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At First Glance: Pitt vs. Syracuse

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Not going to lie - with each football loss it gets a little harder to pay attention to the team. Don't get me wrong - there's still a chance for a bowl game, but that's essentially it. James Conner has slipped a little in the rushing title race and the Panthers are out of the Division race.

The season provides some opportunity for the younger players to get some more experience, but make no mistake - this is about getting to a lower-level bowl game now.

The drive towards that goal starts this week with a home game against Syracuse. While this is no gimme, it's clearly a game the Panthers should win.

First things first - the Orange likely aren't as bad as their 3-7 record indicates. Syracuse has had a brutal schedule, facing Florida State, Notre Dame, and Clemson, as well as teams like Duke and Louisville. And to be fair, they kept things close against Clemson, losing by only ten points. The rest of the Orange season, though, has been a collection of losses that really haven't been that close.

None of the team's seven losses have been by fewer than seven points and the closest loss was to a mediocre North Carolina State team, 24-17. Syracuse's other losses besides that one and Clemson include:

Maryland by 14
Notre Dame by 16
Louisville by 22
Florida State by 18
Duke by 17

Granted, the Duke game was a little closer than the final score indicated - the game was tied going into the fourth quarter before the Orange faded late. But overall, this is a team that hasn't only had trouble winning, but remaining competitive. Just as damaging as the comfortable wins teams have racked up against them, Syracuse's three wins are nothing special. A 40-3 win over a respectable 7-4 Central Michigan team isn't bad, but the other two are a one-point double overtime win to FCS Villanova and a 30-7 win over Wake Forest, easily the worst team in the ACC.

Syracuse's greatest strength has likely been its 38th ranked defense. That unit has given up only 23.4 points per game this season and considering some of the team's they've faced, that's quite an achievement. The problem for the Orange is that the offense ranks near the bottom of the FBS, as they are scoring fewer than 20 points per contest. The offensive woes stick out even more when you consider that 97 points came in those three wins against light competition. The rest of the year? Syracuse has scored only 94.

That's welcome news to a Pitt defense that has had trouble stopping, well, everyone. The Panthers defensive unit isn't among the worst in college football, but their reputation this year has been far from stellar. Keeping the Syracuse offense in check is something they should be able to do as long as they show up.

It's Football 101, but the way Pitt wins this game is by scoring points. Surprise, right? But in all seriousness, if it turns into a turnover-fest/defensive struggle, that's where the Panthers could have issues. I don't see the Orange lighting up the scoreboard, but could they win a 14-10 game? Probably.

The game is at home and Pitt needs it to continue their bowl aspirations while Syracuse is already eliminated from the postseason. It's also Senior Day and this is really a game Pitt should win if they take care of the ball.

Advantage Panthers, but they've still got to play the game.

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