State in the season opener, Pitt improved to 3-1 with wins over New Mexico, eventual division-champion Duke, and Virginia. However, since September 28th, they've gone only 3-5. Of course, one of those three wins was against Notre Dame. The other two were a one-point win over Syracuse and a big win over Old Dominion.
The Panthers offense has its good moments and bad moments. They've scored 31 or more in four games, including their season-finale against Miami (Fla.). They've also scored 19 or fewer in five games. Their defense has been just as crazy, with three games of 20 points allowed or fewer and four with 31 or more allowed. In all, they've been outscored 27.2-26 per game.
Pittsburgh is led by quarterback Tom Savage, who has 2,834 yards and 21 touchdowns. Their primary rushers are Isaac Bennett (166 carries, 795 yards) and James Conner (120 carries, 570 yards). Both have seven touchdowns. The Panthers also have two very good receivers: Tyler Boyd (77 catches, 1,001 yards) and Devin Street (51 catches, 854 yards). Both of them also have seven touchdowns each.
This will be Pitt's sixth consecutive bowl game and their first away from the BBVA Compass Bowl in four years. They've lost their last two bowls, to SMU in 2011 and Mississippi in 2012.
Bowling Green defeated the Panthers in their last meeting, on August 30, 2008 in Pittsburgh. The Falcons won that game 27-17 after falling behind 14-0.
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