After starting out 3-0, and having seemingly found a dynamic quarterback in Eric Dungey, there are a lot of Syracuse University football fans starting to think some expectations are about to be defied by the Orange. On the flip side, of course, there are people who point to the 3-0 start and note that the team needed overtime to beat Central Michigan and looked abysmal once Dungey was taken out, but for now we’ll focus on the people with the positive outlook.
It’s understandable to get a little excited about the prospects for Syracuse, at least assuming Dungey comes back healthy after that vicious hit he took against Central Michigan. It’s pretty safe to assume he probably suffered a concussion, which means the odds are skewed toward him missing this weekend’s game against LSU. The good news is that after LSU, the Orange have a bye week that will allow guys like Dungey and Erv Philips to get back to full strength, as well as anyone else currently nursing any nagging injuries.
It’s also hard to argue against the fact that, while Dungey was in the game against CMU, the Orange offense looked tantalizingly good. The option was working to perfection, and Dungey used his ability to sell ball fakes to drop a perfectly thrown ball to Steve Ishmael for a 62 yard gain. Obviously it’s still a young team, and Dungey is still in the process of getting his feet wet, but things were definitely trending in the right direction with Dungey under center, operating Tim Lester’s potentially explosive offense.
Along with Dungey, young players like Jordan Fredericks and Dontae Strickland have begun to emerge; Fredericks in particular. Strickland hasn’t touched the ball much, but he’s ripped off a couple long touchdowns in his limited snaps and looks like the explosive playmaker we all hoped for when watching his high school highlights.
So with all of that said, should the expectations for the year be altered? Are the Orange suddenly not just a bowl team, but a team that could win 8 or 9 games this year?
To be honest, I’m in the camp that believes we’re pretty much exactly where we should have realistically been anyway, and looking at the remaining schedule, I don’t see anything that makes me think we’ll exceed the preseason expectations. That is to say, I don’t think we’ll exceed my preseason expectations. A lot of prognosticators predicted between 2-4 wins for this squad, which I always thought was pretty absurd given the soft front half of the schedule (LSU notwithstanding). Before the season began, I pegged the team as a 6 or 7 win team, and I don’t think much has changed in the first three weeks.
The Orange were always going to be favored against Rhode Island, Wake Forest, and Central Michigan, and while it took a little second half magic against Wake and some scrambling to hang on against CMU, Syracuse has won three games it was supposed to win.
LSU comes to town this weekend with Heisman frontrunner Leonard Fournette currently looking like a man among boys, and if we’re being completely honest and realistic here, the Orange’s chances of winning are somewhere between slim and none. Don’t get me wrong: I’d kill a man (maybe even six or seven) to see the Orange take down LSU, but considering there’s a solid chance Syracuse goes into the game without Dungey, Ishmael, and certainly without Erv Philips, I’m thinking slim just left town. It’s just called being realistic: it’s awfully hard to take down a Tiger when your gun doesn’t have any bullets.
So let’s go ahead and predict that Fournette does what Fournette does, and SU falls to LSU this Saturday to drop to 3-1. Then comes the bye week, and a chance for the Orange to get back to (near) full strength. That’s when things really start to get interesting.
Syracuse takes on South Florida and Virginia, two teams that look very, very beatable. USF is off to a 1-2 start, having been manhandled by Maryland this past weekend. Virginia, meanwhile, nearly upset Notre Dame two weeks ago but just struggled mightily against William & Mary. Yes, William & Mary nearly beat the Hoos. After topping W&M, Virginia is 1-2 with Boise State and Pitt on the docket in the next two weeks, and could be looking at a 1-4 record when Syracuse comes calling.
After Virginia, the Orange have Pitt, which has a 2-1 record and just lost a heartbreaker to Iowa. But the Panthers are without reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year James Conner, whose season is almost certainly done. That alone makes the Pitt game more winnable, especially after redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison has come back down to earth after rushing for 207 yards in the season opener against Youngstown State. Since then, he’s gained 98 yards on 25 carries and lost a lot of carries to Darrin Hall against Iowa. Hall didn’t fare much better, gaining 38 yards on 17 carries.
Florida State still looms as what is, in all likelihood, a loss following the Pitt game. After FSU, the Orange get a Louisville team that’s been struggling this year, to say the least. The Cards are 0-3 and have started a different QB in each game, and their offensive line has been abysmal. That was a game a lot of folks thought would be an automatic loss in the preseason, but it’s suddenly looking like one of the more winnable games on the remaining schedule unless Bobby Petrino can right his ship in a hurry.
Clemson, NC State, and Boston College close out the season, with the difficulty of winning each of those three games probably going 1, 2, 3 in that exact order. Clemson is a game that will probably wind up in the loss column, though an upset isn’t out of the question. NC State is 3-0 but a bit of a paper tiger right now, with their wins coming against Troy, Eastern Kentucky, and Old Dominion. They have South Alabama this weekend, so they’ll be 4-0 and we still won’t have any clue as to how good they actually are thank to the cupcake schedule to end all cupcake schedules. Boston College always looked like a winnable game, and looks even more winnable now with Eagles quarterback Darius Wade gone for the season with a broken ankle.
So, where does that leave us? Honestly, it leaves us pretty much exactly where we were before the season started, as far as I’m concerned. Before the season began, I penciled in URI, Wake, Central Michigan, and USF as four games the Orange should absolutely win. Virginia, Pitt, Louisville, BC, and NC State are all potentially winnable games, and I still think losses will unfortunately be in the cards against LSU, FSU, and Clemson. In other words: we’re exactly where I thought we’d be.
The only difference now is that the teams that look like they’re worse than we could have hoped are the same teams that I thought we had a chance of beating to begin with. Could this team get to 8 wins this season? Absolutely, though it won’t be easy. Out of USF, Virginia, Pitt, Louisville, BC, and NC State, it’s very conceivable the Orange could go either 3-3 or 4-2. Could the Orange go 5-1 in that stretch, which is what would be necessary to get to 8-4 in the regular season? Certainly – provided Dungey, Ishmael, and Philips all come back 100% and the Orange can avoid any other big injuries along the way.
This is a team that is built to be better at the end of the season than it is at the beginning of the year due to the number of young, inexperienced players involved. But should our expectations really be that much different than they were at the outset of the year? Only if you were one of those doom and gloom types who predicted only 2-3 wins on the year. But if you pegged the Orange as a middle of the pack ACC team with bowl potential, well, I’ll let a much wiser football mind close things out: