If you've been a Syracuse Orange football fan at any point since 1955, then you'll recognize the next opponent in our preview series. At this point, ‘Cuse is back in New York State for three of their final four regular season games, beginning with Boston College. It will surely be a welcome home to the Dome for both players and fans, but a short-lived one.
That’s because soon afterwards, the Orange are heading back to the Bronx, where they played in the Pinstripe Bowl at the end of last season. We just hope the field conditions are a lot better for this clash with the...
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History vs. Syracuse: We’re entering year 68 of this seemingly eternal continuous series, and the fact that it’s gone on so long is just one example of the many extremes present. It has both the highest-scoring regulation FBS game of all time, and one of the lowest-scoring affairs possible in football. This year’s game is in fact celebrating the 100th anniversary of that 3-0 slog, the first of its kind played in the original Yankee Stadium. The Panthers won 11 in a row from 1973-1983 before the Orange went 15-2-1 through 2001. Since then, it’s been Pitt on another roll, taking 17 of the last 19 meetings.
Coach: Pat Narduzzi, ninth season. The Panthers have just one losing season since Narduzzi took over, compiling a 62-41 record, although the program is just 2-4 in bowl games during that stretch. Pitt is Pat’s first head coaching gig - he declined an offer from UConn prior to that. Before heading to the Steel City, Narduzzi was a defensive coordinator for Michigan State, Cincinatti, Miami Ohio, and Rhode Island, as well as the LBs coach at Northern Illinois. Pat’s first and only year attending Youngstown State (1985) was the last that his father, Bill, coached there.
2022 Record: (9-4) (5-3)
Recapping Last Season:
Pitt opened the year by taking down West Virginia 38-31 in the long-awaited return of the Backyard Bowl. They nearly came back to stun Tennessee but ended up losing in overtime. The Panthers won their other two non-conference games but dropped three of the first four ACC contests. An injured SU was the turning point, as Pitt won that game and the remaining three in the regular season before advancing to the Sun Bowl. There, #18 UCLA left just too much time on the clock, as with 34 seconds remaining, freshman QB Nick Patti led a drive into field goal range, and the Panthers won 37-35. They finished ranked #22.
A pair of offensive talents guided the Pitt attack: running back Israel Abanikanda and wide receiver Jared Wayne. I.A. was the class of the ACC and one of the best backs in college, rushing for over 1,400 yards. His 20 TDs were tied with Minnesota’s Mohamed Ibrahim for most in the country. Meanwhile, Wayne exploded in his senior season for over 1,000 receiving yards. USC transfer Kedon Slovis was alright in his only season at Pitt, tossing just under 2,400 yards with 10 TDs and 9 picks. Still, fantastic blocking by the line made sure that the ground game got most of the work done.
Opponents failed miserably at establishing the run against Pitt, as the Panthers’ defense was behind only Georgia and Michigan in stopping the run (95.9 yards/game) among Power 5s. The line was also very effective at pressuring the quarterback, as Pitt’s 48 sacks was second most in the ACC. DT Calijah Kancey and LB SirVocea Dennis (1st and 5th round picks by the Buccaneers) led the team with seven each. And good luck trying the deep ball against this secondary; the unit had an astounding 65 pass breakups and 14 interceptions. Kicker Ben Sauls was 20/24, topping out at 51 yards.
2023 Season Outlook:
Starting off the season are home games against Wofford and Cincinatti, followed by a trip to West Virginia. The Panthers also travel to South Bend to face the Fighting Irish later in the year. The ACC slate has home games against UNC, Louisville, FSU, and BC, and road meetings with Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, 'Cuse, and Duke.
The bad part of a ton of great individual performances? If they’re draft eligible, then most of them aren’t sticking around to risk tanking their stock. That was the case with Abanikanda (Jets) and Wayne (Texans), who will be replaced by internal options: Rodney Hammond Jr. over at RB, and Konata Mumpfield and Bub Means two receiving options. Phil Jurkovec arrives from Boston College to start behind center; he should finally have some quality pocket protection after years of taking hit after hit.
The 4-3 also has some personnel changes, but not as massive as the offense. Top corner Erick Hallett (nine breakups, three picks) is in Jacksonville now, but A.J. Woods (12 breakups, one pick) and three other seniors remain to lead the secondary. Outside of Kancey, the defensive line is unchanged - seniors Dayon Hayes and David Green will continue to punch holes through the middle. With how the depth chart is now, it’s possible that not a single underclassman appears with the 1s on either side of the ball.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 11
Location: Yankee Stadium, New York City, New York
Odds of Orange Victory: 50%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
This is the definition of a toss-up. Sure Pitt lost some pieces and is counting on a different trifecta for most of their point-scoring, but the defense is still loaded and built to counter SU’s RPO-style plays. Many of the Panthers’ starters will graduate at season’s end, so it’s absolutely an all-in year for them. While they may not catch Clemson or FSU at the top of the conference, they can still push for another ranked season as long as they don’t play down to the easier competition.
We all know the story by now of how this audience will be more... corporate... than if the game was played in Syracuse, so that’s also a factor riding against SU. With how much the Orange have struggled against Narduzzi’s teams, I simply can’t put this down as even a lean win.