The Syracuse Orange may finally be reaching the light at the end of the tunnel in this portion of our football schedule preview. After hosting Notre Dame in the third straight game against expected-to-be-ranked teams, SU travels to western Pennsylvania to take on the defending ACC Champs.
School: University of Pittsburgh
#BRAND Slogans: #H2P (“Hail to Pitt”), #WeNotMe
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #Winz4Yinz, “From Dahntahn to the North Shore”, or “Teaching Temple how to properly share an NFL stadium”
Recommended Blog: Cardiac Hill
History vs. Syracuse: Pitt is the longest continuous opponent of SU, having played them every season since 1955. The Panthers hold a 42-32-3 series lead over the Orange, but that record is a bit deceiving. Their history against Cuse is filled with long stretches of both winning and losing. Pittsburgh has won 17 of the last 20 games, including eight of nine since the mutual switch to the ACC. Before that, Syracuse won 16 of 18. That period came right after 11 straight losses, which in turn followed a 7-2 run.
This rivalry (that fans on both sides refuse to acknowledge) has produced some noteworthy games. Namely, 2016’s matchup remains the highest-scoring regulation FBS game in history, as both teams forgot the concept of defense in Pitt’s 76-61 triumph. It’s bested in total points only by Texas A&M’s 74-72, 7OT win over LSU in 2018.
Coach: Pat Narduzzi, eighth season. The Panthers have posted a 53-37 (36-22 ACC) record since Pat became head coach. Narduzzi played under his father at Youngstown state for a year, then later continued his football career at Rhode Island. His first coaching job was at Miami Ohio. After stints at Rhode Island, Northern Illinois, Miami again, Cincinatti, and Michigan State, Pitt brought the longtime defensive coordinator in to take over their program. Though he has taken the program to great heights, including a No. 13 AP finish last season as ACC Champions, his teams are only 1-4 in bowl games.
2021 Record: (11-3) (7-1)
Recapping Last Season:
Clemson’s six-year run as ACC Champions ended last season, as Pitt earned that honor for the first time. The Panthers started the season with a home win and a close victory at Tennessee, but then surprisingly lost a tightly contested game against Western Kentucky. After rattling off four wins, including one over Clemson, Pitt lost another close game at home, this time to the Miami Hurricanes. They would win another four in a row to finish the regular season. At 10-2, Pittsburgh would play Wake Forest in the ACC Championship in Charlotte - and win in convincing fashion, 45-21. That 11th win is the school’s most in a single season. The Panthers fell to Michigan State 31-21 in the Peach Bowl and ended the season ranked at lucky No. 13.
Pitt’s offensive success is largely due to Pickett’s charge: Kenny Pickett, that is. He banked on a strong senior season and delivered, throwing for the 5th-most yards in the FBS (4,319) and achieving the nation’s 9th-best QBR (81.2). Pickett also had 42 passing touchdowns and five more rushing while only throwing seven interceptions. Jordan Addison had a ridiculous stat line as the main WR: 100 catches, 1,593 yards (most in the P5), and 17 TDS. A three RB system of Israel Abanikanda, Vincent Davis, and Rodney Hammond Jr. kept opponents guessing to the tune of 16 TDs and over 1,750 yards. All that together gave the Panthers the 5th-most yards and 3rd-most points per game. There really wasn’t much that they could do wrong.
As for the defense... you’re more likely to hear the Steelers referred to as “Blitzburgh”, but their college counterparts commanded that nickname too with 54 sacks, a number bested only by Alabama and Oklahoma State. Italian product Habakkuk Baldonado led the way with nine and also opened up lanes for his linebackers to get their own hits in. Brandon Hill and Erick Hallett manned the two-deep with authority, breaking up 13 passes and picking off 5 more. Sophomore Sam Scarton made 17/21 FGs.
2022 Season Outlook:
The Panthers begin their ACC title defense by hosting West Virginia on a Thursday night. Their renamed facility will also welcome Tennessee, Rhode Island, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Duke. Western Michigan, Louisville, North Carolina, Virginia, and UMiami are the five away games. Their initial ranking is No. 22.
Pickett only has to change locker rooms and will suit up for the Black and Yellow as opposed to the Blue and Yellow this fall. Addison, who still has a year to go before being draft eligible, took off to USC in an effort to preserve his stock. Kedon Slovis came back the other way and is likely Pickett’s heir at QB, while transfers and returning WR Jared Wayne will compete for targets. The running backs and offensive line starters are all the same as last season.
Mr. Baldonado will lead this defensive mob again, with his right-hand man Calijah Kancey still on the line too. The only major departures are linebackers Phil Campbell III and John Petrishen, who both graduated. Leading tackler and Syracuse native SirVocea Dennis has one more season of leading this group ahead.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 5
Heinz Field Acrisure Stadium, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Odds of Orange Victory: 30%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
I’d feel a lot better about this game if it wasn’t off the heels of a BRUTAL three week stretch. Orange players will likely be gassed after the matchup with Notre Dame (even in a blowout, you can’t take starters out too early at home), and despite losing two top talents on offense, Pittsburgh is no pushover. The question is: will their rebuilt passing game hold up? While they won’t exactly fall off into the Allegheny River, a weaker Pitt attack could at least give SU a fighting chance.