With a win over Syracuse on Saturday, Pitt became bowl eligible for a fourth year in a row. Sunday, Pitt announced they would be heading to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama for a second year in a row.
Last year, under interim head coach Phil Bennett, the Panthers came out with an impressive 27-10 win over Kentucky. Three days later, Pitt hired head coach Todd Graham to take over the program. This time around, Graham gets his first shot as Panthers' head coach in a bowl game.
"You play an entire season to earn the opportunity for one extra game — a bowl game," Pitt coach Todd Graham said. "Our team is excited for the chance to put that Pitt helmet on one more time for the BBVA Compass Bowl. Birmingham is a great college football town. We're looking forward to our visit and playing SMU in front of a national ESPN television audience."
"On behalf of the University of Pittsburgh and our football program, I would like to thank the city of Birmingham, BBVA Compass Bowl committee and executive director Mark Meadows for the opportunity to play in this year's game," Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said. "We know firsthand the great hospitality shown to the teams and fans, and we're looking forward to our visit in January."
Also, this time around, there will be less drama surrounding the Pitt program. Though Bennett was in charge, he and the rest of the Pitt assistants coached knew full well they would be left scrambling for assistant coaching jobs the second the bowl game was over. Bennett was hired as an assistant at Baylor while the team was in Birmingham, and Greg Gattuso was named an assistant at Maryland during bowl game preparations.
Also in Pitt's time in Birmingham, there was plenty of news swirling around about coaching candidates being on campus—most notably Penn State defensive coordinator Tom Bradley. Bradley has been serving as Penn State's interim coach this year.
The Panthers will face a familiar bowl opponent, of sorts, as they will take on SMU in this year's BBVA Compass Bowl. The last time these two teams met was in the 1983 Cotton Bowl, as the Mustangs topped the Panthers 7-3. Dan Marino was Pitt's starting quarterback that day in what was his final start as a Pitt quarterback. He was a first-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins just a few months later. Pitt had to contend with SMU's famed Pony Express backfield, which consisted of Eric Dickerson and Craig James.
SMU is under fourth-year head coach June Jones, who has now taken the Mustangs to three consecutive bowl games after nearly a 25-year bowl drought from that 1983 Cotton Bowl. Junes took over the program after Phil Bennett—who then came to Pitt as defensive coordinator for three seasons, and also served as Pitt's interim head coach for last year's BBVA Compass Bowl win—was fired after the 2007 season. Jones went 1-11 in his first season, before taking the Mustangs to seasons of 8-5, 7-7 and 7-5 in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Graham—coming from Conference USA foe Tulsa—coached against Jones three times, going 1-2 in those games. He is 3-2 overall against SMU, which includes his one-year tenure at Rice. Pitt is 2-2-1 in its series with SMU.