2004. That was the last time Syracuse was able to beat Pitt in the safe confines of the Carrier Dome and it took the Orange double overtime to do it. Dave Wannstedt has never lost to Syracuse, the only Big East opponent that statement applies to.
What's been lacking through the failed tenure of Greg Robinson and Doug Marrone's first year is the Orange believing they can win the big game. This year Orange players and fans believe they can win. They believe they will reclaim the Carrier Dome as a hostile environment for opposing teams.
Hated rival Pitt would make the perfect victim to usher in the Orange's 2010 Big East schedule. A win Saturday would put the Orange in the driver's seat in the conference race, ready to challenge West Virginia for supremacy.
Syracusenow.com and nunesmagician.com are whipping the fans into a frenzy everyday this week hoping to sell 6,000 more tickets. A 40,000 crowd in the Carrier Dome can make thunderous noise.
The Orange have not yet convinced the casual fan to believe. A win over Pitt would do exactly that.
Syracuse, 4-1, has been made a slight underdog by -2.5 points but Pitt is the dog coming into Saturday's noon contest.
Pitt and Syracuse have been football rivals since the days of The Big Six, the non-conference alignment of Army, Navy, West Virginia, Syracuse, Penn State, and Pittsburgh. These teams regularly competed for the Lambert Trophy (now the Lambert-Meadowlands Trophy won by Penn State in 2009).
Pitt holds a 32-30-3 advantage in the series with Wannstedt's teams accounting for Pitt's lead. Despite winning seven of the last eight meetings, the Panthers have never had an easy time in the Carrier Dome. Along with the 2004 game, the contest in 2000 also went to double overtime.
In the cliche of sports rivalries, Syracuse hates Pitt in football more than Pitt hates Syracuse; Pitt hates Syracuse more in basketball than Syracuse hates Pitt. The feelings behind the rivalry echo historic advantages each program has had.
Will the Panthers be ready for the hostile environment in the Dome? Will they be ready for the fierce emotion Syracuse will direct towards them? Syracuse is the winning program right now; Pitt is not.
Will Dave Wannstedt impress upon his players how good Syracuse is in the Dome? Pitt trails the Orange 5-9-1 in games played there. The current Pitt team has never lost to Syracuse. How will they generate enthusiasm and the focus to concentrate through four quarters? They haven't demonstrated those abilities yet in 2010.
The game shapes up as a contest between two evenly matched rushing attacks and a superior Syracuse quarterback. Syracuse ranks 64 in the nation with 819 rushing yards for the season. Pitt ranks 69 with 789. Ray Graham, Pitt's leading rusher Dave Wannstedt refuses to name the starter, leads Syracuse's Deleon Carter 536 yards to 524.
Ryan Nassib of Syracuse is the better quarterback at this stage of the season. He has completed 73 passes for 989 yards and ranks 31 in the nation with a completion rate of 57.5%. Tino Sunseri of Pitt has completed 90 passes for 961 yards and ranks 55 with a completion rate of 64.7%.
The Panthers have picked off four interceptions in 2010 for a total of 10 yards and are giving up an average of 22.8 points per game. Syracuse has picked off four passes for 66 yards and allowed 14.8 points per game.
Pitt has a definite advantage over the Orange in schedule strength. Jeff Sagarin rates Pitt's schedule the 41st toughest in the nation and Syracuse's 152nd. To prevail, the Panthers will need to draw on the lessons they learned in close losses to Utah and Notre Dame and the blowout loss to Miami.
If Syracuse enters the game more focused than Pitt and if the Panthers make their usual mistakes in the kicking game, clock management, and head coach's decision-making, the Orange could win in a route and turn up the head under Wannstedt's already too-hot-to touch seat.