Well, we’re just a little over a week away from kickoff between the Syracuse University football team and the University of Rhode Island in the Carrier Dome. Right now it’s the perfect time to be optimistic, while also holding onto at least some realistic expectations for how the season might play out. Last year’s 3-9 campaign was dismal, but frankly so much went wrong last year that it’s hard to imagine the Orange going anywhere but up this season.
The prognosticators who only look at last year’s record, and ignore the more recent trend of Syracuse slowly but surely regaining respect and becoming competitive again are all pegging Syracuse for another rough season, with predictions ranging from 2-4 wins in most publications. That’s just silly to me, to be honest, but obviously anything is possible. Possible, but hardly probable.
Obviously, a lot of this upcoming season hinges on the health of the team, considering there’s so little proven depth at multiple key positions, including on the offensive and defensive lines and in the secondary. There’s talent, sure, but once you get past the 2-deep, there are certainly a lot of unknowns that we’d probably be better off not having to deal with if there’s going to be any success this season.
Personally, I think the realistic projection for this team is between 5-7 regular season wins, with a ceiling of eight victories. I think most of us would take a 7-5 or and 8-4 season in a heartbeat after last year, wouldn’t we? So let’s break down the schedule based on games we should win, games we’ll probably lose, and everything in between.
There are four opponents who I feel fall into this category, making the predictions of two or three wins by some people who actually get paid to do this stuff especially silly. Rhode Island, Wake Forest, Central Michigan, and South Florida are all schools that fall into this category, with Wake Forest potentially being the most talented of the quartet, while USF might be the toughest to win simply because it’s a road game.
But URI is a mediocre FCS program, and the Orange decimated Central Michigan on the road last year and now host CMU in the Carrier Dome this season. The Orange pummeled Wake last season, on the road, with a guy at QB who started the year as the fourth string signal caller. This year the Deacs are coming to Central New York, and while they’ve certainly got some decent talent, particularly on defense, I just don’t see how the Orange don’t come out on top. South Florida has been pretty abysmal for the past few years, with a record of 9-27 over the last three seasons. Last year they averaged just 17.2 points per game, ranking them 119th nationally in that category. Needles to say, this is a game Syracuse should win.
This is the part where we’ve got to be realistic. Obviously, anything can happen. Believe me, I vividly remember that Louisville game a few years back when the Orange went on the road as 35 point underdogs and beat the Cardinals in their own stadium. I was going a little too nuts in a Buffalo Wild Wings when Max Suter returned a kickoff for a touchdown in that game, and now I think about Kevin Garnett awkwardly shouting “Anything is possible!” after helping the Celtics win a championship and say to myself, “Yes, you maniac, anything is possible.”
But the probability of winning these games is pretty low. The games that fall into this category are LSU, Florida State, and Clemson. You’re talking about three extremely talented, extremely fast, extremely explosive teams against our brand new offense, a generally solid but inconsistent QB, a young and inexperienced defense, and the possibility that a few key injuries could derail the season. I don’t think I’m saying anything ridiculous here by saying that I think we can safely chalk those three games up as losses right now.
Should Probably Win
One game that fits squarely into this category for me is Virginia. Mike London is on an extremely hot seat as the head coach of the Hoos, with three straight losing seasons, including a 5-7 mark last year and a 2-10 record the year before. It’s a road game, which will obviously make it tough. Kind of amazingly, this will be just the fifth time these two teams have met, having split the all-time series 2-2. Virginia has won the last two meetings, in 2004 and 2005, but this will be their first meeting since Syracuse joined the ACC.
Should Probably Lose
I mentioned Louisville earlier with regard to Syracuse’s upset win a few years back, and the Orange could certainly beat the Cards this year. Syracuse always tends to play Louisville tough, but my gut is telling me that this one will probably wind up in the loss column this season. I’ll be sure to say a little prayer to Saint Max Suter, though, in hopes it helps us get the victory.
Who the hell knows, right? These are the games that, frankly, could simply go either way. We’re talking about Pitt, NC State, and Boston College. I could see the Orange winning all three, and I could also see us losing all three. I could see us taking two, or dropping two. I honestly don’t know what to expect in these three games, and chances are we won’t have a clear idea of how we stack up until a few weeks into the season. These are the true toss up games where you just shrug your shoulders because, again: who the hell knows?
I think Syracuse will win at least one of these games, with NC State being the least likely victory. But wins over Pitt and BC are certainly achievable. This is the stretch of games that, in the end, I think will determine our bowl eligibility. And speaking of bowl eligibility…
Big Bold Prediction Time
Should Win: 4-0
Should Lose: 0-3
Probably Win: 1-0
Probably Lose: 0-1
Shrug: Either 2-1, or 1-2
…for a final regular season record of either 7-5 or 6-6. Either one gets us a bowl game, which would be the fourth in the past six years for Syracuse. It’s absolutely a step in the right direction, and should without question get Scott Shafer off of any perceived “hot seat” (I don’t think he’s actually on a hot seat, barring utter disaster this season, by the way). With the young talent on this team, and the strong recruiting classes being put together, I think 2016 will wind up being the year Syracuse starts to really turn things around, and could get back into the Top 25 by 2017, for the first time since 2001.