By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A week of speculation about destinations ended Sunday evening when Ole Miss accepted an invitation to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.
The Rebels, in a bowl game for the first time since 2009, will play Pittsburgh, which will be playing in its third consecutive Compass Bowl.
Kickoff at Legion Field on Jan. 5 is at noon. The game will be televised by ESPN.
There were scenarios that could have sent the Rebels to Nashville for the Music City Bowl, but once the Gator Bowl selected Northwestern as its Big 10 representative, the dominoes fell, and Ole Miss landed in Birmingham.
It’s a landing that suits the Rebels quite fine, Ole Miss athletics director Ross Bjork said.
“I think it’s great coverage with ESPN, that’s terrific. It’s one of the last bowl games of the season. The Mobile bowl is a day after that, then the national championship game on Monday night. It’s a great window for us. It’s a Saturday. Fans can travel on Friday and experience Birmingham then drive home after the game. It’s a great location, and the time is ideal.”
Both teams are 6-6. Ole Miss became bowl-eligible in its final game, winning 41-24 against rival Mississippi State.
Pittsburgh had to win its final two games to reach six wins and did just that, with victories against then-No. 18 Rutgers, 27-6 on Nov. 24, and 27-3 at South Florida on Saturday.
Ole Miss and Pittsburgh have never met in football.
“It’s a neighboring state, and we’re excited to have them here. We think they’ll bring a lot of people to Birmingham,” said Mark Meadows, the bowl’s executive director, said of the Rebels.
So does Bjork, who is hopeful Ole Miss will set an attendance record for the Compass Bowl. The current record is estimated at 42,600.
For ticket information visit OleMissSports.com.
First-year Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze began his job stressing effort by his players, not wins and losses.
The difference between a 5-7 record with competitive losses and one more win – with a bowl game – is big.
“It accelerates our journey, our process. It’s not only the extra practice, but the media attention, the national coverage of the game.
“We’re one of the teams in this tough conference still playing, and any time you can say that, you have to say the season has been somewhat a success, but in our case, coming off two seasons of limited wins … it expedites our message to the recruits we’re going after.”
Freeze conducted a Sunday evening conference call from a recruit’s home.
Early bowl practice will focus on the Rebels themselves with most of the game-planning for Pitt to come after practice.
He said he doesn’t know a lot about the Panthers, but one game sticks out to him.
“I know they took Notre Dame to the wire with a chance to beat them, and Notre Dame is playing in the national championship game,” Freeze said.
“They finished the year stronger than they started, and that’s a sign of improvement.”