Pitt, Syracuse Need Big East Wins

Pitt's Dave Wannstedt and Syracuse's Greg Robinson joined the collegiate coaching ranks four years ago and have had difficult times rebuilding once proud football programs.

But that's where the similarities end. Pittsburgh is 18-20 under Wannstedt, including 2-1 this season, while the Orange is a dismal 8-31 under Robinson and 1-3 this fall. Robinson seemingly could be fired any day now, particularly after his athletic director, Daryl Gross, trashed him on ESPN.com this week.

Pitt visits Syracuse Saturday at noon at the Carrier Dome in the Big East opener for both teams. The Panthers have beaten the Orange the past three seasons, including 20-17 last year. Both coaches need a win, but they really haven't discussed their plight lately.

"I see him at the league meetings for a day or two, but you don't talk much about programs,'' Wannstedt said. "For me to talk about it now, I mean, we don't have enough time. Those things happen.''

Robinson basically deflected the question as well.

"You just deal with it,'' Robinson said. "I could get into a long philosophical thing, but I'm not interested in doing that right now. It's really not about that. It's about getting ready to play Pitt. If we can get to 1-0 in the Big East with a bye coming up, I think that's helpful to us. That's really what my focus is on.''

Paul Pasqualoni, Robinson's predecessor, had just one losing season in 14 years at Syracuse. Walt Harris, the coach before Wannstedt at Pitt, made five straight bowl games. Neither current coach has a bowl appearance since they took over, and their teams are the only ones in the Big East who haven't made the post-season.

Those who follow the Pitt and Syracuse football programs believe their respective coaches are too conservative and run their programs like the NFL teams they previously coached. They want to play physical defense, but not too aggressive, and try to slug it out on offense with a power running game instead of opening it up.

That's why this game is so important. Pitt certainly is more talented than Syracuse and would take a big hit in the image department if it loses. A win by the Orange might not save Robinson's job, but it would get him a stay.

"The conference, that's what it's all about,'' Pitt fifth-year senior wideout Derek Kinder said. "That's the main goal for us right now, winning the Big East, so we're looking forward to that part of our schedule. I follow the scores of the other teams, and I see what's going on. But I'll be focused on Syracuse.''

Pitt fifth-year senior middle linebacker Scott McKillop agreed and believed that the Panthers will not look past the Orange since it's a Conference game.

"We do hear what's said about the Big East,'' McKillop said. "The Little East, the Big Joke, and we do take it into consideration. So, we want to play hard for the University of Pittsburgh, but also for the Big East. It's important for us to represent both our school and our conference in the best way that we can.

"Syracuse won't be an easy game, no matter what they've done the past few weeks. Everybody's 0-0 so far, and Syracuse can still win the Big East. ... They beat Louisville last year, and we didn't. So, we need to stay focused. If we don't, they'll take care of business, and we can't let that happen.''

Pitt sophomore tailback LeSean McCoy believed the Panthers were close to turning things around on offense and with the program.

"We're 2-1 and going into the Conference games, so we want to set the tone with a win this week to open the Big East,'' McCoy said. "We're close on offense, but we still need a lot of work. ... I think we're just missing those big plays that we need. I definitely think we're pretty close.

"But we still need more work to get where we want to be. Hopefully, we'll do a lot better against Syracuse. I think we can dominate and set the tone against Syracuse. But they're actually not a bad defense. Maybe not in the stats, but on film it shows that they're physical and they have some athletes.''

So, something will have to give when Pitt and Syracuse meet Saturday.

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