Cohen: Syracuse, Pittsburgh game has ACC implications as teams transition from Big East

first_img Published on October 5, 2012 at 2:59 am On July 16, Syracuse received the details of the pseudo-audition. There would be 12 phases scattered between September and December, with some at night and others during the day. Some indoors and others exposed to the elements.The objective each week remained the same, though the obstacles varied in prowess. Some were mountains (Southern California), while others were molehills (Stony Brook).Its opponent in this rat race for approval is Pittsburgh, both literally — Friday night inside the Carrier Dome on ESPN — and figuratively on a week-to-week basis as each of the 12 football members of the Atlantic Coast Conference keeps a watchful eye on its future brethren.By reaching $7.5-million settlement agreements with the Big East in July to ensure entrance into the ACC for the 2013-14 academic year, Pittsburgh and Syracuse kick-started the season-long tryout whose ultimate prize is football acceptance by the big boys in Tallahassee, Coral Gables and Clemson.Friday’s game in front of a national-television audience is a showdown of sorts, with the winner entering the ACC in a slightly elevated status while the loser is truly the rookie carrying shoulder pads. And after unsightly starts by both Syracuse (1-3) and Pittsburgh (2-2), an added sense of urgency should fill the Carrier Dome as the pressure of making a good impression is heaped on top of the game’s final result.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“We have the clean slate (with Big East play), and it just makes us feel like we have to work harder, very hard,” SU sophomore safety Durrell Eskridge said. “So when we do get out of the Big East, we can go into the ACC with a name.”While other Syracuse players spewed cliches throughout the week about focusing only on Pittsburgh and ignoring outside distractions on television, Twitter or Facebook, Eskridge spoke candidly — bluntly, even — about distractions and how the Orange compared to some of its previous opponents.He said there is “a lot of down talk” about the program as a result of the 1-3 record and that critics believe some of Syracuse’s previous opponents “weren’t supposed to be out on the field with us at all.”When asked how it made him feel to hear members of the media or people on campus say that teams like USC, Northwestern or Minnesota shouldn’t have been on the same field as the Orange, his response was shocking.“I could totally agree with them,” he said. “So it makes me feel better (about the losses), but at the same time I really don’t try to buy into that at all. I know they ain’t supposed to be on the field with us.”It makes Big East play in 2012 a crucial proving ground to dispel the notion that the Pinstripe Bowl season was merely an outlier between two subpar seasons that more accurately reflect Syracuse’s curve of best fit. Avoiding another bottom-of-the-barrel finish — especially after zero impressive nonconference wins — is imperative if the Orange hopes to be taken seriously in the ACC.The Panthers, though, haven’t been much better. A true case of Jekyll and Hyde, Pittsburgh opened the season with a horrifying 14-point loss to Youngstown State, a Football Championship Series team that made its last postseason appearance in 2006. Pittsburgh then fell victim to a 24-point shellacking at the hands of Cincinnati before rebounding to knock off then-No. 13 Virginia Tech and leave critics across the country profoundly puzzled.It adds a level of intrigue to Friday’s contest, which is on display for all to see in primetime. A turnover-fest replete with ugly football and little excitement could be potentially embarrassing for the ACC, not to mention unappealing to recruits for both schools.“Everybody is going to be watching,” SU sophomore linebacker Cameron Lynch said. “Facebook is going to be blowing up, Twitter, this is national. You know you’ve got to put on and handle your business.”Friday night, then, presents a unique opportunity for Syracuse to separate itself from Pittsburgh with a win and enter the ACC one peg up on the totem pole. A loss would be just another sucker punch to a program that is winless in its last nine games against schools from the power conferences, another hurdle to jump as SU tries to entrench itself in a new region of the country next year.Head coach Doug Marrone said he hadn’t thought about the game from that perspective, focusing solely on improving his team each day in practice. It was a predictable response — one fans and the media have come to expect from Marrone the workaholic.But perhaps this time it would have been all right to peek ahead and think about the ways in which a win against Pittsburgh could slingshot the program. How a positive result would right the ship in 2012 and propel it forward for 2013 with a boost in reputation against its newest rival.A loss on Friday certainly wouldn’t break the program, especially if Syracuse plays well in a losing effort. But it could definitely help make the program, and Eskridge knows it.“It would really turn the knob tremendously,” Eskridge said. “It really would put a name out there for us, and say we’re coming into the Big East ready to fight.”Michael Cohen is a staff writer at The Daily Orange, where his column appears occasionally. He can be reached at mjcohe02@syr.edu, or follow him on Twitter at @Michael_Cohen13. Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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