Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Pittsburgh Panthers vs. Navy Midshipmen
Date: Dec. 28, 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Location: Annapolis, Maryland | Jack Stephens Field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Best moment: Oct. 3 at Virginia Tech. This was the game in which Pitt announced it would be a new product under coach Pat Narduzzi. The Panthers went into Lane Stadium in rainy conditions and escaped their conference opener with a huge road win, holding the Hokies to 100 yards of offense in the process. They forced three turnovers. They recorded seven sacks. The 17-13 victory set the tone for what would be a much improved pass rush in 2015, helping Pitt to its best season since 2010.
Lowest moment: Nov. 27 vs. Miami. This was easily the worst of Pitt’s four losses this season. On Black Friday, the Panthers fell behind 20-0 early at home to the 8-4 Hurricanes. Their late rally was not enough in a 29-24 loss. Pitt’s three previous losses were more excusable considering they came to Iowa, North Carolina and Notre Dame — three teams with a combined 33-3 record. But this was a sour way to end what had otherwise been a good regular season.
Key player: WR Tyler Boyd. The junior leads the ACC with 85 catches and is second with 873 receiving yards. He has six touchdowns despite being suspended for the season opener. He has 294 additional rushing yards, and he returned 11 kickoffs for 257 yards. If that’s not enough, he completed 2 of 3 passes for 67 yards. If Boyd notches 127 receiving yards in Pitt’s bowl game, he will crack the 1,000-yard mark for the third straight season.
Motivation level: High. Pitt ended the regular season against Miami with a sour taste in its mouth. Moreover, few will forget how the Panthers fared in last year’s bowl: They blew a 31-6 fourth-quarter lead to Houston and fell 35-34 in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl. The 13th game this year will be a chance for Pitt to rewrite the ending and cap a stellar first year under a new regime. -- Matt Fortuna
Best moment: Days before No. 13 Memphis hosted Navy, there was talk as to whether the Tigers would play in the College Football Playoff. That debate ended shortly after Navy took the field in Memphis that November night. The Midshipmen racked up 374 rushing yards on the way to a 45-20 victory. Navy scored 28 second-half points and wore out Memphis over the course of four quarters.
Low moment: Settled in the American Athletic Conference's West Division, there are going to be tough trips for the Academy in the coming years. The first might have come at the end of the season when Navy had to make back-to-back visits to Tulsa and Houston. Though Navy routed Tulsa, it lost to Houston on a short week six days later. The loss kept the Midshipmen out of the American title game in their first season in the conference. It also probably cost them a place in a New Year’s Six bowl.
Key player: Quarterback Keenan Reynolds is the catalyst of Navy’s option offense, and he has conducted the offense so well over the course of four seasons he became the career FBS leader in rushing and total touchdowns this season with 83. He also holds a school record with 29 career passing touchdowns. Any chance at beating Navy begins with stopping Reynolds, who might even be better distributing the football than he is rushing with it.
Motivation level: Medium to high. There rarely should be a question as to the motivation level of Navy’s players, but there is probably some leftover ache from the loss to Houston a few weeks back. The Midshipmen were a few games from representing the Group of 5 in a New Year’s Six bowl. Navy hasn’t played in one of the major bowl games since a trip to the Cotton Bowl during the 1963 season. Still, Navy can win 11 games for the first time in school history. -- Jared Shanker