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Syracuse at Pittsburgh Updated Odds & Pick: Can the New-Look Orange Defense Keep it Close? (Saturday, Sept. 19)

Credit:

Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Tommy DeVito and John Morgan.

  • The Pittsburgh Panthers play host to the Syracuse Orange at Heinz Field on Saturday in the renewal of a long-standing rivalry between former-Big East and current-ACC conference foes.
  • Pitt is fresh off a thorough dismantling of Austin Peay, while the new-look Syracuse defense more-or-less held its own for three quarters against UNC's vaunted passing attack.
  • BJ Cunningham breaks down odds for Saturday's matchup and argues why Syracuse could keep this game closer than the public may otherwise expect.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh Odds

Syracuse Odds +21 [BET NOW]
Pittsburgh Odds -21 [BET NOW]
Moneyline +900/-1667 [BET NOW]
Over/Under 49 [BET NOW]
Time Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET
TV ACC Network

Odds updated as of Saturday morning and via Parx, which offers new customers a 20% profit boost + $500 risk-free wager on their first bet AND your bets automatically sync to the Action app. Learn more about BetSync here.


Syracuse looks to rebound from its terrible fourth quarter against North Carolina in which it allowed three touchdowns and 117 yards on only 10 plays. The Orange held one of the most explosive offenses in the country in check for most of the game, which was a promising sign for a defense that was pegged to be one of the worst in the ACC.

Pittsburgh started its season off in style, routing Austin Peay, 55-0. Kenny Pickett threw for 354 yards and six touchdowns, while the defense held the Governors to 2.49 yards per play. However, the Panthers will have a more difficult test on both sides of the ball this week.

The rivalry between these two teams dates all the way back to 1916 and has been an annual fixture since 1955. Pittsburgh has won six of the last seven meetings against Syracuse, so the Orange will be looking to enact some revenge in this rivalry.


Check out our free NCAAF odds page, which automatically surfaces the best line for every game.


Pittsburgh Panthers

Offense

Last season, the Panthers made an offensive transition away from their usual ground-and-pound game to more of an aerial attack. They threw the ball 55.9% of the time in 2019, compared to only 37.9% in 2018. However, it didn’t help much, as the Panthers ranked 105th in passing success and 121st in passing explosiveness.

Pickett returns for his senior season after throwing for 3,098 yards in 2019. However, he only produced 13 touchdowns through the air. Additionally, his yards per attempt was below average last season by FBS standards, sitting at 6.61. He will also have to deal with the loss of his top receiver, Maurice Ffrench, who left for the NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh’s ground attack took a step back in 2019 with the increased focus on the passing game. The Panthers ran the ball for only 3.5 yards per attempt and ranked 104th in rushing effectiveness. They bring back their entire offensive line, which includes three All-ACC players from last season. So, there’s a chance we see Pittsburgh return to its ground attack against the Orange.

Defense

The defensive side of the ball is where the Panthers excelled last year, and they are poised to be one of the best defenses in the ACC in 2020.

The Panthers bring back eight starters on a defense that ranked in the top 30 in defensive passing and rushing success last season. The Panthers also ranked eighth in havoc. This defense is no joke.

Pittsburgh will have to deal with the loss of its best defensive lineman, Jaylen Twyman, who opted out of the season. The Panthers still have plenty of talent on defense, including two of the best safeties in the ACC in Paris Ford and Damar Hamlin, who combined for 21 pass breakups and 181 tackles last year.

Pittsburgh’s defense allowed 137 yards — including only one rushing yard — against Austin Peay last week, but it likely won’t be able to repeat those numbers against Tommy DeVito and the Syracuse offense.

Syracuse Orange

Offense

Tommy DeVito struggled against North Carolina, going 11-of-31 for only 112 yards through the air. But in Devito’s defense, he’s forced to play behind a horrible offensive line that’s still trying to find some continuity. The Orange struggled to run the ball against North Carolina as well, gaining only 1.9 yards per carry. Syracuse is without its top-three running backs from 2019 following Moe Neal’s graduation and opt-outs from Jarveon Howard and Abdul Adams. So, much of Syracuse’s offensive success will have to come through the air this season.

Syracuse’s passing attack may have lacked consistency last year, but it was explosive. The Orange ranked 34th in passing explosiveness but must replace three of their top-four pass-catchers from last season. They do bring back a deep group of tight ends, which could be key for DeVito’s success this season. One real positive trait about DeVito is that he isn’t going to hurt Syracuse’s offense via careless mistakes. He hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 201 attempts dating back to last season.

Syracuse is probably going to have trouble moving the ball against one of the best defenses in ACC, but if it can find a way to protect DeVito, then the Orange should be able to stay in this game.

Defense

Syracuse made a big change to its defensive scheme by switching to a 3-3-5 this offseason. It was pretty effective against North Carolina for the first three quarters, allowing only 5.76 yards per play and forcing three turnovers. The defensive line and linebacking corps is a problem for the Orange heading into the season, but their real strength lies in the secondary. They return three of their top players in the back end, including the FBS’ active interception leader, Andre Cisco.

The 3-3-5 formation allows Syracuse to emphasize its best position group on defense. After getting their feet wet playing in a 3-3-5 base defense in Week 1, the Orange should be able to hold Pittsburgh’s underwhelming passing attack in check.

Betting Analysis & Pick


Check out our new CFB PRO Report, where we highlight factors that provide betting edges — like large wagers, historically profitable betting systems, model projections and expert picks — that when combined with sharp money can powerfully detail the smartest bets on a given slate.


The difference in this game is going to be Syracuse’s secondary against Pittsburgh’s passing attack. If Syracuse can hold the Panthers in check, the Orange will hang around despite its suspect offense. I have Pittsburgh projected at -14.85, so I think 21.5 points is too much to lay on an offense that wasn’t efficient or explosive last year. I’m going to back Syracuse at +22 and would play it down to +17.

Pick: Syracuse +21.5 (play down to +17).

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