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Moving up the Ranks: Making the Case for Syracuse as a Top 25 Team

It’s 2:00 on Sunday, September 30th. Just the day before, Syracuse football fans had their hearts broken after the team’s last-minute loss to #3 Clemson in Death Valley. Now, they’re experiencing a new type of feeling, a feeling they haven’t felt since 2001. Even after the loss, there’s a chance that Syracuse could be ranked in the AP Poll for the first time in 17 years.

They’re waiting on pins and needles. Of course, on this day, of all days, the poll is a bit late coming out. Eventually, though, it does. Fans rush to their computers and cell phones, racing to find out if their beloved Orange broke their streak. Then, excitement turns to disappointment. They see that Syracuse received 74 votes, but that they are not among the 25 teams selected to be ranked. The streak continues and in back-to-back days SU fans are left annoyed, upset and angry.

Now the question becomes if they have a reason to be this upset. Do they actually have a case for Syracuse to be in the top 25? That’s what we’re here to investigate. With those 74 votes, SU is currently ranked 28th in the country by the AP. However, at the end of the day, nobody cares if you’re 26, 27 or 28. The only thing that matters is being one of those top 25 teams. With that being said, we’ll compare SU’s early-season resume to that of the team’s ranked 21-25 in the nation. We’ll find out if the AP messed up and caused the Orange faithful’s heartbreak to be prolonged.

NOTE: Bold indicates best win or worst loss on resume. Rankings of wins and losses are based on opponent’s ranking the week the game was played

#28 Syracuse – 4-1 (1-1 ACC)

 Wins: Western Michigan, Wagner, Florida State, UConn

Losses: #3 Clemson (27-23)

Strength of Schedule: 63rd in the country

Point Differential: +114

 

#25 Oklahoma State – 4-1 (1-1 Big 12)

Wins: Missouri State, South Alabama, #17 Boise State, Kansas

Losses: Texas Tech (41-17)

Strength of Schedule: 71st in the country

Point Differential: +92

Syracuse’s Case: Right off the bat, we get a team that Syracuse should probably be ranked ahead of when it comes down to both resumes. A lot of people are saying that Syracuse hasn’t really played any good teams this season and that their wins are weak, but, from the looks of it, the Cowboys’ wins are much weaker. The Pokes beat their FCS opponent (MO State) by a smaller margin than SU beat Wagner and OSU’s lower-level FBS opponent (South Alabama – Sun Belt) is a whole heck of a lot worse than a Western Michigan team that was undefated a few years ago and plays in a much stronger MAC conference. Another one of your wins comes against one of the bottom feeders in the FBS in Kansas. That matches up pretty well with SU’s win over UConn. However, the real separator here is both team’s losses. While SU played a national title contender on the road within a touchdown, OSU got shellacked by a middling Texas Tech team in their own house. Seems like SU has a pretty good case in getting in over the Cowboys.

 

#24 Virginia Tech – 3-1 (2-0 ACC)

Wins: #19 Florida State, William & Mary, #22 Duke

Losses: Old Dominion (49-35)

Strength of Schedule: 75th in the country

Point Differential: +69 (in only 4 games – game vs ECU postponed for Hurricane Florence)

Syracuse’s Case: In terms of the one common opponent these two teams have played, the results were nearly identical. Dominant defensive performances and enough offense led both the Hokies and Orange to easy wins over Florida State. The one difference? Virginia Tech did it in Tallahassee while SU did it in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome. I’d still consider that to essentially be a wash so when you look at the rest of the teams’ resumes, this decision is actually a bit harder than you’d think. VT’s win over Duke this past Saturday is certainly more impressive than SU’s win over FSU, however, at the same time, SU’s only loss is to a national title contender while the Hokies probably have the worst loss of the year: a two-possession defeat at the hands of an otherwise terrible Old Dominion team. At the end of the day, this case is really a toss-up, but I’d give the slight edge (you can argue with me on Twitter @OrangeFizz and @JDRaucci) to the talent and defense of VT, but this was the toughest decision to make. 

 

#23 NC State – 4-0 (1-0 ACC)

Wins: James Madison, Georgia State, Marshall, Virginia

Losses: None

Strength of Schedule: 89th in the country

Point Differential: +76 (in only 4 games – game vs WVU postponed for Hurricane Florence)

Syracuse’s Case: Well, through the four games that NC State has been able to get in this season, they’ve played absolutely nobody that should have challenged them in the least. They’ve done all they can do so far. They’ve beat all the teams on their schedule. Sure, the Wolfpack only beat FCS James Madison by 11 points, but you’ve got to remember that the Dukes are one of the most dominant FCS programs in the country and are only two years removed from a National Championship and only lost by four in last year’s National Title game. Elsewhere on the schedule, NCSU beat a pretty good Marshall team and won their first ACC game of the season this weekend in convincing fashion over mediocre-at-best Virginia team. I really wish they had gotten the opportunity to play West Virginia and Heisman candidate Will Grier because I think that result would tell us a lot about who they are, but in the end, Mother Nature prevailed. At the end of the day, it’s hard to argue against NC State being in the Top 25. Do I think Syracuse is better? Maybe, but the Wolfpack has done what they need to do and beaten some decent teams along the way.

 

#22 Florida – 4-1 (2-1 SEC)

Wins: Charleston Southern, Colorado State, Tennessee, Mississippi State

Losses: Kentucky (27-16)

Strength of Schedule: 50th in the country

Point Differential: +107

Syracuse’s case: This Florida team might be the most confusing case to decipher. On one hand, the Gators are one of those teams that always seems to lurk around the top 25 a little too long because of their brand and the fact that they play in the SEC. Their one loss to Kentucky seemed, at the time, like a huge upset, but the Wildcats have since gone on to be on the most surprisingly good teams in the country. And even outside of that, the Gators do have the second-best point differential out of the teams we’re looking at today. Despite all those positives, this just doesn’t really feel like a top-25 team to me. There’s nobody on the Florida roster that I’d really be super scared of talent-wise. At least with Syracuse you’ve got what some people are still calling a very dark horse Heisman candidate in Eric Dungey. A top-25 team should strike some sort of fear into their opponents and Florida doesn’t do that. Because of that and SU’s lone loss being much better than the Gators’, I’ll give the slight upper hand to the Orange.

 

#21 Colorado – 4-0 (1-0 PAC-12)

Wins: Colorado State, Nebraska, New Hampshire, UCLA

Losses: None

Strength of Schedule: 124th in the country

Point Differential: +90 (in only 4 games – bye week on September 22)

Syracuse’s case: Outside of maybe Oklahoma State, I think this Colorado team is the least deserving of a top-25 spot, which is a big part of the reason I’m so mystified as to how they’re ranked all the way up at 21. If you want to talk about a team that hasn’t beaten anyone good, then you should be talking about the Buffaloes. So far this season, they’ve beaten a 1-4 Colorado State team that got beat up by FCS Illinois State this weekend; an 0-4 Nebraska team that’s off to its worst start in decades; a mediocre FCS New Hampshire team; and an awful 0-4 UCLA team that has yet to score more than 21 points in a game this season. Sure, the Buffs are putting up more than 40 points a game, but SU is averaging even more than them at 44.2 points per game against much better competition. Colorado looks like it might be the biggest pretender in the country and finally gets somewhat of a test next week against Arizona State. I might eat these words if the Buffaloes end up actually being good, but right now they look like a team playing one of the worst schedules in college football that have just rolled through the first four games of the season. Give me the Orange.

Final Thought: So after all that, should SU be in the top 25? I think they should. I’d probably have them ranked somewhere in the 23-25 range and not much higher than that. At the end of the day, though, the AP Poll is completely subjective and the only way SU can climb the ranks is by continuing to play well and win. Maybe then some AP voters will be a bit more likely to give Orange fans what they’ve been wanting for the last 17 years.

Do you think SU should be in the Top 25? Let us know why or why not on Twitter @OrangeFizz.

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