After a season largely made up of unknowns in a new conference, Pitt gets another familiar face as the football year winds down. In Syracuse, the Panthers will face a longtime opponent from the Big East.
Calling Syracuse a rival in football is a bit of a reach. In basketball it's a bit of a different story, but in football, it's just been real hard to strike up any hatred for the Orange.
Pitt hasn't had much trouble with Syracuse over the years. The Panthers are 8-2 against the Orange in the last ten games and, [before last season (added)], they haven't lost in Syracuse since 2004. The Orange did beat Pitt last season, but that was also behind quarterback Ryan Nassib who's now in the NFL. Syracuse isn't as good as they were last year and have struggled a bit this season.
Syracuse is 5-5 this year and while that's where Pitt is at, the Orange haven't been quite as impressive. Pitt has the better wins over previously ranked Notre Dame and surprising 8-2 Duke. Syracuse's two best wins are likely against 6-4 Maryland and either 6-4 Tulane or 4-6 Wake Forest.
Just as important is how the Orange were throttled in some of their other games. They lost by 21 early in the year to Northwestern. They lost by 35 to Clemson at home. They lost 56-0 to Georgia Tech. This past weekend, they were crushed by Florida State, 59-3. Common opponents with Pitt were Georgia Tech and Florida State and the Panthers played both of those teams much closer than the Orange.
One cause for concern is the scrambling ability of quarterback Terrel Hunt. But Hunt has shown virtually no ability to successfully pass the ball and Syracuse has really turned into a one-dimensional offense as a result, relying on the ground game. Hunt has produced only one game of more than 200 passing yards when he threw for 265 against Wagner. Pitt hasn't been great against the run, but they have been decent, ranking in the middle of the NCAA.
Don't get me wrong - as we've seen, Pitt isn't a great team. And if we're being honest, at times they haven't even looked real good. I do think the Panthers have shown a bit more than the Orange, though, and even on the road, Pitt should have a fighting chance to claim bowl eligibility on Saturday.
At first glance, Pitt looks like a slight favorite next weekend.