Pitt became bowl eligible on the final weekend of the regular season, taking advantage of six Syracuse turnovers to win 33-20 on Saturday.
The Panthers (6-6) did not play the prettiest game, but they were far better than the Orange, who only hurt themselves throughout the ball game. Pitt came into the game ranked last in the Big East in turnover margin but finished at plus-5 on the day. Syracuse also had 10 penalties for 95 yards and were simply unable to take advantage of several opportunities to try and win the game.
Down 26-17 in the fourth quarter, Syracuse put together a really nice, long drive -- 19 plays, 83 yards in 9:38. But the Orange had to settle for a field goal. All they needed was to stop Pitt and get one more score. They did stop the Panthers on the next possession after a curious play call on third-and-1 from the Panthers -- Tino Sunseri threw incomplete on a pass after avoiding taking another sack.
But Syracuse, as it had all day, committed a major mistake when Brandon Lindsey got in the face of Ryan Nassib and forced him into giving the ball up. Pitt recovered and scored to essentially put the game out of reach. Nassib threw an interception on the next drive, and Syracuse ended the season on a five-game losing streak, failing to make back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1998-99.
The Orange (5-7, 1-6) collapse has been head-scratching since their huge win over West Virginia in October. The offense simply disappeared in the final five games, and the mistakes added up. Penalties and turnovers were absolute killers.
As for Pitt (6-6, 4-3), the Panthers were actually outgained on offense in this game, and had to settle for field goals several times after failing to score touchdowns in the red zone. Still, they are headed to a bowl. Does this salvage a season that started with such high expectations? At least the Panthers get to play on, and that is what matters most to coach Todd Graham and his players.
The most likely bowl destination is a return trip to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham.