What do bowl games mean right? I mean aside from the college football playoff and maybe a New Years Six bowl you didn’t expect to be in, the rest is all garbage right? With opt outs and the transfer portal these are pretty much glorified scrimmages and a way for younger players to gain experience.
Wrong. The Pitt win over UCLA was a statement.
I do a weekly podcast for a company called Fantasy Pros under the Betting Pros wing of their business. We evaluate and give advice on picking teams against the spread each week. My co-host, Thor Nystrom, and I picked every bowl game this season and obviously had the Sun Bowl on our agenda last week.
The spread of the game had UCLA favored by 9-10 points depending on the sports book. Our adjusted line? UCLA by 19 points. That’s the biggest spread disparity of any bowl game we picked this season. It means UCLA laying as many as 10 was still a lock. This was supposed to be a mismatch.
We went through it a few times. The number of Pitt players opting out and in the portal, the QB situation for Pitt and the relative health of a UCLA team that went 9-3 on the season with losses only to ranked Oregon and ranked USC and an upset loss to Arizona. This team beat PAC 12 champ Utah. This team beat a ranked Washington team. This team was healthy.
At the time of analysis Pitt was going to be short around 18 players. UCLA? Four. Now RB Zach Chabonnet ended up opting out, but is that worse than Israel Abanikanda? That’s a wash at worst. You get the point, Pitt should have been throttled in this game. But that’s why they play them right?
Behind an inspired performance from QB Nick Patti and a nice rushing performance from Rodney Hammond Jr., the Pitt offense wasn’t pretty but did enough to put 37 points on the scoreboard behind Ben Sauls’ five field goals.
But it was the defense that stepped up. I don’t even need to say who was missing on defense, you know the names, but Pitt still managed to cause five turnovers from a pretty efficient UCLA offense en route to the win. And most importantly? They played hard on both sides of the ball.
Say what you want about this season and falling short of expectations and roast Pat Narduzzi all you want for his stubborn ways, but I’ve watched every bowl game so far this bowl season. And Pitt played as hard as anyone including the playoff teams.
The Sun Bowl champion title means little and no one will care next season. But for coaches and developmental players as you head into a long offseason, a bowl win can be a big deal and the extra practices and playing time is crucial. And to win a game everyone, including our deep dive analytics, said you’d lose by nearly 20 points is a big deal.