Syracuse narrowly returned to the win column over North Carolina, but its next test promises to be even tougher.
On Saturday, the Orange hosts NC State, who just lost for the first time all year after a 41-7 thumping at Clemson. Going into that one, the Wolfpack was 5-0 and ranked 16th in the country.
After the loss, NC State slid a few spots in the rankings, but still boasts the top passing attack in the ACC.
On the flip side, Syracuse has been solid against the pass lately. Sure, North Carolina’s Nathan Elliot went for 321 yards last week, but that was on 52 attempts. Also, before last week’s win, the Orange had allowed under 200 yards passing in three of its last four games.
Say, the Orange marches onto its home turf, slows down Ryan Finley and the rest of NC State’s offense, and wins the game.
If that’s what goes down, we’ll certainly hear less from any naysayers who remain skeptical after watching SU’s last three games. Do those naysayers have a point? Let’s assess.
Syracuse lost on the road to Clemson and Pitt before barely beating North Carolina at home. Because SU’s tough stretch comes after a hot start, it’s hard to not look at recent history and see why people may remain unconvinced about this year’s team.
Just last season, the Orange started 4-3 before dropping its last five games to finish 4-8. The year before that, Dino Babers’ first season on The Hill, Syracuse was 4-4 before losing four straight to close 4-8 as well.
Even under old regimes, it was just seven years ago when the Orange got off to a 5-2 start only to lose its last five and finish 5-7.
Let me be clear, the 2011 team has absolutely nothing to do with how this year’s team finishes, however, it’s not like history never repeats itself.
With that said, I want to make one more thing clear. I do think this year’s team, with the talent it has, is more destined for success than either Syracuse team Babers has coached prior.
In regards to how right I am, Saturday will be telling, as the Orange looks to beat a ranked team for the first time all season.
That’s something SU has done in both of Babers’ first two years, and doing it this weekend against No. 22 NC State could provide AP Top 25 votes for the first time in three weeks.
Last but not least, let’s not forget that beating the Wolfpack would make the Orange 6-2, and finally bowl-eligible for the first time since 2013.
There was definitely a widespread belief that it was bowl-or-bust for SU heading into this season. If that’s really the case, then hitting the 6-win mark through just eight games would give Syracuse a chance to not only reach its preseason goal, but later put it in the rearview mirror.
After originally opening as a 1-point favorite, the Orange is currently listed as a 2-point underdog. Who knows, it may just be that type of game. Kickoff is at 7:00 p.m.