After a bye week, Pitt football returns this weekend with a Friday night game against Syracuse.
It’s hard to tell if the bye will help or hurt the Panthers. Pitt (4-2) has had some guys banged up so, from a health standpoint, I’m sure the off week was welcomed. But the team had also been on a roll, winning its last three games, and you hate to see their momentum slowed with a week off.
Syracuse (3-3) entered the season with a lot of hype and a shiny Top 25 preseason ranking. But while they won their opener, their season has mostly gone downhill since then. They were throttled, 63-20, by Maryland (who, by the way, has looked pretty bad, going 1-3 after that) and then beaten badly by Clemson, 41-6. After gimmes against Western Michigan and Holy Cross, Syracuse lost again this weekend at North Carolina State.
The season for the Orange, however, is not entirely lost. The hopes for being a darkhorse contender in the Atlantic Division sure are, but Syracuse still enters this one 3-3 and you can bet they want to, at the very least, get to a bowl.
The problem for Syracuse is that even that will not be an easy feat. The Orange still have what should be tough tests against Wake Forest, Louisville, and Florida State. They’ve still got Duke, who is a solid team. And even Boston College is no sure thing. That puts an emphasis on getting this one against Pitt. I can see the Orange winning three more games but they probably will need to defeat the Panthers to do it. For as much as Pitt needs this game, Syracuse arguably needs it more.
The Orange have struggled on both sides of the ball this year. Offensively, they put up points against Western Michigan and Holy Cross, but that’s really been it. In their other four contests, they’ve averaged only 15 points a game and haven’t scored 25 in any of them. This seems like an offense that could have fits with the Panthers, which rank 19th in Total Defense. Pitt hasn’t been incredibly impressive on offense, either, but has played a more difficult schedule, too.
Defensively, Syracuse has been a mixed bag. They played well on that side of the ball this week against the Wolfpack and gave up only three points combined in wins against Liberty and Holy Cross. But they also gave up the 63 points to Maryland, 41 to Clemson, and even allowed Western Michigan to score 33 (admittedly, in an easy win).
Complicating matters for Pitt here is that they are expected to be without starting safety Paris Ford for the first half after a targeting ejection in the Duke game. Ford has really started coming into his own and was even named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week after grabbing two interceptions (including a pick six) against the Blue Devils.
The storyline here for Pitt is one that you can probably affix to most of their remaining games. It won’t be an easy win and is certainly a game they can lose. But if they have aspirations of winning the Division, it’s one they simply have to have — particularly with games against Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina all still lurking. Virginia proved they aren’t invincible in the Coastal after losing to Miami this weekend so the Panthers remain in the hunt for the Division. But if they want to make another run at it, they can can ill afford to drop this one.