Throughout Syracuse’s 2021 training camp, players and head coach Dino Babers agreed that the only way to move on from 2020’s dismal one-win season was to forget about last year. Super senior defensive lineman Josh Black said the team’s veterans had to return the culture to like it was in 2018 — the most successful year in the Babers’ era.
“If you look at our 10-3 season, our culture is where you want a winning program to be,” Black said.
The Orange have somewhat returned to that winning culture, now one win away from a guaranteed bowl berth for the first time since that successful display three years ago. 2021’s revenge tour is at its final stop on Saturday night slated against a No. 20 Pittsburgh squad that hasn’t lost in November.
Here’s what our beat writers expect in Syracuse’s last regular-season game:
Roshan Fernandez (7-4)
End of the road
Pittsburgh 38, Syracuse 33
I think this Syracuse season was a success, regardless of Saturday’s result. The Orange significantly overperformed compared to preseason expectations and could’ve been even better on paper had they pieced together wins in the three-straight games they lost by three points.
That being said, the Orange are playing a Panthers team that looks like the most complete unit in the conference. Pitt has the best scoring offense in the ACC (averaging 43.9 points per game) and one of the best passing offenses behind Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison. It has one of the best rushing defenses, too, something that SU struggled to crack against NC State and Louisville.
Meanwhile, the Orange are one-dimensional on offense and can’t get anything going in the passing game. The defense gave up 41 points in back-to-back weeks. The November slump has hit upstate New York once again. I think Babers and the Orange will play much better than the past two weeks on the road, but it won’t be enough against this efficient Pittsburgh team.
Connor Smith (5-6)
Here we come, bowl season
Syracuse 28, Pittsburgh 21
Regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, I’m going to finish in last place in the regular season beat writer prediction rankings. Sure, Pitt is one of the best teams in the ACC and has the conference’s best offense. Sure, Syracuse has dropped both of its last two games by over 30 points and hasn’t even looked remotely competitive. But I’m picking the Orange. Like me, they’re going to end their regular season 6-6.
The Panthers have already clinched a spot in the ACC Championship Game and don’t have much to play for this week besides a higher Top 25 ranking and possibly a better bowl game. SU, on the other hand, has lots to play for. Despite improving significantly since last year’s 1-10 season, its head coach has received heavy criticism throughout the season for his decision making. As a self-described “players’ coach,” surely his team will come out with more intensity than it did at Louisville and NC State to ensure its season will continue into December.
So I’m picking Syracuse to win. Its defensive line will get pressure on quarterback Kenny Pickett throughout the game to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, and Sean Tucker will run for over 200 yards. Garrett Shrader will actually throw for over 100 yards, and the Orange will pull off their biggest win of the season on Saturday night, sending them to a bowl game for the first time since 2018.
Anish Vasudevan (7-4)
Third time is not the charm
Pittsburgh 33, Syracuse 20
The Panthers are one of the hottest teams on the road in the ACC, undefeated in four matchups. Pickett also has the ideal conditions to finish his breakout season playing in the indoor facility of the Carrier Dome. Pittsburgh even has the advantage defensively with Addison and a top-rushing defense.
There’s no reason why Pittsburgh’s success shouldn’t continue. And there’s no reason why Syracuse’s inconsistency shouldn’t make its way into its last game. The Orange have faltered in their last two chances to get the coveted sixth win every college football team yearns for. The third chance won’t be lucky for SU — it’s completely unmatched against Pittsburgh in all three facets of the game. The only chance for Syracuse to win is if the Panthers pull their starters early since they’ve already clinched a bowl berth and an ACC championship appearance.
This year is in the books for the Orange, but there’s hope for the future. With Tucker and Shrader back next season, Syracuse has the tools it needs to score a lot of points against ACC defenses. Saturday could be a miracle for the Orange, but a loss to the Panthers isn’t the worst outcome for SU. 2021 was a step in the right direction for Babers and Syracuse, setting up next year’s team for a chance at a bowl game or maybe even an ACC championship.
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