SMU vs. Pittsburgh
Jan. 7, 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
At Birmingham, Ala.
After inheriting a 1-11 team before the 2009 season, June Jones is leading the Mustangs into their third consecutive bowl game.
That’s why Jones’ name is often on the short lists of athletic directors seeking a new football boss. In fact, he was apparently one step away from being signed, sealed and delivered to Arizona State, until a last-minute change of heart by the Sun Devils nixed the deal and sent agent Lee Steinberg into a Twitter tizzy.
None of that helps the mission of beating the Panthers (6-6), who defeated Kentucky, 27-10, in this bowl game last year. In that contest, Pitt players fought hard to honor Dave Wannstedt, who was fired after leading them to a 7-5 regular season and share of the Big East title.
Players are sometimes known to give full and focused efforts when they feel they’ve contributed to their coach being canned. The opposite is true when they feel that their coach has his sights set on greener pastures (or dusty deserts).
And we aren’t just talking about Jones’ near exit. The Panthers will play this game without coach Todd Graham, who bailed for Arizona State, co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and two other assistant coaches, who left to join Rich Rodriguez at Arizona.
Even if mental focus and togetherness doesn’t let SMU (7-5) down, its lack of ball security will. The Mustangs rank dead last in the nation in turnover margin with 31 giveaways and just 14 takeaways.
Opening point spread: Pittsburgh by 5 1/2
The pick: Pittsburgh 28-17
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