I bet when Syracuse left Winston-Salem soaking wet and on the wrong end of a 28-9 loss, none of you thought a bowl berth was attainable. I’ll level with you: I was about ready to write the season off, as well. It was such a perfect storm (excuse the pun) to smack the Orange that day. The hurricane weather, the head-scratching play calling… It really looked like the season was ready to be written off as one filled with growing pains.
But then something kind of amazing happened. Syracuse knocked off No. 17 Virginia Tech (which, in retrospect, shouldn’t have been surprising considering the Orange have a history of upsetting the Hokies in the Carrier Dome). Add in yesterday’s win against Boston College – in similar (but not as severe, and certainly not identical) weather conditions to that Wake game, and the Orange are 4-4.
Not to steal a line from the Cal Bears, but Syracuse is still in this thing.
It’s going to take one hell of an effort, of course. The rest of the schedule includes home games with NC State and Florida State, and road games at Clemson (coming up after this week’s bye) and a season-ending game at Pittsburgh.
Obviously, carving out two more wins is going to be tough. In order from most winnable to “not a chance in hell, Sparky” the rest of the schedule shakes out like this:
- NC State
- @ Pittsburgh
- Florida State
- @ Clemson
Let’s get one thing out of the way, right off the bat. I know that Syracuse has looked better, overall, the last couple of weeks than it did earlier in the year. The defense is starting to come together (with Daivon Ellison seemingly morphing into Antwan Cordy before our eyes), and the offense has been putting up big numbers on highly touted defenses.
But let’s be real. The odds of Syracuse marching into Death Valley and emerging with a win are astronomically low. I hope I’m wrong here, by the way. I’ll happily admit to Dino Babers that I didn’t look into his heart, and that I didn’t know. It’s not my fault. But a win at Clemson just doesn’t seem remotely feasible.
So for now, let’s toss that one to the side. The Orange have to find two wins to ensure themselves of a bowl berth. Florida State, which once seemed like an unfathomably tall order for an upset, is looking a lot more human these days. After losing to North Carolina on October 1, the Seminoles have beaten Miami on the road (20-19) and Wake Forest at home (17-6).
In those two games, Florida State has had two of its three worst offensive performances of the season. Granted, they still had more than 400 total yards in each game, but it’s certainly worth noting that quarterback Deondre Francois has looked a little more human (while, unfortunately for future opponents, Dalvin Cook has come alive in recent weeks after a slow start to the year, rushing for at least 115 yards in each of the last four games).
It’s going to be extremely difficult to knock off FSU, but it’s not totally out of the question. For now, though, let’s keep that down as a loss. That leaves NC State and Pittsburgh as virtually “must-win” games.
NC State has been arguably the hardest team in the ACC to really get an accurate read on throughout the year. At times they’ve looked good. Other times…not so much. Right now, they’re 4-3, with wins coming against William & Mary, Old Dominion, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame (in a torrential downpour that saw the teams combine for 13 points). Meanwhile, their losses have come to East Carolina (a team that’s currently 2-5 and was absolutely stomped by Virginia Tech), Clemson, and Louisville.
Really, outside of the East Carolina game, that’s not a bad resume, really. Particularly when you factor in that they took Clemson to overtime before losing 24-17.
The Wolfpack have Boston College this next weekend, and Florida State in the week before coming to the Dome on November 12. The Boston College game should hopefully give us a better indication of what type of team we’ll be seeing, though I wouldn’t mind a little bit of extra luck for Syracuse when NC State comes to the Dome. I mean, my birthday is that weekend, after all. That’s got to count for something in the karma department, right?
Finally, Syracuse closes out the regular season at Pittsburgh. Syracuse hasn’t exactly been stellar against Pitt – either at home or on the road – over the last decade. The Panthers have won nine of the last 10 meetings, with the last victory for the Orange coming at the Dome in 2012. Syracuse hasn’t won at Pittsburgh since 2001. In that span, only one game at Pittsburgh has been decided by single digits (a 20-17 loss in 2007…which means that, yes, the guy to keep a Pitt road game the closest in the past 15 years was Greg Robinson).
And unfortunately, Pitt is a lot better this year than I anticipated. I know they were getting quite a bit of preseason hype, but I just didn’t see it. Now, I’m starting to get why. Right now they’re 5-2, with their losses coming at Oklahoma State (by 7) and at North Carolina (by 1). Now, they’re schedule hasn’t been overly impressive – a benefit of playing in the Coastal Division – but they still have Virginia Tech, Miami, and Clemson ahead of them (as well as Duke the week preceding the Syracuse game, but…well, Duke is Duke).
I’m not going to lie to you (much), it’s going to be difficult to get to six wins. There is some good news, though. If Syracuse doesn’t get to six wins, that doesn’t mean a bowl berth isn’t out of the question. Last year three teams with 5-7 records were invited to bowl games (and they happened to go 3-0 in those games, by the way), and it looks like more five win teams will be needed to fill out all of this year’s bowl games, too.
A lot of things need to go right for Syracuse in order to get one of those bids as a five win team, of course. Naturally, one more win is the first step. After that, it’s based on APR (academic progress rate).
That’s right: academics could very well decide Syracuse’s bowl status this year. The good news is, Syracuse has a pretty high APR (973). The bad news is, there are some other teams who could wind up with five wins who rank higher than the Orange in APR. Now, some of those teams won’t reach five wins. Some will get to six or more, so they’ll be taken out of the equation. All Syracuse can do is try to get to at least five wins, and hope for the best.
Or, you know. Maybe we can just rip off four more victories and avoid the nail chewing and stress of trying to claw our way into a bowl game. If the Cubs and the Indians can meet in the World Series, then hell…anything is possible.