Predicting what is going to happen in the ACC Coastal Division is hardly an easy task. The division has had six different champions reach the ACC Championship Game in the last six years. This year, Pitt (5-2, 2-1 ACC) is hoping to become the second team in the division to play in back-to-back ACC Championship Games, joining Virginia Tech (2007, 2008). On Friday night, a 27-20 victory at Syracuse (3-4, 0-3 ACC) helped keep that goal alive.
Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett passed for 232 yards and two touchdowns, with six of those receptions being hauled in by Maurice Ffrench (92 yards, 1 TD). The Panthers held a 24-6 lead at halftime and had to hold off a rally by Syracuse. Among the highlights for Pitt was a lateral back to Pickett, who connected deep Aaron Matthews early in the game. The play had to be reviewed as an illegal double forward pass penalty was originally flagged by the ACC official. Replay correctly overturned the call and awarded Pitt the go-ahead touchdown. The Panthers never trailed the rest of the night.
Since losing their road game at Penn State in non-conference play in Week 3, Pitt has rattled off four consecutive wins, beginning with an upset of UCF. One more non-conference win against Delaware led into back-to-back ACC wins against Duke and Syracuse. The victory against Duke was key because the Blue Devils are a division opponent. And the quick decline of Syracuse this season made for an easier road game than perhaps was to be expected before the season started (Syracuse won 10 games last year and is now in jeopardy of missing out on bowl eligibility).
Pitt now gets ready for a key stretch of division games that could ultimately determine if the Panthers can get a second crack at an ACC title (likely against Clemson). Next up will be Miami, next week in Pittsburgh. Pitt upset the Hurricanes in western Pennsylvania two seasons ago, dealing a near-fatal blow to Miami’s College Football Playoff hopes (Clemson put the Hurricanes to rest in the ACC Championship Game). If the Panthers can get the win against Miami, the remaining schedule has some favorable draws with road games against struggling Georgia Tech (1-5) and Virginia Tech (4-2, but a far from encouraging 4-2) and home games against UNC and Boston College (both schools are 3-3 coming into the week).
Pitt would lose out on a head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia but does own the tiebreaker with Duke. Pitt fans will be watching to see what happens between Duek and Virginia Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville. A Duke win would, essentially, put Pitt in the driver’s seat.
We may still get some ACC Coastal Chaos, but Pitt has played themselves into a bit of a decent spot within the division race.