New league, same rivalry for Pitt and Syracuse


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In a season defined for Pitt by its new conference and new opponents, today will offer a breath of familiarity.

Even one of Pitt's first-year starters, quarterback Tom Savage, should have a sense of what to expect today when the Panthers face Syracuse.

As a true freshman at Rutgers, Savage started for the Scarlet Knights at the Carrier Dome in 2009. He finished the game 7 of 17 for 66 yards and two interceptions as the Orange beat Rutgers, 31-13.

Scouting report
 
Matchup: Pitt (5-5, 2-4 ACC) vs. Syracuse (5-5, 3-3), 12:30 p.m. today, Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y. Pitt is favored by 1.

TV, Radio: WTAE, KDKA-FM (93.7).

Pitt: Coming off a 34-27 loss against North Carolina. ... A win would ensure bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive season. ... Has won seven of past eight games against Syracuse. ... Pitt DT Aaron Donald leads Division I-A in tackles for loss (2.3 per game) and is a finalist or semifinalist for five major individual awards. ... Receiving tandem senior Devin Street and freshman Tyler Boyd both rank in the top seven in receptions and receiving yards per game in the ACC. ... Boyd has 58 catches through 10 games, just 11 shy of Larry Fitzgerald's school record for a freshman. ... Leads series against Syracuse, 34-31-3.

Syracuse: Lost to Florida State 59-3 last Saturday. ... Won last year's game against Pitt, 14-13, snapping a seven-game losing streak in the series. ... Sophomore Terrel Hunt has started the past seven games at quarterback after senior Drew Allen started the first three. ... Averages 196.7 rushing yards per game, fourth best in the ACC. ... Running back Jerome Smith is third in the ACC with 11 total touchdowns. ... Defense averages 7.5 tackles for loss per game, 14th best in Division I-A. ... Junior Jarrod West is the team's active leader in catches (80) and receiving yards (1,098).

Hidden stat: Syracuse is one of just three Division I-A teams to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Pitt is 2-4 this season when it does not have a player rush for 100 yards.

"Syracuse, that was wild," he said. "It's definitely fun, though."

For most of the Panthers, though, they have to look back only to last year to remember what it's like playing in the Carrier Dome.

On a Friday night last season, the Orange beat Pitt, 14-13, to drop the Panthers to 2-3 on the season.

Pitt had chances to win the game, but some untimely sacks and a missed field goal cost them a couple scoring opportunities.

The Orange eventually bled the final 4:52 off the clock on its final possession.

"It came down to the end," linebacker Shane Gordon said. "All we had to do was stop them and get the offense back the ball."

It won't be the biggest crowd Pitt will play in front of this season, but the Carrier Dome -- one of just four indoor venues in Division I-A -- can present its own challenges to the visitors.

Even on the defensive side of the ball, coordinator Matt House noted this week that he was disappointed with how his unit handled crowd noise in the opener against Florida State, but was pleased with the communication two weeks ago in front of a packed Heinz Field against Notre Dame.

And the offense, of course, will have to make sure Savage can get his plays in and make checks at the line.

"It's a different environment there, being in the dome up there," right guard Matt Rotheram said.

Pitt coach Paul Chryst, though, downplayed the impact that the dome might have today.

For many of the freshmen and redshirt freshmen playing key roles, this will be their first taste of indoor football.

"We've obviously got a group of freshmen that haven't been up there," Chryst said.

"Certainly for some the juniors and seniors and guys that have been up there before, I'm sure [the experience] will be helpful."

While the venue is familiar, so is the team lining up on the other side of the ball.

Pitt and Syracuse have played every year since 1955 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Both made the jump from the Big East to the ACC, and their new league made them permanent crossover opponents, ensuring a game every year.

"It's great," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said.

"It's what college football should be about. With the push toward the big mega-conferences, to some degree,

"I'm saddened that some of the rivalries are not played anymore."

Last year the Orange won, snapping a seven-game Pitt winning streak in the rivalry.

The Panthers who played in it certainly haven't forgotten.

In addition to bragging rights, one more win would give Pitt bowl eligibility for the sixth consecutive season.

"We owe Syracuse one from last year," Gordon said. "So it'd be good to win."


Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG.

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