SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) Three straight losses have dealt Syracuse a good dose of reality. Now the Orange faces a familiar foe intent on keeping that midseason skid going.
And for the first time in six years, Pittsburgh will visit the Carrier Dome as a ranked team after breaking into the poll this week at No. 25. That has given the Panthers (5-1, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference), who also have sole possession of first place in the ACC's Coastal Division, a nice confidence boost in coach Pat Narduzzi's first season.
''I think it's huge,'' Pitt quarterback Nate Peterman said. ''It just makes us more motivated than we were before.''
Unlike Syracuse (3-3, 1-1), which played its first four games at home, Saturday's game in the Carrier Dome will be Pitt's fifth road game of the season, its only loss coming at undefeated Iowa on a 57-yard field goal as time expired.
''I don't think that there's another team in the country who has played four out of six games on the road,'' Narduzzi said. ''I think our kids have done a heck of a job reacting.''
The Panthers have thrived on their defense, which is ranked No. 17, yielding just over 300 yards per game. Pitt also is third nationally with 3.67 sacks per game and has 22 on the season for 179 lost yards.
''Pitt has an aggressive defense. They fly around,'' Syracuse offensive coordinator Tim Lester said. ''They're going to be in our face all day, and they're going to be in the backfield because they're relentless. They play with their hair on fire.''
Some things to know when Pitt visits Syracuse on Saturday:
Because of his competitive nature, Syracuse freshman QB Eric Dungey has had a difficult time following suggestions despite missing a game with a head injury after a helmet-to-helmet hit. He's been advised to be smarter with his body in his decision making, but in a triple-overtime loss last week at Virginia he still leaped over a defender and scored as he was hit again in the head by a defender's helmet.
''He makes plays. He goes into his Johnny Manziel wanting to run around,'' Lester said. ''You just keep on showing him the hits he didn't have to take. We called 32 pass plays and he only threw 22 times. That's got to change.''
Narduzzi and Syracuse's Scott Shafer coached together as assistants at Rhode Island (1993-95) and Northern Illinois (2000-02). Expect a pregame smile, a handshake, and not much more.
''It'll be special before the game starts, and after that it's war,'' Narduzzi said.
Now that they're ranked, the Panthers know what's in store.
''What does number 25 mean? Every week games get bigger,'' said Narduzzi, a candidate for the Paul ''Bear'' Bryant Coach of the Year Award. ''Now the target is on your back and they know who you are. You're not going to jump up and surprise anybody.''
Both teams have won and lost close games. Syracuse beat Central Michigan in overtime and the Panthers are 4-1 in games decided by single digits, including last week's 31-28 victory at Georgia Tech. Pitt has won 11 of the past 13 games in the series with Syracuse, but tight games have been the rule. Two of the last three have been decided by a single point - with each team winning.
Since 2002, Pitt has won 25 games with second-half comebacks. In 2013, the Panthers beat Notre Dame 28-21, Syracuse 17-16, and Bowling Green 30-27 (in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl) with second-half rallies.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh and freelance writer Mark Frank in Syracuse contributed to this report.
Follow Kekis on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947