The Syracuse University football program concludes its regular-season schedule Saturday afternoon as the Orange hit the road to play the University of Pittsburgh in a Big East Conference contest at Heiz Field (noon on ESPN2). Both Syracuse (5-6) and Pittsburgh (5-6) are searching for what seems to be a very elusive sixth victory, which is needed to become bowl eligible.
After starting the season 5-2, the Orange have dropped four straight -- their latest loss coming last Saturday in a 30-13 drubbing by the University of Cincinnati at the Carrier Dome -- and have yet to find any answers to the question: how can we get back to our winning ways? If SU can somehow find the formula to get back into the win column then it will earn its second consecutive trip to a bowl game.
To do that, the Orange will need to get a solid game from isenior running back Antwon Bailey, who will be playing in his final game at SU and is just two yards shy of the 1,000-yard rushing mark. Also in need of a good showing is junior quarterback Ryan Nassib, who has already set the school's single-season mark for passing attempts (383) and completions (236), but if he plays well could break the school single-season record for passing yards (2,547) and touchdowns (22). Currently, Nassib has 2,460 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Other key players playing in their final game as an Orange will be: senior tight end Nick Provo, who has already broken the school record for receptions by a tight end (46) and needs just five catches to break the all-time career mark for an SU tight end (91); senior wide receiver Alec Lemon, who needs just one catch to break the school record of 60 catches in a season. Last week, Lemon snagged three balls to tie the mark that was previously set by wide receivers Kevin Johnson (1998) and Mike Williams (2007).
Senior defensive end Chandler Jones, who leads the team with 4.5 sacks, will also be making his final start.
As for the Panthers, who are led by first-year head coach Todd Graham and enter the game as 10-point favorites, they are also trying to make something out of a disappointing season, which featured Pittsburgh losing three of its first five Big East contests.
Senior quarterback Tino Sunseri, who has completed 203-of-323 passes for 2,174 yards, leads a Pittsburgh offense that is averaging 25.1 points per game. However, the Panthers have been without their best player, senior running back Ray Graham, who was the Big East's leading rusher until he got hurt Oct. 26 at the University of Connecticut. Since then, running backs Zach Brown and Isaac Bennett have carried the load.
Defensively, the Panthers are solid, as they ranked fifth nationally in sacks per game (3.27) and don't give up a lot of third down conversions (30.9-percent).
Linebacker Max Grunder, who has compiled the league's second-best tackle total of 98, is probably the Panthers best defensive player, while defensive lineman Aaron Donald has posted the league's second-best sack total of 10.
For more on the Syracuse Orange, be sure to check out SB Nation's blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician. If you'd like to learn more about Pittsburgh, SB Nation's Cardiac Hill is where you will find it.