Syracuse Orange vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Pick – Point Spread

Syracuse Orange (3-5 SU, 4-3 ATS) vs. Pittsburgh Panthers (7-1 SU, 5-2 ATS), 12:00 p.m. EST, Saturday, November 7, 2009, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pa. TV: ESPNU
by Ryno of

Point Spread: Syracuse +21.5/Pittsburgh -21.5
Over/Under: 50

If it weren’t for a poor fourth quarter against North Carolina State, the Pittsburgh Panthers would be undefeated right now, ranked in the top 10, and a contender for the BCS National Championship. Instead, the Panthers are flying under the radar a bit but are rolling right along. Their next victim could be the Syracuse Orange.

Pitt is coming off a dominating 41-14 win over a quality South Florida team. The two games before that were close wins over Rutgers and Connecticut. Pitt’s competition kicks up a notch down the stretch with games against Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati. But first, they have to avoid a look-ahead situation against the Orange.

Against South Florida, the Pitt offense had a solid effort but nothing spectacular. Dion Lewis ran for 111 yards and two touchdowns, Bill Stull threw for 245 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. It was the Pitt defense that got the job done, holding South Florida to 90 passing yards and 122 rushing yards. The Panthers also came away with three interceptions.

Lewis is one of the top running backs in the country. He has 1,026 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns for the season. Stull has been equally impressive, with 1,654 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

Syracuse is still looking for its first Big East win and it will be tough to come across against Pitt. The Orange have faced four teams on the same level as Pitt or on a higher level – Penn State, South Florida, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Syracuse lost to three of those teams by 21 and one of them (South Florida) by 14.

Syracuse received a huge blow when it found out that its best offensive player decided to quit the team this week. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who certainly has an NFL future, left a huge void on the Orange offense. Williams has 49 receptions this season for 746 yards and six touchdowns. Without him, Greg Paulus will have to find some new favorite targets. The Orange will likely be running the ball more without Williams. That means more touches for running back Delone Carter, who has 580 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.

Syracuse has the eight best rushing defense in the country, allowing 89.4 yards per game and a 2.8 yards-per-carry average. Pitt’s rush defense isn’t far behind, allowing 102.1 yards per game and a 2.9 average.

This game will come down to the passing games, and clearly Stull is superior to Paulus. If either Lewis or Carter can run the ball effectively, it will give their team a huge boost. Paulus will likely struggle in his first game without Williams, so anything he can get out of Carter will be very important if Syracuse is going to keep this game close.

Syracuse is 4-2 ATS in its last six road games. The total has gone under in seven of Syracuse’s last 10 road games. The total has gone under in four of Pitt’s last six games. Pitt defeated Syracuse last season, 34-24.

Ryno’s Pick: Pitt has proved to be one of the best teams, not only in the Big East, but in the country. The Panthers have a good running back, a good quarterback and a good defense. They are undefeated in the Big East and could easily be undefeated overall right now. They were up by two touchdowns in the third quarter against NC State, but the Wolfpack scored three straight touchdowns and won the game. Syracuse hasn’t done anything productive since defeating Northwestern early in the season. And on top of all of their losses, the Orange’s best offensive player is now gone. But still, the Orange haven’t lost any game this season by more than 21 points, and they have faced teams as good or better than Pitt. Therefore, Syracuse is a solid play here. But the Orange offense is even worse now without Williams and they didn’t score many points with him. Syracuse will struggle to score points. Pitt, meanwhile, has a look-ahead situation with Notre Dame next week. And Cuse hasn’t given up more than 34 points in a game this season. This game will be a defensive battle. Take the under 50.