Year two under head coach Dino Babers has begun, with fall camp more than a week old for the Syracuse Orange. With a full year in the offensive and defensive systems, common sense would indicate that, combined with a solid amount of returning talent, the Orange are poised for a leap this year.
However, just how big a leap can we realistically expect with what many consider the most difficult schedule in America?
Because of the difficulty level of this year’s slate, it could be hard to accurately quantify any improvement with this year’s team. Last season, the Orange finished 4-8 after suffering a number of injuries, including to starting quarterback Eric Dungey. With the Orange facing 11 teams that reached bowl games last season, things will be even more difficult. The team could realistically finish 4-8 again despite making significant strides.
So how many wins should we realistically expect from the Orange this season?
A couple weeks ago, I put it to a public vote on Twitter. With 283 votes logged, the results are probably about what you’d expect:
Facing one of the toughest schedules in America, how many wins do you think SU will get this year?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) July 26, 2017
Now, obviously you’re going to have some doom and gloomers (along with people who just don’t like Syracuse) voting for that 0-3 win range, and you’ve also got the pie in the sky people somehow convincing themselves that the Orange could hit double digits in the win column.
But the overwhelming winner was also by far the most realistic option: between four and six wins.
And it’s not just Syracuse fans who think that the Orange will be hovering right around that five victory plateau this season. Websites such as Sports Betting Dime have pegged the over/under for victories for the Orange this year at 5.5, noting that in each of Dino’s first two stops as a head coach, his squads have seen substantial improvement in year two in his system.
The first three weeks of this year’s schedule are manageable enough. That’s not to say they’ll be pushovers, but certainly Central Connecticut is one we should probably go ahead and mark down as a victory. Middle Tennessee comes to town the following week, and that’s a game that’ll be marked with plenty of intrigue.
MTSU is a good team, featuring quarterback Brent Stockstill, who has thrown for more than 7,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in the last two seasons. And then, of course, there’s the man running the show on the other side of the ball: former Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer, now the defensive coordinator for the Blue Raiders.
After Middle Tennessee, the Orange square off against Central Michigan in a game they probably should win. Of the opening trio of games, Middle Tennessee appears to be the most difficult but all three are winnable. Going anything less than 3-0, however, makes reaching a bowl game even tougher.
Week four sees the Orange head to Baton Rouge, where they’ll take on LSU in what will probably be a loss. The next game is also on the road, this time at an NC State squad that appears to be on the rise and features one of the top defensive fronts in the ACC. At this point, the Orange will likely be either 3-2 or 2-3 through five games.
Pitt comes to the Carrier Dome in the next week, in what should be a tough but winnable game. The next three games are a murderer’s row, however, with a home game against Clemson, and then road trips to Miami and Florida State. It’s likely that Syracuse goes through that three game stretch without a win, so if we’re giving the Orange a victory over Pitt, we’re looking at a 4-5 record through nine games.
And with three games left on the schedule from that point forward, the Orange will need two wins to guarantee a bowl berth. Sure, Syracuse could use a stellar APR to get a bowl bid with a record of 5-7, but it’d sure be nice to not have to sweat things out and just lock up a 6-6 regular season mark, wouldn’t it?
Wake Forest at home is a winnable game, though the Orange head on the road to Louisville the following week. Something tells me that, while Syracuse will no doubt be improved defensively, the front seven won’t be able to get enough pressure on Lamar Jackson to stop the reigning Heisman winner. So, let’s call it a 5-6 record heading into the final week of the season, with Boston College coming to the Carrier Dome.
Look, let’s be clear here: Syracuse should beat Boston College this season. The Orange handled the Eagles pretty easily last season, and as the final regular season game in year two under Dino Babers, chances are the offense will be firing on all cylinders. I’m banking on a victory here, because frankly, if Syracuse can’t beat BC this season I just don’t see a path to a bowl game.
Sure, the Orange could surprise someone (NC State and Miami feel like the most likely candidates) like they did with Virginia Tech last season, but frankly I’d rather they just get the wins they should get, and add a surprise victory on top of that.
A bowl berth is certainly a realistic goal for this upcoming campaign. But with the difficult schedule the Orange, it’s far from a sure thing. For me, any increase in wins is a clear improvement, for more than just the obvious reasons. Getting to five or six wins this year, against this schedule, feels like the equivalent of an even more significant leap than against just about any other schedule the Orange could conceivably face.