As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its 2018 ACC schedule when it plays the Pittsburgh Panthers on Oct. 6.
TRYING TO RETURN TO A BOWL: For the first time since 2007, the Panthers sat at home during bowl season. A disappointing 5-7 season, albeit one where it took down then-undefeated Miami, has left head coach Pat Narduzzi aiming to get back to the postseason. Though Narduzzi has plenty of talent on his roster, his squad also faces a tough non-conference schedule that leaves little room for error. Aside from Albany, the Panthers’ non-ACC slate includes Penn State, Notre Dame and UCF (who will hang a national championship banner on campus after finishing the season 13-0). That may make it hard to get back to eight wins, which how Narduzzi started when he arrived on campus three year ago.
WHO TO WATCH FOR: Randy Bates, a long-time linebackers coach at Northwestern, finally has his first Power 5 defensive coordinator post, taking over for the departed Josh Conklin, now the head coach at Wofford. Bates was most recently linebackers coach for the Wildcats, a unit that was instrumental in Northwestern posting a 10-3 season. He will be charged with improving a defense that finished 103rd in the NCAA in passing (254.2 ypg) and and 65th in overall defense (26.6 ppg). Bates is credited with the development of Northwestern linebacker Anthony Walker Jr., a 2017 All-American and a fifth round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. He’ll likely get the most out of returning starters Saleem Brightwell, Oluwaseun Idowu and Elijah Zeise at that position. On offense, sophomore quarterback Kenny Pickett is the undisputed starter, with his legend growing in Pitt’s upset of Miami last year. He was so good down the stretch that Pitt’s other quarterbacks, Ben DiNucci (JMU) and Thomas MacVittie (Mesa C.C.), ended up transferring.
PREDICTION: Syracuse edged Pitt at the Carrier Dome last season, with the game flipping back to Heinz Field, a place that the Orange hasn’t won in since 2001. Pitt will be favored, but I’m going to predict an upset here. SYRACUSE 31, PITTSBURGH 28.