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What Pitt, Syracuse Bring to the ACC

By BJ Bennett
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Looking ahead, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will each have to prove themselves within their new affiliation. Looking back, they've more than done enough.

It's tough to project what the ACC is getting on the football field in new additions Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Regional outliers to a certain extent, there is relative unfamiliarity with both the Panthers and the Orange throughout the Commonwealth on down. Transitioning from the Big East into separate ACC divisions, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are each bringing recent inconsistencies to their new home, a trait which ironically fits in quite well.

The Panthers are technically on their sixth head football coach since 2010. A flurry of interims and irregularities have forced Pittsburgh to introduce Phil Bennett, Mike Haywood, Todd Graham, Keith Patterson and Paul Chyrst post Dave Wannstedt, with Chyrst left standing. A former offensive coordinator at both Oregon State and Wisconsin, Chryst fought his way through an up-and-down debut year. After starting the season with a stunning two-touchdown loss to FCS Youngstown State, the Panthers pummeled Virginia Tech two weeks later and scratched and clawed their way to a BBVA Compass Bowl bid.

Entering this fall, Pittsburgh must replace veteran quarterback Tino Sunseri, the school's second all-time leading rusher in Ray Graham and, surprisingly, tailback Rushel Shell, who was established as the next-in-line in the backfield before transferring in the spring. Fittingly for a team in transition, the offense will turn to former Rutgers and Arizona signal caller Tom Savage. Immensely-talented, indecision and injury have slowed his overall progression. Savage's next game, and first with the Panthers, will come against defending conference champion Florida State in primetime Labor Day night.      

Syracuse enters this season with considerable questions of their own. After winning eight games a year ago, the Orange are trying to move forward minus head coach Doug Marrone, now in the same role with the Buffalo Bills, and record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, now with the New York Giants. Former Stanford and Michigan defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, serving in that capacity at Syracuse since 2009, has taken over as head coach. He will look to carry over momentum from the end of last season where the Orange defeated Sugar Bowl champion Louisville, won on the road at SEC foe Missouri and crushed West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl as apart of a four-game win streak to finish the year.      

Shafer's big picture goals must include smoothing out a past decade that includes two ten-loss seasons. The centerpiece of the new attack will be running back Jerome Smith, a junior who rumbled for 1,171 yards in 2012. His backfield partner will likely end up being Oklahoma-transfer Drew Allen. After graduating as a Sooner, Allen has one remaining year of eligibility. He attempted 30 total passes and scored one rushing touchdown during his four-year career at OU. 

Looking ahead, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will have to prove themselves within their new affiliation. Looking back, they've more than done enough. 

In terms of archived accomplishments and past personnel, the Panthers and Orange both bring real credibility to a conference long in need of a greater historical measure. Pittsburgh and Syracuse join Florida State and Miami as the only schools in the league with both a Heisman Trophy and a national championship on their resume. Together they have combined for 1,383 total victories, with each program ranking in the top 20 in all-time wins.  

Pittsburgh claims nine national championships, as many as Georgia Tech and Miami combined, the most titles of any team in the league. Three of those crowns were worn by legendary coaching icon Pop Warner. Since the creation of the AP poll in 1936, the Panthers have been ranked number one in the nation in six different seasons. Pitt has won the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, among others. 

Few schools have a gridiron alumni base this strong. Pittsburgh has the 11th most College Football Hall of Famers of any program in history, the eighth most consensus All-Americans and the third most Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees. Retired numbers include those of Joe Schmidt, Mike Ditka, Tony Dorsett, Hugh Green, Mark May and Dan Marino. An argument can be made the best offensive player, Larry Fitzgerald, and defensive player, Darrelle Revis, in the NFL today are from Pitt.

Syracuse begins their debut season in the ACC with the most career wins of any school in the league. The 1959 national champions, the Orange have recorded remarkable postseason success, winning 11 of their last 14 bowl games dating back to 1989. Syracuse plays in one of the most unique venues in all of college football, the Carrier Dome. It is the largest on-campus domed stadium, with the field now dedicated to the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.

Davis included, Syracuse is home to a number of the most heralded individuals to ever play the game. He, Jim Brown, Floyd Little and Larry Csonka all played running back for the Orange, with Davis, Brown and Little each wearing the number 44. Syracuse, in 2005, retired the number, which is also reflected at the end of the university's zip code. Quarterbacks Don McPherson and Donovan McNabb and receivers Art Monk and Marvin Harrison are among other standout Orange alum.

For both Pittsburgh and Syracuse, outside expectations for this fall are somewhat-modest. These are teams that, right now, may not bring much national appeal. These are programs, however, that undoubtedly will.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: / Twitter: @BJBennettSports