It’s mid-October, which means Syracuse is in the middle of another daunting ACC schedule. I don’t know about you, but when SU plays teams like Clemson, I think a lot about the big picture. Other than the colors of their uniforms, there aren’t many similarities between these two programs. How is it possible that there’s such a disparity between the football rosters of Syracuse and Clemson?
For a rebuilding team like SU, these seasons are all about improvement. Let’s take a look back at the past year and see just how better Dino Babers’ program has gotten.
If you’re looking for positivity, the win column shouldn’t be your first stop. Since the Orange got dismantled 54-0 last November in Death Valley, it has only won three games. Those wins came against Central Connecticut State, Central Michigan and Pittsburgh. Last week’s game was impressive at times, but SU still almost lost a game that was widely considered a must win.
It’s tough to really analyze the last three games of 2016 since Eric Dungey didn’t play. However, what we do know is that SU embarrassed itself in the season finale against Pitt by giving up 76 points. You can blame it on Dungey’s absence all you want, but the end of last season was brutal for the Orange.
Even though SU has just three wins so far this season, there have been a number of bright spots. In week four, the Orange competed with LSU under the lights in a primetime game. One week later, Syracuse battled with NC State, who had just beaten Florida State in Tallahassee the week prior. Even though Syracuse was close in these games, it left with nothing to show for their efforts. At this point, moral victories aren’t good enough for Babers and the Orange.
This is where things start to look a bit more optimistic for SU. Everyone knows about four-star quarterback Tommy DeVito, but only time will tell if he turns into a star for the Orange. The good news for him? He’s got two big offensive linemen on the way to protect him. Perhaps the two biggest recruits of the Babers’ era (both literally and physically) are center Tyrone Sampson Jr. and tackle Qadir White.
You can’t win games in the ACC without an offensive line. We’ve seen it time and time again. Whether its not being able to control NC State’s front seven, or allowing three sacks to a not so impressive Pittsburgh defense, the front five has been a huge weakness for the Orange this year.
Offensive line play becomes even more crucial when playing tough competition. Teams like Clemson change the game by dominating the line of scrimmage. For the Tigers, it’s not just one or two guys either, it’s six or seven. Clemson has four players with two or more sacks so far this season. Syracuse doesn’t have a single player with more than one.
All the hype surrounds DeVito, but in my book, White and Sampson are going to have the biggest impact on this program.
The attendance in the Carrier Dome has been awful this season. Right before kickoff last week against Pitt, the student section was maybe a third of the way full. It’s not just the students though, much of the upper deck has been empty this season.
This is a fanbase that’s impatient, and deservedly so. It hasn’t seen a winning product in quite a while. The problem is most prematurely declared this year’s Syracuse team ready to make the next step and appear in a bowl game.
I predicted four wins for this team and I stand by that number.
To fans credit, this team has been hard to watch at times. You just don’t know what you’re getting from this Syracuse team. The defense has exceeded expectations, while the offense has been inconsistent. Who would’ve guessed?
Final Verdict: Slightly Better
The only thing that makes Syracuse better than it was when it played Clemson last year is recruiting, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is going to take time. You don’t become a consistently good program overnight.
Syracuse is still a long ways away from competing in these matchups against top-tier ACC teams. Besides, the first step in getting SU back to being relevant is making a bowl game. After it does that, then it can worry about beating the elite.
Things are getting better for Syracuse and I think we see that on Friday. I don’t expect the defense to allow 54 points, and I certainly don’t expect Syracuse to get shutout on offense. Regardless of the results this season, SU is slowly but surely trending in the right direction.