PItt travels to Syracuse today for a game against the upstart Orange. The Panthers have won their last five games against the Orange, but Syracuse is 4-1 this season and is looking like one of the school's better teams in recent history.
Syracuse in many ways is like Pitt. The Panthers are only 2-3 on the season and have failed each test thrown their way, as they haven't beaten anyone of consequence. And while the Orange have a good record, they, too are without a big signature win. Truth be told, though, the Orange's win at South Florida last week is far better than either of Pitt's. Also like Pitt, the Orange have a bad blowout loss over their heads when they lost by three touchdowns at Washington.
The 'Cuse is also led by somewhat of a two-headed running attack. The leader is Delone Carter, who averages more than 100 yards per game. While he gets the bulk of the carries, Syracuse also uses Antwon Bailey with regularity and he, like Carter, also averages more than five yards per carry. The two have already racked up more than 700 yards for the season.
And like Pitt, the Orange also have a new starting quarterback in redshirt junior Ryan Nassib. Nassib has performed better than Panther QB Tino Sunseri to this point, but has faced lesser competition for the most part. Nassib, however, has only thrown two interceptions through five games, so he's not the type of player that will typically be forced into bad decisions.
For Pitt, this is a must-win. While the Panthers can't justify starting off 2-3, I've stated time and again that the team can still accomplish its goals by winning a down Big East this season. Now through with non-conference games, Pitt begins its second season. Would a loss eliminate the Panthers from contention in winning the conference? Technically, no. But it's hard to imagine the team beating others in the conference if it loses today. Even if you subscribe to the theory that Syracuse is the best team in the conference, a loss would still put the Panthers 1 1/2 games behind them and the Orange would hold the tiebreaker based on their victory.
Pitt's secondary will be tested - as per Pitt's injury list, it's expected to be without starter Andrew Taglianetti and K'Wuan Williams. Those losses could make an already somewhat weak target even more vulnerable.
This Pitt team has been difficult to figure out. It has looked respectable in close losses at Utah and at Notre Dame, but was also blown out at home against Miami. Today's game, if nothing else, will help determine if the Panthers are still in the hunt for the Big East or not. It's pretty much now or never for Pitt.