The BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, AL at Legion Field on Saturday January 8 (12:00pm ET) will feature the Wildcats of Kentucky (6-6) out of the SEC squaring off against the Pittsburgh Panthers (7-5) from the Big East. The Wildcats finished with wins in two of their last three games, but lost their final game of the year at Tennessee by a score of 24-14 on November 27. Pittsburgh, which will be led by interim coach and defensive coordinator Phil Bennett after Head Coach Dave Wannstedt was not retained after the season, finished up with a 28-10 win at Cincinnati on December 4.
Kentucky’s offense has been spurred by quarterback Mike Hartline, who was suspended for this game by coach Joker Phillips for an arrest for second-degree disorderly conduct and public intoxication. HE will be replaced by sophomore Morgan Newton who has not played much at all this season, but did start the last 8 games last season after Hartline was hurt. Newton completed 55.6% of his passes for 706 yards and 6 touchdowns with 3 interceptions last season. Running back Derrick Locke should see plenty of action in Hartline’s absence; Locke averaged 5.3 yards per carry with 10 touchdowns this season. The Wildcats were explosive on offense this season, averaging 33 points per game, 25 thin the nation, but they should have much less firepower with Hartline out. The defense is in the lower half nationally with 28.5 PPG allowed, but was strong against the pass with 183.8 YPG allowed, 19th best in the nation.
The Panthers offense, led by by first-year starting quarterback Tino Sunseri and wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, struggled to match their production of a year earlier and ranked 69th nationally in scoring with an average of 26.2 PPG and ranked 74th in total offense with 367.8 YPG. Sunseri completed 65.1% of his passes, but only found the end zone 15 times with 8 interceptions. Running back Dion Lewis also struggled to match his 2009 production, going from 5.5 YPC and 17 touchdowns in 2009 to 4.9 YPC and 12 touchdowns this season. The Panthers were strong on defense this season ranking 9th in total yards per game allowed with 298.6 and 20th in scoring defense with 19.8 PPG allowed.
Kentucky is making their fifth straight post-season appearance; the Wildcats are 12-3-1 ATS in their last 16 non-conference games and 20-7 ATS in their last 9 games as an underdog. The Panther’s are 6-2 AST in their last 8 games as a favorite and 6-2-1 ATS ion their last 9 games overall. The over is 19-7 in Kentucky’s last 26 games against a team with a winning record.
Kentucky vs. Pittsburgh Spread, Line and Betting Odds:
Kentucky Wildcats +3.5
@ Pittsburgh Panthers -3.5
Over 52.5 (-110)
Under 52.5 (-110)
Check out our Betting Odds Explained article if you don’t understand how to read sports betting odds.
Kentucky vs. Pittsburgh Prediction for BBVA Compass Bowl:
Spread Prediction (Top Play) – The Panthers are a solid favorite, especially with the Wildcats missing their starting QB which should outweigh the Panthers playing without their head coach Wannstedt, who many of the players did not want to see let go. Kentucky will struggle to put points on the board and Pitt, despite their struggles on offense this season should be able to score enough with their offensive balance and outstanding skill-position players to pull this game out and cover the spread.
PREDICTION (TOP PLAY) – PITTSBURGH -3.5
Over/Under Prediction – Take the under in this game, Kentucky will struggle to score points without their starting QB since they will have to rely on a predictable, ground-oriented attack against one of the better defenses in the nation. Pitt is not exactly an offensive juggernaut, and the Panthers will probably not score above their average against an SEC defense that is used to seeing speed every week.
TOTAL PREDICTION – UNDER 52.5 Points