Yesterday, I put out a poll on Twitter asking Syracuse fans how many wins they see the Orange football team getting this year. The choices were 0-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10+ and the results…well, the results show that Syracuse fans are surprisingly realistic…with a hint of cautious optimism.
How many wins will SU football get this year?
— OttosGrove.com (@OttosGrove) July 20, 2016
Most fans believe that the team will fall between four and six wins. The next category is between seven and nine, which is where that whole “cautious optimism” comes in, particularly since I attribute that selection to the people thinking more “seven wins” and less “nine wins.” Personally, I fall into the 4-to-6 wins category. I like to think of myself as cautiously optimistic, but the Orange face a pretty brutal schedule this year. Take a look:
H – Colgate
H – Louisville
H – South Florida
A – UConn
N – Notre Dame
A – Wake Forest
H – Virginia Tech
A – Boston College
A – Clemson
H – NC State
H – Florida State
A – Pittsburgh
Right off the bat, it’s worth noting that Clemson, Florida State, Notre Dame, and Louisville are all generally regarded as top 20 teams this year. Clemson has a very good shot at a national title and, in Deshaun Watson, a Heisman Trophy. We can probably safely mark all four of these games down as losses, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
Then, you’ve got the category of “tough games that are still potentially winnable.” This includes South Florida, Virginia Tech, NC State, and Pittsburgh. USF was one of the surprise teams in college football last year, and has the kind of athleticism that could make them scary again, going up against a young and inexperienced Syracuse defense that’s still trying to figure out a new system.
Virginia Tech, meanwhile, probably seems like a team on the decline. But here’s a pretty staggering reminder of how consistently solid they are: the last time the Hokies missed out on a bowl game was 1992. They’ve gone to bowl games in 23 consecutive seasons, so while that game is certainly winnable (especially at home), it’s certainly far from a given. NC State and Pitt are always tough for the Orange, no matter who is on the sidelines.
The Panthers have won the last three games against Syracuse, and 12 of the last 14. The game is being played in Pittsburgh this year, and the Orange haven’t beaten the Panthers on the road since 2001. In other words…that’s a game that’s never going to be easy. The plus side is that it’s the final game of the season, and Syracuse could very well be heading into that game needing one more victory to secure a bowl berth. Extra motivation could be in store for the Orange, who by that point in the season will hopefully be clicking on offense and defense, with a full season in the new systems under their belts.
Finally, we get to the games that Syracuse should win. Colgate is a given, of course. Don’t be surprised if the Orange put 60 points on the board against poor little pushover Colgate. UConn is another game that the Orange should probably win, as well. The Huskies have been pretty dismal over the past few seasons, though they did get to a bowl game last year and finished 6-7 overall. That said, they struggled mightily on offense, and outside of a stunning late season upset over Houston, the other five teams they beat combined to go 16-43 last year.
Syracuse has won two of the last three against Boston College, and I expect another win this year. This is an Eagles team that couldn’t even score a touchdown in its spring game…and we really think they’ll be able to keep pace with the Dino Babers offense? Wake Forest is another team that, while they’re certainly capable of beating Syracuse, I’m not expecting that to happen. The Orange are 3-0 against the Demon Deacons since joining the ACC.
So that puts Syracuse with four games I’m going to cautiously chalk up as wins, and four games I’m going to pencil in as losses, with four games that could go either way. Going 6-6 would be a genuine accomplishment this season, with this schedule, with a very young defense, and new systems on both sides of the ball. Hell, I think I’d call five wins a success for Dino’s first year.
There are pieces in place on offense to get some wins. But at the end of the day, it’ll all come down to a few things: how well the offensive line gels and is able to protect Eric Dungey; how ready to play the young defensive linemen are to get after the quarterback and make plays; and how much improvement a secondary that really struggled last year can make.
A bowl game is not out of reach. It’s just going to be awfully tough, when you look at what the Orange are up against.