Fate tied us together when the ACC expanded, and an annual game between the two schools just hammers home what we already knew: we’re foes of convenience, and always have been. Of all the series played out in the old “Big Four” of Syracuse, Pitt, Penn Stat and West Virginia, this was the matchup that always mattered least. By a long shot.
The reason’s largely due to the nature of the two programs over the course of time. They’re rarely even mediocre at the same time, never mind “good.” Since 1991, they’ve never finishe the same season ranked. And they’ve only both finished with six or more wins eight times in that stretch.
The Panthers’ dominance in the 1970s coincided with Syracuse’s downfall. SU’s resurgence in the late 1980s and through the 1990s lined up with Pitt’s worst stretch as a program.
Lately, Pitt has been good, but not great. Syracuse has been decent, but not good. And that’s what makes the recent series so frustrating. The Orange have had a shot in most of these games.
Like we did with Pitt basketball once, here’s a look at the frustrating results this series has turned out in recent seasons:
2016: Pitt 76, Syracuse 61
A fresh new take on the same old Pitt loss. The Panthers were a fringe top-25 team last year, but the talent level between the Panthers and Orange would’ve been comparable at full health. SU was banged up, yet still made it a game. The 15-point loss seems like a lot, but the Orange were pretty much within striking distance for the entire second half. Obviously Zack Mahoney’s record-setting performance deserves praise. But you have to wonder what Eric Dungey might have been able to accomplish against Pitt’s porous secondary.
2015: Pitt 23, Syracuse 20
Syracuse led Pitt after three quarters, but then the defense finally wore down in the waning minutes. Rather than trying anything aggressive on offense to put the game away, play-calling was predicated on not losing -- instead of winning outright. Scott Shafer chose to put a 20-20 game on the defense, and the Panthers picked SU apart all the way down the field en route to the game-winning field goal.
2014: Pitt 30, Syracuse 7
This one doesn’t follow most of the other games in this series. Despite being two fairly mediocre teams, Pitt wiped the floor with SU in the contest that shredded all remaining faith I’d had in the Shafer regime turning it around. The defense couldn’t stop anyone, the offense had no discernable game plan, and the team ordered up a punt on third down -- the kiss of death between an Orange coach and this fan base.
2013: Pitt 17, Syracuse 16
Syracuse outgained Pitt, but did nothing in the fourth quarter and ended up losing due to a missed extra point on the game’s initial touchdown. With the win, the Panthers became bowl-eligible. The Orange would have to wait until a last-second comeback the following week to make the postseason.
2012: Syracuse 14, Pitt 13
Follows the same script as every other Pitt-SU game, but this time, the Orange prevailed. Syracuse scored 14 points in the first quarter, then held on to win by one. It was the second-to-last game that season where the offense looked incapable of anything (hi, awful Rutgers loss the next week). They’d average about 35 points per game over the season’s final seven weeks.
2011: Pitt 33, Syracuse 20
With both teams needing a win for bowl eligibility in the finale, Syracuse was down just six and driving in the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game and erase the four-game slide that took them from 5-2 to 5-6. Ryan Nassib dropped back from his own 18-yard line and was hit. The fumble was returned for a touchdown. We all cried.
Things were a little different before that, but other riffs on the same formula: Pitt 34, Syracuse 24 (2008); Pitt 20, Syracuse 17 (2007); Pitt 21, Syracuse 11 (2006).
I don’t know why I do this to myself, or you.