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Syracuse Football Roundtable, Week of October 1 (Pittsburgh)

TNIAAM's football experts take a closer look at Syracuse's biggest concerns heading into Friday's game against Pitt.

Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Each week, we'll be holding a roundtable discussion with TNIAAM's football "experts" to get a read on the program's most pressing issues on- and off-the-field. Have differing opinions? Feel free to share them in the comments.

Can Justin Pugh jump right back into the swing of things, or will he need a game or two?

Matt McClusky: I'm betting Pugh will need a couple of games to get his "sea legs" back. But, I'm fully inclined to believe that a Justin Pugh at 75% is much better than what SU has had to replace him through its first four games.

Andy Pregler: I think Pugh will need a quarter or two but the bye week has been essentially a relearning of sorts for the o-line. A source told me that Marrone was going to mix up the rotation and inset Pugh and Rob Trudo into the starting lineup. Not sure how but that's the plan for now and hopefully it helps with the issues we've been having up front. Pass blocking will probably be stronger for Pugh than run blocking at first, I'm just hoping he can keep up with the pace of play.

Chris Daughtrey: I'll confess to knowing absolutely nothing when it comes to playing offensive line. I'm sure it's more complex than, "Knock down the dude across from you." I think that from a preparation standpoint, he'll be ready to go. Whatever injury he's had wouldn't have stopped him from reviewing film and the like. After that, it's a matter of getting the timing and coordination back with his O-Line mates. I think the bye week and the extra practice it affords will allow them to reacquaint themselves and they'll be ready to go come game time.

Dan Lyons: I think that the team was very cautious in bringing him back, so my hope is that after five weeks out, he is pretty much 100%. I know that he's been practicing in some capacity since the preseason, so I'm optimistic that he will be able to shake off the rust pretty quickly.

John Cassillo: I hate to put all the weight of this team on his shoulders, but we've seen what happens when Ryan Nassib's protection breaks down. That guy we saw in the first few games disappears, and we're left with an average passer. At 90 percent, Pugh's still probably one of the conference's best linemen, so I think he'll be well-prepared to step right back into his role.

Do you feel like Friday night's game against Pitt is a must-win?

MM: As I wrote earlier in the week, I think Friday's game is a must-win simply for what a win can mean. A victory over the Panthers gives the team and fans hope for 2012. A W means a fresh start in conference play and gives the team a chance at still attaining six wins total. However, a loss doesn't exactly mean the end of the world here, either. 1-3 and 1-4 are pretty similar and I still think there are winnable games ahead. Especially because I don't totally buy into Cincinnati. Sure an L makes things more difficult, but it won't totally end the season, not yet.

AP: When you have Rutgers, Cincy, Mizzou and Louisville all left on the schedule and needing to defeat one of those four while winning out, of course the Pitt game looks like a must win. Pitt isn't a slouch but they aren't world beater either. Their defense has issues and an inconsistent quarterback are all reasons why Syracuse can eek out a win if they play a solid game. Coming off the bye, playing a solid game is a must, therefore they should win this game and bounce back.

CD: Well, mathematically, no. If the measure of success is 6-6 and a bowl berth, then the need for a W hasn't hit critical mass quite yet. Realistically, though, going 5-3 to finish out the season is a tall order in itself. Needless to say, losing to Pitt won't help. Normally I'd say that a good showing might be sufficient, but we all know that this season has been filled with good showings and close losses. Wins are what's needed.

DL: If your expectation/hope was for a bowl this year, which mine was/is, then this is about as close to a must win as you're going to get at this point in the season. We can still afford to lose three games and still make a bowl, but if you pencil in Missouri and Louisville as losses, and assume we don't sweep Rutgers and Cincinnati, you don't want to start losing the winnable games left out there. So yeah, unless we have a few sizable upsets down the road, this is a game we really need.

JC: I'll agree with Matt here, in saying that every game (especially in college football) is a must-win, this one being no exception. That said, there is a certain feeling of finality in its result. Lose and we continue a downward spiral that's been going for nearly a year, likely missing a bowl game yet again. Win, and we start the season anew at 1-0. From the standpoint of team and fan morale, it can't get more black and white than this contest.

Will Pitt-Syracuse ever get to a similar level as Pitt-WVU or SU-BC?

MM: In a word, no. Sean pointed this out earlier in the week, SU - Pitt just never felt like a big game. I can't figure it out, but I really never got excited for the Panthers coming to town. Maybe it's because Pitt has been a marginal program for so long, or maybe because the Panthers have own the Orange for the last decade. Whatever the reason, I just think Syracuse v. Pittsburgh will always be just another game. Of course, the move to the ACC could change that as seeing Pitt could be like seeing a random person from your past in a new city. Someone who you barely remember but are just happy to be reminded of what you used to know.

AP: No, I'm not sure why, but no. There's just no real hate on the football field and on the basketball court it's mutual respect. Even if the games got real chippy, I just don't think the fans or coaches feel like this is a rivalry. It would take a weird situation (Marrone leaving for Pitt or something way out of the ordinary) to make people wake up and look at the history to see the makings of a good rivalry.

CD: Pitt-WVU? No. As far as I can tell, there's some true vitriol there. SU-BC, maybe, if only because that, to me, seems like a sort of rivalry by default. It's like a junior prom, and SU and BC were the only ones left without a date.

DL: Pitt-WVU was the class of Big East football as far as rivalries go, so no to that one. SU-BC, maybe? I wasn't around as a Syracuse fan for that era of Syracuse football, so I can't really speak on that with too much authority, but it doesn't seem like it was too hugely intense, so I don't see why it couldn't escalate to that level? The two teams need to stop going on these decade long runs against each other for it to really qualify as a big rivalry though. It's hard to get excited about when each team beats the other ten times in a row.

JC: I've always applied a fair portion of hate to Pitt-Syracuse, both in basketball and football, but I understand I'm in the minority there. Given our history of playing one another every season since 1955, I'm still baffled by both sides' utter dismissal of the matchup. If we can pull one off here, maybe it sows the seeds for an actual "rivalry" going forward, especially since Pitt's other two primary opponents are no longer on the schedule. At this point, we're linked at the hip for the forseeable future. Might as well make it interesting.

Who's your Pitt player to watch out for this Friday?

MM: Tino Sunseri! Ray Graham is a legit back, and Pitt's defense has totally improved from the first two weeks of the season, but Sunseri is a time bomb. If the Orange front seven can get good pressure on him, he'll explode for 4 or 5 interceptions. Or, given time in the pocket time and receivers creating space, Sunseri could throw for 300 and 4 or 5 TDs. Either way, it should be entertaining.

AP: Tino Sunseri. If he has a good game then Syracuse is doomed. Pitt can rely on their running game to carry the offense but if Sunseri gets hot and can make the throws to break the back of the defense then suddenly Pitt is unstoppable on offense. Pressuring him into mistakes would be a great way to ensure 'Cuse stays in this one.

CD: Ummm. I dunno. Ray Graham, I suppose. He was a monster last season before blowing out his knee and there's been nothing to indicate that his recovery has been anything but 100% successful. Syracuse's run defense is still sloppy, so Graham could put a hurting on them.

DL: Rushel Shell. Ray Graham gets most of the headlines, and for good reason, but he still doesn't look to be 100% recovered from his injuries, and Shell looks really good. We've been susceptible to big runs this season, so containing Graham and Shell is going to be huge on Friday.

JC: Mike Shanhan. We know the running game's solid, but Shanahan's emergence as a number-one receiving option for Sunseri has really been the key to their last two wins. In those games, he caught 10 passes for 255 yards and three scores. He's just the type of playmker that can eat the Syracuse secondary alive if given the chance.

For quotability, skill or otherwise, who's your favorite player on this year's Syracuse team?

MM: I'm cheating here (again), but I'll go with Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. The two wideouts with very different stories have turned themselves into, seemingly, perfect teammates. Lemon has become a record breaker and Sales is redeeming himself from last year's legal trouble. Both are fun to watch on the field and both have pretty good stories off the field (assuming Sales stays on path).

AP: I'm going to go Jerome Smith because, unlike Nate Hackett, I like my bruising running backs who can run someone over. I'd like to see him start producing more and definitively win the halfback competition but I don't think it's going to happen. Though last year against Pitt, Smith made his case for a feature back and I'm going to make "The Bus" nickname happen.

CD: I don't follow the Twitter feeds or or anything like that, so I can't say that I'm well versed in all the sound bites. All my SU football news comes from TNIAAM. So, I'll go with Nassib, just because he's the only one I can recall actually hearing say anything.

DL: I think as a total package, I'm going to go with Deon Goggins. He's a good player, he has an awesome sack dance, he has some legendary quotes ("beast without human sensibilities"), he's overcome some adversity following ridiculous expectations while at Syracuse, by all accounts he's a good student, and in my interactions with him while on campus, he's a really good guy.

JC: We've got a nice collection of names on this year's squad, but going with Siriki Diabate. This year's "senior defender to make the leap," he's put together a really nice season and appears to be an all-around humble guy. Considering I live 3,000 miles from campus, however, I may be totally wrong on that assessment.

John Cassillo authors Atlantic Coast Convos, which chronicles every aspect of ACC (plus Syracuse & Pittsburgh) football. Check out the blog, and follow him on Twitter: @JohnCassillo