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Syracuse or Pittsburgh: Who Will Have More ACC Wins in 2013?


The ACC welcomes two new teams into the fold for 2013, as Syracuse and Pittsburgh join from the Big East.

Syracuse went 8-5 last season but has a new coach (Scott Shafer) and suffered some key personnel departures. Quarterback Ryan Nassib must be replaced, and the defensive has key holes to fill on the line and in the secondary with the departure of safety Shamarko Thomas.

Pittsburgh finally has coaching stability with Paul Chryst, but the Panthers are coming off a 6-7 record in 2012. If Chryst can find the right quarterback – perhaps Rutgers transfer Tom Savage – Pittsburgh could make some noise in the Coastal Division. However, the Panthers need to find a go-to running back, especially after Rushel Shell decided to transfer in the spring.

The 2013 college football season is still over 100 days away, but it’s never too early to start talking predictions and expectations for each team going into 2013.

Athlon Sports’ official college football top 25 countdown for 2013 will begin in early May. With the top 25 and predictions in mind, Athlon’s editors will be debating some of the hottest topics from the preseason throughout April and May. 

Syracuse or Pittsburgh: Who Will Have More ACC Wins in 2013?

David Fox (@DavidFox615)
This may be a race to six wins for both teams, but if either team has a chance to get into the seven- or eight-win range, it’s Pittsburgh. Even though the Panthers start at a two-win disadvantage since last season, the Panthers have a more solid nucleus than Syracuse. Paul Chryst has had a year to install his system and style and mend wounds from all the coaching turmoil since Dave Wannstedt was fired. Scott Shafer has the foundation rebuilt by Doug Marrone, but not the personnel. Although Rushel Shell left Pitt, this offense could be OK. Tom Savage may finally have a home after bouncing from Rutgers to Arizona to Pitt. He had an up-and-down freshman season with Rutgers, but he still finished with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Pittsburgh’s defense also has the potential to be pretty good. Aaron Donald and Jason Hendricks, the two best players , are among nine returning starters for a defense that was one three teams in the Big East to hold opponents to fewer than five yards per play.

Jim Young (@ACCSports)
Both Pitt and Syracuse come into the ACC with a lot of questions, particularly at quarterback. I tend to give the Panthers a slight edge over the Orange simply because they have better continuity on their coaching staff and that their expected starting QB, Rutgers transfer Tom Savage has actually, you know, started. But when in doubt, go to the schedule. The Panthers have to play at FSU, at Georgia Tech and at Virginia Tech. Ouch. Add in tough home games against Miami and UNC and that Pitt has to play Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, and I’ll predict that the Orange ends the 2013 season with more ACC wins. But I doubt either team managed to reach .500 in league play.

Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
Both teams should be excited about entering the ACC but only one has legitimate shot at going bowling in 2013. Syracuse watched one of the most productive quarterbacks in school history, a potential first-round bookend left tackle and its overachieving head coach depart for the NFL. Meanwhile, Pitt welcomes back a head coach for the first time since 2009-10 (Dave Wannstedt). Paul Chryst is an offensive wizard and a developing star in the coaching ranks and he has more talent to work with in 2013 than newbie Scott Shafer. With winnable games in the ACC against Duke, Virginia and Syracuse — despite being in the Carrier Dome — Pitt has an outside shot at four conference victories. Florida State, North Carolina and Miami all come to Heinz Field and fans shouldn't be shocked if Pitt wins one of them. The Orange, on the other hand, have winnable home games with Wake Forest, Boston College and Pittsburgh (as well as an un-winnable one with Clemson) but likely won't register a road ACC win (Florida State, Georgia Tech, NC State, Maryland). I give Chryst and the Panthers an edge in their debut trip through the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Anson Whaley, Founder and Editor of Cardiac Hill, @PittPantherBlog
If you'd asked me this question a month ago, I'd have easily said Pitt. But that was before the departure of running back Rushel Shell, who is transferring out of the program. I'll still say the Panthers, but it's not as definitive. Pitt is breaking in a new quarterback with the loss of Tino Sunseri. That appears to be Arizona transfer senior Tom Savage, but redshirt freshman Chad Voytik had a huge spring game last week that could make the decision of head coach Paul Chryst a bit more difficult. There's also the loss of the team's leading running back and leading receiver, seniors Ray Graham and Mike Shanahan. That's a lot of production to replace and when you couple it with questionable offensive and defensive lines, there's plenty of reason to be concerned. On top of that, I also think the Panthers have the more difficult schedule. Still, the Orange will have their hands full trying to replace quarterback Ryan Nassib and the team's top two receivers from last season, seniors Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. Pitt's secondary also has a chance to be special and I expect the defense to be solid with improved play from the linebackers. I'm not convinced either team has a very good year, but I'll say the Panthers have a slightly better inaugural ACC season than Syracuse.

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Syracuse and Pittsburgh are solid additions for the ACC, but both teams are entering the conference in a state of transition. The Orange lost coach Doug Marrone to the NFL, and quarterback Ryan Nassib, safety Shamarko Thomas and tackle Justin Pugh have all departed. Pittsburgh finally had an offseason of coaching stability, but running back Rushel Shell decided to transfer, leaving the offense without one of its top playmakers.

Although both teams have some significant question marks entering the season, I think Pittsburgh will finish with more ACC wins. Even though the Orange landed Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen at quarterback, the Panthers should be better under center with Tom Savage getting the edge over Chad Voytik. Pittsburgh could also have one of the ACC’s best defenses in 2013, especially in the back seven where six starters from last year return. The Orange have one of the ACC’s top backfields with Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley, but the offensive line is a concern with Pugh and guard Zack Chibane departing. Syracuse also must rebuild its defensive line and find a new go-to receiver with the departure of Alec Lemon.

Coaching stability is a key aspect of this debate, as this is Scott Shafer’s first go-around as a head coach, while Chryst has one year under his belt. 

Mark Ross (@AthlonSports)
Even though Pittsburgh and Syracuse both enjoyed success in their final seasons in the Big East, it will be difficult for either team to build off of what took place in 2012 as they enter the ACC this fall. Both teams experienced heavy personnel losses at key positions, not to mention that Syracuse will be led by a first-year head coach. Even though Pittsburgh opens its season by hosting Florida State, I think the Panthers will navigate Year One in the ACC a little more successfully than Syracuse. The Orange don't play their first ACC game until Oct. 5, but it's against Clemson, a favorite to not only win the conference but also compete for the national title. However, before Syracuse hosts Clemson, the Orange have to get through the Big Ten double-header - home against Penn State, at Northwestern - that they open the season with. This is not exactly the ideal situation to break in a new quarterback and unproven wide receivers. Syracuse may have a slight edge over Pittsburgh when it comes to the depth of their respective divisions in the ACC, but the Panthers have more experience returning on both the field and sidelines and I think they will finish with a better conference record than the Orange this fall. Don't be surprised if this "race" isn't decided until the Nov. 23 meeting between these two in the Carrier Dome.

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