Pitt Preview: Pitt prepares for showdown with No. 21 Navy in Military Bowl


Pat Narduzzi’s Pitt Panthers (8-4) are aiming for a signature win in the Military Bowl against No. 21 Navy (10-2).

When the bowl games were announced, several Pittsburgh Panthers fans, including myself, were unhappy with the Panthers’ bid to the Military Bowl in Annapolis, Maryland.

Given the fact that this was a “Tier 2” bowl, there was a lesser payout, and teams like Louisville, Duke and NC State were awarded “better” bowls, it felt as though Pitt had gotten robbed. But maybe the robbery was a blessing in disguise.

According to the Washington Post, Pitt (8-4) vs. No. 21 Navy (10-2) was deemed the 7th best bowl game of the 2015 college football season.  This is a great matchup in which Pitt fans can easily travel to Annapolis for a day or two.  Besides, the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing the Baltimore Ravens the day before the Military Bowl.

Both sides have motivation.

Pitt was simply overlooked in the bowl selection process, and the notion that Pitt fans “do not travel” played a factor in the selection.  Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was slighted in the Heisman race.  Pitt is out to prove it was worthy of a better selection.  Navy is out to prove that they are a top-20 team.

New athletic director Scott Barnes indicated that Pitt’s allotment of over 8,000 tickets have been sold.  There will be an excellent Pitt crowd on December 28th in Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Lets compare the other ACC bowl games where Pitt could have landed.

1.) Duke (7-5) was selected to the Pinstripe Bowl in New York to face a weak Indiana (6-6) squad the day after Christmas.  Not very exciting.  If Pitt had made this bowl, I would have hoped for a better Big Ten opponent, such as Wisconsin or Northwestern.

2.) Miami (8-4) will face Washington State (8-4) in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas the day after Christmas.  Washington State is not a traditional football powerhouse like USC, Oregon or Utah.  Not very exciting.

3.) Louisville (7-5) will square off against Texas A&M (8-4) in the Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.  I was hoping the Panthers were selected to this bowl, as Nashville is not too far. The opponent comes from the powerful SEC West, and the game was on December 30th.  Pitt got robbed of this bid in my opinion.

4.) NC State (7-5) will match up with Mississippi State (8-4) in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina.  A prime case of politics, the Wolfpack were 3-5 in the ACC Atlantic, compared to Pitt’s 6-2 record in the ACC Coastal, yet they face off against another SEC West opponent.

Ultimately, the Music City and Belk Bowls would have provided Pitt with a big matchup against the SEC, but a showdown with No. 21 Navy is not a tragedy.  Navy is likely a better team than all those mentioned above.

In Pat Narduzzi’s first season at Pitt, the Panthers finished 8-4 (6-2 ACC), scoring 339 points and allowing 295.  Junior quarterback Nathan Peterman completed 180 of 293 passes for 2,150 yards, 19 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions.

The Panthers lost former ACC Player of the Year James Conner due to a knee injury—but they did not miss a step with redshirt freshman running back Qadree Ollison—who carried the ball 204 times for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns.  Junior wide receiver Tyler Boyd—the lone unanimous all-ACC first team selection—hauled in 85 passes for 873 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Nov 21, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers wide receiver Tyler Boyd (23) congratulates running back Qadree Ollison (37) after Ollison scored a touchdown against the Louisville Cardinals during the first quarter at Heinz Field. PITT won 45-34. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds can do it all.  He completed 52 of 98 passes for 1,077 yards, 7 touchdowns, and 1 interception.  More importantly, he is a threat in the triple option rushing attack, carrying the ball 241 times for 1,229 yards and 21 touchdowns.  Pitt will have to try to find a way to slow down the snubbed Heisman candidate.

Midshipmen senior running back Chris Swain rushed for 909 yards on 184 carries with 10 touchdowns.  Junior 6-foot-4 wide receiver Jamil Tillman hauled in 27 passes for 570 yards and 5 touchdowns.

Navy’s only 2 losses came on the road to Notre Dame (41-24) and Houston (52-31), two programs that will be playing in the New Years Six Bowls.  Their biggest win likely came on the road against Memphis (45-20).

More from Pitt Panthers

Pitt had a taste of the triple option offense in mid-October when the Panthers knocked off Georgia Tech 31-28 on a game-winning 56-yard field goal by Chris Blewitt.  Pitt struggled early stopping the Yellow Jackets rushing attack, but in the second half the Panthers settled down and stayed in their lanes.

Pitt offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has elected to take the same position with the Georgia Bulldogs under new head coach Kirby Smart, so it will be interesting to see how tight ends coach Tim Salem and the rest of the staff call plays in the bowl game.

In front of a big Pitt crowd in Navy stadium, I expect Pitt to defeat Navy in a close battle.  The Panthers will dedicate this win to James Conner, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and is currently undergoing chemotherapy.  Keenan Reynolds will likely make some big plays, but Tyler Boyd will have one of the best (and possibly last) games of his career.

Next: Andre Powell recognized

A successful first season of 9-4 for Narduzzi and staff will springboard the final push for recruiting, and set Pitt up for an exciting 2016 season against Penn State, Oklahoma State, Marshall, and Clemson.

Prediction: Pitt 34, Navy 27