Over the summer, pretty much every Syracuse fan everywhere has been picking over the schedule, looking for any way possible for the Orange to get to six wins, and with those six wins, a bowl game. The schedule has been viewed as daunting. After (nearly) a full week of games, let’s take another look and see if we’ve got a better idea of where those six wins could come from.
The Cardinals thrashed Charlotte (and former Syracuse commit Robert Washington, who rushed for 33 yards on six carries in his college debut) 70-14. Louisville is up this week for the Orange, and at least based on this one result, the hype around Lamar Jackson – who accounted for eight touchdowns – is only going to keep growing.
Now obviously, Charlotte isn’t exactly a world beater. This is only the program’s second season, and they went 2-10 last year. Middle Tennessee State put 73 points on them in 2015, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves too much in thinking this game will tell us anything about the Cardinals. Syracuse gets the Cards at home, and after a bit of a shaky start for the Orange defense against Colgate, that unit looks like it’s got the potential to wind up being solid. That said – this game is still going to be incredibly difficult. It’s hard for me to go beyond “potential upset” and put it in the win column.
Like the Cardinals, South Florida started off the year against a less than stellar opponent in Towson. The Bulls won big, 56-20 against the FCS opponent. But hey – at least they actually beat their lower-tier opposition, unlike some schools (ahem…Virginia). Things are pretty much in the same place they were with South Florida in terms of Syracuse’s ability to come away with a win. As in, likely still a toss up game.
The Bulls put up 444 yards of total offense while giving up 292 to Towson (a solid FCS team, finishing 7-4 last season). They also turned the ball over twice, but forced four turnovers and held the Tigers to 2.6 yards per carry as a team and just a 39% completion rate in the passing game. This one is still firmly in the “possible win” category.
Remember when some people were talking about UConn being a tough game for Syracuse? Frankly, I never really got that. Sure, Connecticut got to a bowl game last year, but outside of beating Houston, the rest of their wins came against lousy teams. And the Huskies nearly started the season off with what would have been a pretty humiliating loss to Maine, edging them 24-21. UConn needed a field goal with 11 seconds left to get the win.
Maine couldn’t run the ball on UConn but they did a solid job passing, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt – and 14.2 yards per completion. Maine’s passing attack finished with 269 yards (on 19-of-33 passing) with two touchdowns and no interceptions. If the Huskies can’t stop Maine’s passing attack, what hope do they have against Eric Dungey and the Dino Babers offense? I’m chalking this one up as a win.
The Irish play against Texas tonight, in a game that, sadly, has to have a winner. When either Texas or Notre Dame wins, we all lose. The Irish are still in the “probable loss” column but since they haven’t played yet this week, we’ll reserve final judgement.
Just like with UConn, it’s hilarious to me that people have been putting the Deacs down as a potential loss for Syracuse. The folks over at ESPN have projected a bowl berth and placed Wake ahead of Syracuse in the preseason ACC projections, which is baffling when you consider the Orange haven’t lost to the Deacs since joining the conference. Particularly given how hilariously inept they looked in their season opening 7-3 win over Tulane.
Wake hasn’t been over .500 since 2008, and if that first game is any indication, they won’t be this year, either. I know they won, but it almost feels like it was by accident. The Deacs passed for just 96 yards and the run game was even worse. Only 79 yards on the ground and 2.3 yards per carry against Tulane. Sure, the defense nearly pitched a shutout. But Tulane isn’t Syracuse on offense. This is still firmly in the “win” column for me.
The final margin for the season opener for the Hokies is a little misleading. The Hokies topped mighty Liberty 36-13, but trailed 13-10 at one point in the game before Virginia Tech scored 26 unanswered to end the game. In fairness, Liberty was basically unable to move the ball, taking advantage of four Hokie turnovers to get that lead, and it was also the first game under new head coach Justin Fuente.
Before the season, I always felt like this was in the same category as the USF game, in that it’ll wind up being a toss up game. I still think that’s accurate, but it’s certainly very winnable. The Orange will have to work hard to shut down wide receiver Isaiah Ford, though. The wideout had 11 catches for 117 yards. Noteworthy, though, is the fact that the Hokies struggled mightily to get anything going on the ground.
I’ll actually give Boston College a little bit of credit: they actually moved the ball a little bit on offense in a season opening loss to Georgia Tech. And their defense looked solid against a Tech team many feel is headed to a bowl game this year. With Syracuse playing at BC this year, I’ve got to be honest, this game looks like it could be a little more challenging than I had anticipated, assuming running back Jon Hilliman stays healthy.
Hilliman – who you might remember missed last year’s game against Syracuse – rushed for 102 yards on 17 carries against Georgia Tech. The Eagles also threw for 176 yards, though both of their touchdowns came in the rushing game. I’m still putting this in the “win” column, but not quite as emphatically as I did before the season.
The Tigers beat Auburn 19-13 in what pretty much everyone can agree was an underwhelming performance. Heisman hopeful Deshaun Watson looked pretty mediocre, and the Tigers very nearly blew the game down the stretch. But let’s be honest: this is still firmly in the “probable loss” category, especially since it’s on the road.
That said – if Clemson continues to play like they did against Auburn, and Syracuse starts putting things together as the year goes on – an upset isn’t totally out of the question.
Another team that opened with an FCS opponent, NC State beat William & Mary 48-14 in their season debut. The Pack put up some big numbers, piling up 521 yards in the game. That includes a 17-of-21 passing performance from quarterback Ryan Finley, who threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolfpack also piled up 259 rushing yards, scoring five times on the ground.
William & Mary is a solid FCS level team, having finished 9-4 last year and nearly knocking off Virginia in 2015. Hey speaking of Virginia, let’s keep remembering they lost to Richmond this past weekend. Richmond beat William & Mary twice in 2015. Why couldn’t UVA be on our schedule this year? Anyway, back to NC State. This has always been another toss up game. The Pack’s offense in the opener indicates we could see a shootout in the Dome on November 12. In a shootout, though, I like SU. It’s a toss up, but I’m leaning toward a Syracuse victory.
Like Notre Dame, FSU has yet to play. We’ll see how they do against Ole Miss on Monday night, but this is obviously still in the “probable loss” column.
Syracuse’s final regular season opponent beat Villanova 28-7 in their season opener. As much as I hate the Panthers, it was cool to see James Conner come back from beating cancer by scoring two touchdowns in that victory. That said – the 28 points that Pitt put on the board are a little misleading, as the Panthers had a little bit of trouble moving the ball.
Pitt mustered just 261 yards of total offense, with only 86 of those coming on the ground. Quarterback Nathan Peterman connected on 19-of-32 passes for 175 yards, and Pitt took advantage of a couple turnovers and a kickoff return for a touchdown to get that final margin. It should be noted that Villanova only scored on a returned fumble, too, so the Pitt defense was looking pretty stout. Of course, this isn’t the same Villanova team that gave SU trouble a couple years ago. The Wildcats finished 6-5 in 2015, so they’re not exactly the FCS title contender they were when Syracuse played them.
If this game were at the Carrier Dome, I’d probably mark it in the “probable win” category but as it’s on the road, I’m still a little hesitant. It remains in the toss up category for now, though if the offense for Pitt doesn’t get any better, I’m going to start feeling better and better about Syracuse’s chances for a win.