Yes, it’s true that Pitt has won seven games in a row against Syracuse, by an average of margin of nearly 17 points.
Yes, it’s true that Syracuse has played poorly this season, in terms of penalties and turnovers — fixable mistakes, in other words.
And, yes, Pitt is actually a road favorite — as many as 3 1/2 points if you look hard enough.
But Friday’s game in the Carrier Dome won’t be easy for the Panthers, whose young defense started to come together in the past two games, but has a long way to go.
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has looked good in his first four games, three of which were against BCS teams with a combined record of 13-2. If Pitt can pressure Nassib such as it did against Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (a better NFL prospect than Nassib, by the way), that will decide the game in the Panthers’ favor.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s return to good health — he missed the Gardner-Webb game with what appeared to be minor knee injury — is one of the big keys.
Something else I’ll be looking at tonight is the expected return of outside linebacker Todd Thomas, the Panthers’ most athletic defender when he’s healthy. (OK, equal to Donald.)
Thomas had knee surgery 10 months ago, but coach Paul Chryst sounded hopeful that he will be ready to play Friday. Wisely, he gave Thomas an extra two weeks to rest and recover when he kept him sidelined against Gardner-Webb.
I can’t guarantee Thomas will return tonight (I lost my key to the trainer’s file cabinet), but I’ll say this — Pitt needs him before too long. He is Pitt’s best linebacker.
Meanwhile, Pitt is on the brink of becoming a big story around town.
A victory against Syracuse gives the Panthers (2-2) a winning record and sets up a Homecoming showdown against nationally ranked Louisville (No. 19) Oct. 13 at Heinz Field.
And, sorry, the 11 a.m. kickoff time is not a big deal. Those fans who complained also don’t like noon starts, but they’ll get over it. Start the grill an hour earlier. It’s not that hard to figure out.
Pitt will take the tradeoff in terms of TV exposure, and I can assure you there is nothing Chryst cares about less than when the game starts. He’s like the groom who says, `Tell me what time I need to be at the church, and I’ll take care of the rest.’
If Pitt somehow finds a way to beat Syracuse and Louisville, then it’s non-conference Buffalo of the MAC and Temple. Dare we say it? 6-2 heading into Notre Dame?
Whoa! Slow down!
I won’t go that far — 5-3 is more likely and 4-4 wouldn’t be a shock. After all, the Youngstown State game was only a month ago, and Chryst would be the first to tell you his team still has plenty to prove.
But Pitt has an opportunity to stand up and be noticed. It starts tonight.