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Syracuse football 2021 opponent preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

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And in the end, there’s always Pitt.

Central Florida v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Well, we’ve reached the end of opponent previews. With the Syracuse Orange football season kicking off in less than two months, it makes sense that some preseason series start wrapping up. And while position previews and “Get to Know” are still chugging along, we’ve finally discussed all 12 Orange opponents for 2021.

If you missed any of the previous pieces, check out articles around Ohio, Rutgers, Albany, Liberty, Florida State, Wake Forest, Clemson, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Louisville and NC State.

And now, we conclude with the:

Pittsburgh Panthers

School: University of Pittsburgh

Mascot: Panthers

#BRAND Slogan(s): #H2P (“Hail to Pitt”)

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “We’re the Pitts” OR “Rarely Great, But Far From Pittiful”

Recommended Blog: Cardiac Hill

Conference: ACC

History vs. Syracuse: Despite not being rivals at all (per both schools’ fans), the Orange and Panthers have met every season since 1955. Pitt’s 41-32-3 all-time against Syracuse, though the series is pretty strange overall. The Panthers have won 16 of the last 19, but SU won 16 of 18 (with a tie in there too) before that. And THAT streak was preceded by 11 straight wins for Pitt, and a 7-2 streak for ‘Cuse before that. Hard to get much of a rivalry going when entire generations of fans are seeing things as one-sided.

North Carolina State v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Coach: Pat Narduzzi, seventh season. The Connecticut native wrapped up his playing career at Rhode Island, then joined the Miami (OH) staff a year later as a grad assistant. By 1993, he was back at his alma mater, staying through 1999 when he jumped to Northern Illinois to take over as the Huskies’ linebackers coach. Three seasons in DeKalb led to a return to Miami (OH) as defensive coordinator, then he spent the next three at Cincinnati. He followed that up with an eight-year stay at Michigan State before getting his first head coaching gig at Pitt.

Since arriving at Pitt, he’s 42-34 with four bowl trips in six tries. The Panthers even made the 2018 ACC Championship Game, but also finished that season just 7-7. Unrelated to his time at Pittsburgh, there’s also that time he tried to kill Scott Shafer with a kiwi — a story that seems worse and worse as time passes.

2020 Record: (6-5) (5-5)

Recapping Last Season

Narduzzi felt Pitt was “snubbed” by top 25 voters early on in 2020, and he could have had a point following the team’s 3-0 start. However, Pitt lost four straight after that, before going 3-1 to close the year above .500. Despite the middling record, Pitt collected some strong wins toward the end of the year, and lost two games (to NC State and Boston College) by less than a field goal.

The Panthers’ offense was fine at times. They averaged about 380 yards per game, but put up over 29 points per game. Despite no one alive being able to tell you about a single pass Kenny Pickett’s ever thrown, the quarterback put in yet another quality season under center. He completed 61% of his throws en route to 2,408 yards passing and 13 touchdowns (plus nine picks). Pitt’s run-game wasn’t great, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry — though they did score 20 touchdowns on the ground. Notably, six different players caught at least 20 passes last year, with Jordan Addison leading the way with 60 receptions, 666 yards and four TDs.

Though Pitt’s defense hasn’t always lived up to Narduzzi’s reputation on that side of the ball, it’s been a strong suit for this team in recent years. In 2020, Pitt was a top-20 team by yards-per-game allowed, and only let up 24.5 points per game (37th in the country). Of teams that played at least eight contests, they had the most sacks per game at 4.18. And Pitt was one of 17 teams to collect at least 20 takeaways on the year. When the defense was on, the Panthers had a chance. They were 6-0 when opponents scored 20 points or less.

Virginia Tech v Pittsburgh Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

2021 Season Outlook

It’s not that different of a schedule for Pitt in 2021, as the Panthers largely trade Notre Dame for a road game at Tennessee. They’ll get the two toughest games, Clemson and North Carolina, at home while the three weakest conference teams on the slate (Syracuse, Duke, Georgia Tech) are all road games. On the positive side, Pittsburgh is on the road just twice over the final six.

Somehow, Pickett still has eligibility remaining, so he’ll be back at QB and should get an assist from an experienced run game looking to rebound from last year’s lackluster effort. The top four rushers from last season all return, as do nine of the top 10 pass-catchers as well. There’s some rehab to do on the offensive line, but that may not be a bad thing after the Panthers allowed 26 sacks in 2020 and struggled to pave the way for the rushing attack.

Defensively, this is a team banking on experience in the middle of the defense (starting tackles and linebackers all return) buoying a group that will need to bring along replacements elsewhere. Half of last year’s top eight tacklers have departed, and that list includes co-interception leader Paris Ford, sack leader Patrick Jones and co-TFL leader Rashad Weaver. Having Cam Bright and SirVocea Dennis on this roster still should help deal with losses, though.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 27

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 40%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse

No matter who’s truly “better” lately, these teams tend to be a bit of a crapshoot. Even last year, with Syracuse in rough shape, the Orange still managed to hang around for three quarters before their lack of offense just derailed them in a 21-10 defeat. This year’s Pitt team probably has a better O, but SU should as well. Defensively, the young pieces will have likely come along by this point for the Panthers. It’s a probable win for the road team, though far from an overwhelming one. Now hopefully Syracuse doesn’t need this one to go bowling given how the last two decades have gone in this matchup.