In a showdown of two Big East teams still trying to find themselves, the Pittsburgh Panthers travel to the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orange.
The Panthers have come back strong with two victories in their last two games, though one of them came against Gardner-Webb, which hardly qualifies as a quality win. But based on where they were after Week 2, any victory is good news for this program.
The Orange have been one of the unluckiest teams in college football this season. They are just 1-3 so far, but their three losses have come by a combined 21 points. Their only win came against Stony Brook, so this would easily be their biggest win of the year.
Where: Carrier Dome
When: Friday, October 5 at 7:00 p.m. ET
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
Betting Line: Pittsburgh (-2.5), according to Vegas Insider
Listen: KDKA-FM 93.7 (Pittsburgh); The Answer 970 AM (Syracuse)
Pittsburgh Injury Report (via USA Today)
Questionable: DL Aaron Donald (Knee); DL Jack Lippert (Undisclosed); LB Todd Thomas (Knee)
Out: OL Juantez Hollins (Suspension)
Syracuse Injury Report (via USA Today)
Probable: OT Justin Pugh (Shoulder)
Questionable: RB Steve Rene (Upper Body); CB Brandon Reddish (Lower Body); WR Adrian Flemming (Undisclosed); TE Ron Thompson (Undisclosed)
Out: WR Jeremiah Kobena (Upper Body); WR Kyle Foster (Lower Body); DT Ryan Sloan (Lower Body); FB Myles Davis (FB); OT Kristofer Curtis (Undisclosed)
What This Game Means
Both teams are jockeying for bowl positioning. Pittsburgh has a great win on its resume over Virginia Tech two weeks ago.
Syracuse is looking for a signature win. We can talk all we want about this team keeping games close, but eventually you have to pull those games out to be taken seriously. This game, at least in theory, could decide if the Orange get into a bowl game.
A loss here would put Syracuse at 1-4 with seven games remaining, including next week at Rutgers and on November 10 against Louisville. The Orange need to come out of this game at 2-3.
Pitt has enough cupcakes left on the schedule—Temple, Buffalo, Connecticut, South Florida—that it should have no problem getting to at least six wins in order to play in a bowl.
Pittsburgh Player to Watch: WR Mike Shanahan
The Panthers boast a solid collection of talent on the offensive side of the ball, but you can trace their upward trajectory to the performance of Shanahan.
Shanahan has seen his overall numbers go up with each passing week. He had 54 yards in Week 1, then has gone up to 59, 111 and 144 last week. He is the best playmaker the Panthers have on the outside, one capable of breaking big plays against a secondary that has been suspect against the pass, like Syracuse's.
Syracuse Player to Watch: QB Ryan Nassib
Lost in the shuffle of Syracuse's struggles has been the performance of Nassib. He has thrown for at least 322 yards in three of the team's first four games with a completion percentage of 66.3 right now.
Nassib did struggle last week against Minnesota, throwing two interceptions with just 228 yards. Given the way that Syracuse has struggled to stop teams from scoring, with the exception of last week, it is imperative Nassib gets back on track to where he was in the first three weeks.
What They Are Saying
Pittsburgh does love to run the ball, even though I think that Shanahan is a more important factor in this game. Ray Graham and Rushel Shell have combined for 591 yards and four touchdowns on the ground this season.
As Dave Rahme of the Syracuse Post-Standard writes, Graham and Shell will provide an interesting test for the Orange's run defense.
Stopping the off-tackle run has been an adventure for the Orange defense this season, which will enter the contest ranked No. 83 in the nation in rushing defense, allowing 176.25 yards per game. Lately, the team has turned more to junior-college transfer Zian Jones (6-foot-4, 309 pounds) to help plug the holes. Jones has joined sophomore Eric Crume in a rotation at tackle behind starters Jay Bromley and Deon Goggins.
This could end up being one of the most exciting games of the weekend, though it won't have huge ramifications on anything substantial. It will just be a fun game between two teams trying to get to a bowl.
Pitt 34, Syracuse 27