PITTSBURGH -- Finally, Pittsburgh (No. 13 BCS, No. 14 AP) can look ahead to Notre Dame, West Virginia and Cincinnati. Even if it seemed the Panthers were already doing exactly that during most of the first half against Syracuse.
Greg Williams' 51-yard interception return for a touchdown just before halftime got slow-starting Pittsburgh going, and the Panthers extended their best start to a season since 1982 by beating Syracuse 37-10 on Saturday.
Dion Lewis ran for 110 yards and a touchdown for the freshman's sixth 100-yard game, tight end Dorin Dickerson caught his 10th touchdown pass this season and the Panthers (8-1, 5-0 in Big East) won their fifth in a row heading into next Saturday's game against Notre Dame (No. 22 BCS, No. 19 AP).
"It is a big game. We've got to have a good week of practice, bring our `A' game and we can't start off slowly like we did today," Lewis said. "We've got to keep coming."
Bill Stull was 16 of 23 for 225 yards and no interceptions as the Panthers, who last were 8-1 in Dan Marino's senior season 27 years ago, set themselves up for a possible Big East title-deciding game against Cincinnati (No. 5 BCS, No. 4 AP) on Dec. 5.
If the Bearcats beat Connecticut on Saturday night and West Virginia on Friday, the Cincinnati-Pitt game will determine the conference's BCS bowl participant regardless of the Pitt-West Virginia result on Nov. 27.
"Now we've got three tough games and we'll take them one by one," defensive lineman Gus Mustakas said.
Pitt played much of the first half as if it couldn't wait to begin its difficult closing stretch, leading 6-3 until Williams intercepted a pass by Greg Paulus that was tipped by Jabaal Sheard for his third career touchdown with 1:20 left in the half. Pitt outscored Syracuse 24-7 after that.
"I think we did a good job of keeping our feet on the ground, knowing the importance of this conference game putting us 5-0, coming out and not taking nothing for granted," coach Dave Wannstedt said. "We got it going in the second half."
Lewis, lightly recruited in prep school last season but fourth nationally in rushing with 1,139 yards, finished off a 55-yard drive by scoring from the 1 early in the third quarter to make it 20-3. His 78 points on 13 touchdowns tie Tony Dorsett (1973) for the second most by a Pitt freshman, trailing only LeSean McCoy's 90 points two seasons ago.
"My teammates and coaches expect me to make big plays and that's what I'm out there doing," said Lewis, who has surpassed former Big East backs such as Steve Slaton, Ray Rice, Amos Zereoue and Kevin Jones in freshman-season rushing.
Paulus to Williams normally is a productive combination for Syracuse (3-6, 0-4), which lost its 29th in its last 32 Big East games. But the Orange clearly missed leading receiver Mike Williams, who quit the team on Monday after averaging 106.6 yards receiving per game.
Neither Paulus (12 of 18, 120 yards, 2 interceptions) nor backup Ryan Nassib (5 of 16, 21 yards, 1 interception) did much as Delone Carter's 143 yards rushing represented most of Syracuse's offense. The Orange came into the game ranked 106th in offense.
"We didn't execute, we didn't score and that's disappointing," Carter said.
Syracuse not only played without Williams and three suspended players -- running back Antwon Bailey, defensive end Torrey Ball and guard Andrew Tiller -- but tight end Cody Catalina (knee) and safety Max Suter (arm) didn't return after being injured in the first half.
"We only traveled with 55 players," coach Doug Marrone said. "Some of those injuries forced us to come out of our packages. That obviously limited us on both sides of the ball."
Pitt won its fifth in a row and seventh in eight games in the series. Syracuse has lost its last nine to ranked opponents.
The Panthers led 481-285 in yardage and have a 967-497 edge while winning their last two games by a combined 78-24, beating South Florida 41-14 on Oct. 24. Pitt ran for 247 yards against a Syracuse defense that came in allowing an average of 88.9. The Panthers also had six sacks, giving them 39 for the season.
Dickerson, who had two career TD catches coming into his senior season, leads all major college tight ends with his 10 touchdowns -- the most by any Pitt receiver since Greg Lee had 10 in 2004.
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