Last week, Syracuse University football fans were getting pretty giddy about the idea of not just earnings bowl berth, but maybe notching upwards of eight victories. Things came crashing back down to reality when the Orange came out flat and conservative against South Florida in a 45-24 loss in Tampa, and now the fate of the season quite possibly hinges on this weekend’s trip to Virginia.
And when the Orange square off against UVA, it’s still pretty unclear what kind of team they’ll be facing. On paper, this is a team that Syracuse should beat. After all, the Hoos are 1-4 and Mike London’s got one of the hottest seats in college football. But the record is a little misleading, since Virginia has taken on one of the most difficult early season schedules in the nation.
Sure, the team’s only win is over William & Mary, but the losses are to UCLA, Notre Dame, Boise State, and Pitt. At first glance, you’d think Pitt is nothing special until you realize even they’re 4-1 right now and have one of the top defenses in the country.
Apparently, Las Vegas has taken notice of both Virginia’s tough schedule (and near upset of Notre Dame) and Syracuse’s struggles last week. The Hoos are favored by seven points, which seems laughable until you remember that South Florida opened last week as a -5 favorite. So when it comes to betting lines, we probably shouldn’t be laughing right now.
That all said, this is a Virginia team that has struggled tremendously this season. The win over William & Mary was a come from behind victory in which the Cavs won 35-29, and they were recently throttled by Boise State in a game it really appeared the team just up and quit on London. According to CBSsports.com, Virginia’s ranked 98th in the nation in overall offense and overall defense. The Hoos rank 109th in the country in rushing offense with just 102.8 yards per game on the ground, and on the other side of the ball have been giving up 272.6 passing yards per game, “good” for 103rd in the nation.
Of course it’s not all bad for Virginia, which features a solid passing game that nets 246.4 passing yards per game. That’s a nightmare for Syracuse fans who have watched the Orange secondary struggle throughout the season, making even mediocre quarterbacks look like All-Conference performers. The bright side is that the Hoos turn the ball over – a lot – with eight interceptions and a pair of lost fumbles. The Hoos have only forced two turnovers – both on fumbles – all season.
Oh, and if you’re curious, Syracuse has fared even worse overall offensively, ranked 105th in the nation, while rating 67th in the country on defense. Obviously there are some reasons for those offensive struggles, including, ya know, having to play four quarterbacks already this season, including a walk-on. That’s going to put a dent in your passing stats, which is really where the Orange get knocked, with the 102nd ranked passing attack in the country (176.4 yards per game). Of course with Eric Dungey fully back and facing a dismal pass defense that doesn’t have a single interception all year, expect those numbers to go up this weekend.
Syracuse will come out of this weekend’s road trip with a record of 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the ACC, or 3-3 overall and 1-1 in conference. If the Orange emerge 3-3, it’s going to be a hell of a difficult task getting to six wins and a bowl berth. The Orange are rapidly running out of winnable games, which will continue looking less winnable if they keep losing to teams they should, theoretically, beat. After this week, the Orange face a stout Pitt defense in the Dome next week, and could find wins against NC State and Boston College (which lost to Wake Forest 3-0 last week, and yes you read that score right), and maybe Louisville.
On the other hand, if the Orange can get a victory this weekend and get to 4-2, the momentum will shift back toward bowl eligibility with only two wins needed to earn a bowl berth. This weekend’s game is crucial, is the point I’m trying to make here. The Orange certainly have the talent to get a win. Now they just need to execute.