It’s almost hard to believe it, but the Syracuse spring game is nearly upon us. This Friday night, Orange fans will be able to get their first real look at Syracuse as it gets ready for year three under Dino Babers. So just what kind of success can we realistically expect?
To get things started right off the bat, and to keep our expectations within reason, we can probably rule out a national championship run. As much as we’d love to see the Orange run the table, the odds are against us. Like, literally. Sports betting sites like NetBet have the odds at 226-to-1 right now for the Orange (which, to be honest, is actually a little better than I’d have anticipated) – the same odds as Purdue and Minnesota, to put things in perspective.
But the Orange do have a relatively favorable schedule lined up for 2018, and the prospect of a healthy Eric Dungey… well, for now, at least. The good news there is that, if Dungey does fail to make it through another season unscathed (though he’s reportedly continued bulking up to try to prevent that), we’ve got an Elite 11 finalist as his primary backup in Tommy DeVito, so the drop off should be far less substantial.
Looking at the schedule, though, the Orange open up the season with a couple manageable non-conference opponents. Western Michigan will likely be tough, especially since the game is on the road, but it’s a game that Syracuse should win if it has any chance at making some noise this year. That game is followed up with Wagner, which will almost certainly be a big-time blowout, barring an Appalachian State/Michigan level upset.
The interesting part of this year’s schedule, for me at least, is the fact that Syracuse squares off against probably the two best teams on its schedule – Florida State and Clemson – early on. Florida State visits Syracuse in just the third week of the season. The Orange face Clemson on the road two weeks later. In between them, UConn makes the trip to the Carrier Dome for another winnable game.
So even though the Orange take on Clemson (a 9-to-1 bet to win the national championship, per NetBet) and Florida State (41-to-1) before the end of September, there’s still a very solid chance that Syracuse could head into October at 3-2 and with its two most difficult games (theoretically) behind them.
And that means that Syracuse has a better chance of building positive momentum early, and heads into the back stretch of the schedule – which is actually, at least on paper, the easier portion – halfway to bowl eligibility.
Pitt and North Carolina are next on the schedule, with a bye week in between. Both teams are pegged as 401-to-1 to win it all, meaning that at least for now, Syracuse should be favored in both games. Granted, the Pitt game is on the road, but that’s still a game that Syracuse should have an excellent chance to win.
North Carolina State visits upstate New York the week after UNC, and that’s a game where the Orange are, for now at least, probably considered the underdog. Sticking with national championship odds, NetBet has the Wolfpack set as 126-to-1 to win the championship.
A road game at Wake Forest follows (151-to-1), home for a Lamar Jackson-less Louisville (301-to-1), and then the Orange have one of their most difficult games of the season (Notre Dame, sitting on 34-to-1 odds to win it all) before closing things out at Boston College, which is another extremely winnable (501-to-1) game.
For now, let’s put Florida State, Clemson, and Notre Dame in the “probable loss” column, even though if last year taught us anything, it’s that Syracuse can and very well may shock one of those opponents. Let’s also put the other three non-conference games (WMU, Wagner, UConn) in the win column. That’s 3-3 right there. Let’s go ahead and split North Carolina and NC State, bringing the record to 4-4.
That leaves Wake Forest, Louisville, Pitt, and Boston College to find at least two wins and earn bowl eligibility. Call me crazy, but I think that the Orange can win three, or even all four, of those games.
Is an 8-win season realistic? Well… it’s not unrealistic. This year’s schedule sets up pretty favorably, if the Orange can address some of last year’s issues, from the run game to the offensive line to Eric Dungey’s health to the secondary.
Obviously, the defense faces a tall order in replacing its linebacking corps, but there’s certainly talent on the roster at those positions. The secondary should take a step forward, particularly when Trill Williams joins the fray. He has a chance to make an immediate impact. And I’m extremely high on Iffy Melifonwu, with his combination of size and athleticism.
Maybe I’m drinking the Kool-Aid, but man… I look at that schedule and I firmly believe that Syracuse is going bowling this season. As many as nine wins are possible, and anything less than six would be an extreme disappointment. Folks, I’m just going to go ahead and say it: we’re right around the “8 wins or bust” threshold. Buckle up.