It has been a long month of practice, speculation, and anticipation, the BBVA Compass Bowl is less than a week away. Hugh Freeze and the R
ebels will be making their first bowl appearance since defeating Oklahoma State in the 2009 Cotton Bowl. Pittsburgh on the other hand will be bowling for the fifth straight year, with the last three coming in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
Despite that difference, there are more similarities between the two schools than one might think. Paul Chryst and Freeze are each in their first year as the head coach of their school, with both coaches going 6-6 in their debut seasons. Neither have been a head coach for an AQ school before their current gigs, and both were under-the-radar candidates in the eyes of their fan bases. Many Pitt fans wanted ex-Ohio State interim head coach Luke Fickell or former Florida and Illinois coach Ron Zook. The Rebel fans were all over the place with their wanted candidates between the absurd Jon Gruden rumors, the reasonable Kirby Smart rumors, and the “they better not” Mark Hudspeth rumors. While Rebel fans have almost unanimously bought into the Freeze system, the verdict on Chryst is still out.
They were long ago, but both schools still long for the glory days of yore. The Panthers claim nine national championships and have turned out storied players such as Curtis Martin, Dan Marino, Tony Dorsett, and Mike Ditka. Ole Miss has claimed three championships and have alumni like Frank Kinard, Charlie Conerly, and Archie Manning. It has been 36 years since Pittsburgh’s last title and 50 years since the Rebels claimed to be top dog.
In 2003, each school had what they believed were the teams to return them to greatness, led by a future NFL star. Behind Larry Fitzgerald, Pitt was ranked in the preseason top ten and appeared destined for the Big East title. Eli Manning was at the helm for his senior season, trying to do something his beloved father could never do, win the SEC. Unfortunately, both schools lost early nonconference heartbreakers by 10 or less, Toledo and Notre Dame got the better of Pitt, and Memphis and Texas Tech took down the Rebels. It appeared as though both teams were back on the right track, until their archrival knocked them off at the end of the season (West Virginia and LSU).
The two schools have produced elite NFL talent in recent years with the two schools combining for seven Pro Bowlers last year. Pittsburgh had four of them in Fitzgerald, Andy Lee, LeSean McCoy, and Darrelle Revis. Ole Miss had the other three with Manning, Patrick Willis, and Mike Wallace receiving the honor.
When it comes to 2012, both teams finished 6-6 with 3 conference wins apiece. Pittsburgh had a rough home loss to Youngstown State by 14. Ole Miss also had a rough early season loss, not because of their opponent who was Texas, but because they lost one of the most hyped games in Oxford history by a whopping 35 points. It could have been 7-5 for either team if it were not for blowing a chance on a huge road upset by making a special teams gaffe. Pittsburgh had #3 Notre Dame on the ropes in South Bend, they then missed a 33-yard field goal for the win, before losing 29-26 in the third overtime. Ole Miss had their shot in Baton Rouge against #7 LSU, but an 89-yard punt returned for an LSU touchdown was part of a 21-point 4th quarter that helped bury the Rebels 41-35.
The differences are among us, it is steel vs. cotton, Dillard vs. Faulkner, Heinz ketchup vs. McAllister’s sweet tea. I beg you that when you speak to the other side in Birmingham, to not forget the similarities, because unlike the Austin Powers quote that the title eluded to, it is not too late for these two beloved football traditions.