Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.
As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.
Team: Pittsburgh Panthers
Opponent: Syracuse Orange
Last Year: Loss, 14-13 at Syracuse
This Year: November 23 at Syracuse
Here’s something fun: Did you know that Syracuse and Pittsburgh have played 68 times since 1916? That makes the Panthers the second-most common opponent in SU’s history, and they’ll take up the first-place mantle in the next few years, since the ACC schedule has them playing annually. SU, on the other hand, is tied for third on Pitt’s all-time list. One would think this makes these two teams rivals. And yet, it doesn’t. In fact, the two fan bases barely care about one another, and somehow will be linked for the foreseeable future by this round of expansion and a locked-in annual series. All that aside, though, it doesn’t change the fact that last year’s result was a tough one for Pitt to take.
At 2-2, Pitt appeared to be on the upswing in their season, while Syracuse was struggling at 1-3. But as was typical of the Orange on Friday nights in the Doug Marrone era, the home team came out firing and found themselves up 14-0 after one quarter. SU would not score again, and allowed the Panthers to hold a nine-minute advantage in time of possession, but that didn’t seem to matter. Neither did QB Tino Sunseri’s 319 passing yards. Syracuse’s bend-but-don’t-break defense held the Panthers to just 27 rushing yards while allowing Pitt to continually move the ball. Perhaps if Pitt had that one final opportunity to get in field goal range toward the end, they may have come out with the win. Instead, though, it was the surprising Orange running game (dormant till that point) that killed off the last five minutes and helped Syracuse hold on for the 14-13 win.
This time around, the game’s at the Carrier Dome once again, but that’s virtually the only similarity from 2012 to 2013. Different conference, different quarterbacks. For Pittsburgh, different running backs and for Syracuse, different coaching staff. In all honesty, both teams remain an enigma less than two months before kickoff, which could also be what makes this contest so intriguing. Late in the season, both could be battling for postseason berths, ratcheting up the intensity on a game that neither side’s ever been all that jazzed about. If Pitt were to change anything from last year’s game plan though, it would simply be to execute on scoring chances. When you hold as impressive an advantage in time of possession as they did, you can’t come away with just 13 points. The Panthers — as was their problem all of last season — need to focus on ending drives with points (preferably touchdowns). They’ll be working on that well before this game rolls around, but it’s certainly the only way they’ll get past an underrated Syracuse front seven this fall.