Pitt accepts bid to play in Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl

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It might not be perfect, but it's not Birmingham.

Pitt accepted a bid Sunday to play in the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl Dec. 26 in Detroit against Mid-American Conference champion Bowling Green.

It will be the Panthers' sixth consecutive bowl, but the first time since 2009 they will play in a game other than the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Ala.

"We're excited for the chance to play in another game against such a quality opponent," coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. "Bowling Green was impressive not only in their MAC Championship win, but all season long and we have a competitive game of football ahead."

Pitt (6-6, 3-5 ACC) locked up bowl eligibility with its sixth win Nov. 23 at Syracuse. The Panthers had a chance to improve their bowl standing in the season finale against Miami, but lost to the Hurricanes, 41-31.

Because of their middling record, Pitt was not selected for one of the ACC's seven contractual bowl tie-ins. The Panthers tied with Maryland for the worst conference record among the 11 bowl-eligible ACC teams, and the Terrapins received the final ACC bid to the in-state Military Bowl.

That forced Pitt to search for an at-large spot. The Pizza Bowl contractually has the eighth selection of Big Ten teams, but that league only had seven bowl-eligible teams this year.

The bowl committee went into this weekend eyeing several teams, but Pitt always seemed the favorite to take the Big Ten's spot.

"They beat Notre Dame and they beat Duke in Duke's best year ever," bowl executive director Ken Hoffman said earlier this week before bids were announced. "Obviously they can play. Certainly the program's going in the right direction [and] they're geographically friendly."

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson also noted the 41/2-hour drive to Detroit as one of the positives for this bowl game.

"The location and the date are ideal for Pitt fans to be able to enjoy being a part of the bowl experience," Pederson said in a statement. "A bowl appearance is significant in many ways, especially as coach Chryst continues to build this program toward our next championship."

The Panthers' opponent, Bowling Green, will come into the game fresh off an upset win against previously unbeaten Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. The Falcons averaged 35.4 points per game in the regular season and topped 45 points in four of their past five games.

Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson ranks 10th in Division I-A with a 162.4 passing efficiency. He threw for 393 yards and five touchdowns in the Falcons' 47-27 victory against Northern Illinois Friday night that ended the Huskies' bid for an undefeated season and a Bowl Championship Series bid.

Pitt and Bowling Green most recently played in the first game of the 2008 season, when the Falcons beat No. 25 Pitt, 27-17, at Heinz Field. It was the first time the Panthers lost to a MAC team at home.

Pitt leads the all-time series against Bowling Green, 2-1, with wins in 1999 and 2000.

The Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl will kick off at 6 p.m. Dec. 26 and be televised on ESPN. Tickets are available through Pitt's ticket office.

Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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