Most of Pitt's Big East schedule this season constitutes a farewell tour of the conference, so the game tonight against Syracuse will be a preview of that in some ways.
The Orange and Panthers will meet in the Carrier Dome in their final Big East matchup. Starting next year, the rivalry will move to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For now, though, the game offers the Panthers (2-2, 0-1 Big East) an opportunity to prove their past two games weren't flukes. Is this the team that upset then-No. 13 Virginia Tech and pounded Gardner-Webb or the one that lost to Division I-AA Youngstown State and was outplayed by Cincinnati in its Big East opener?
A win against the Orange (1-3, 0-0) would even Pitt's conference record at 1-1 and the Panthers a factor in the race.
"We're 0-1 right now in conference play, and nobody wants to be 0-1 in conference play," receiver Cam Saddler said. "That's the thing that really matters with us, is conference play. Everyone wants to win their conference."
The Orange hope its first conference game will mean a fresh slate in a disappointing season. Syracuse's lone win was a 28-17 victory against I-AA Stony Brook. They lost to No. 24 Northwestern by a point in the season opener, though, and played Southern California close the next week.
"I know their record. A lot of people want a different record, but I think they're a good football team," Pitt coach Paul Chryst said. "I don't think it's one of those you've got to manufacture and sell to your team."
Syracuse's strength is its passing game, led by quarterback Ryan Nassib, who leads the Big East with 1,367 yards and 10 touchdowns. His top targets are receivers Marcus Sales and Jarrod West, who rank in the top 10 in the Big East in receiving yards per game.
"It should be quite a challenge," cornerback Lafayette Pitts said. "They've got good receivers, their quarterback's pretty good, so it's going to be a challenge for us this week."
Pitt's offense also must handle a loud opposing crowd. The Carrier Dome also traps noise, making it difficult for opposing offenses to operate.The team practiced with simulated crowd noise this week, and quarterback Tino Sunseri was confident the Panthers will be ready to work with silent counts if needed.
"They're making sure they're loud," Sunseri said. "They definitely use that to their advantage. I think their players feed off of it, definitely. We have to be able to handle ourselves, we have to be able to handle the snap count."
Pitt's offense has been rolling the past two games, and Saddler said the open week last week just gave them more chances to fine-tune adjustments before the Syracuse game. To him, that 0-2 start is in the past.
"That's the thing with us, we started off slow," Saddler said. "We're in a hole, so now it's just digging ourselves out."
• Game: Pitt at Syracuse.
• When: 7 p.m. today.
• Where: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
• TV: ESPN.Pitt's Cam Saddler on the Panthers' 2-2 record: "We're in a hole, so now it's just digging ourselves out." --> pittsports
Sam Werner: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published October 5, 2012 4:00 AM