Most years, a 9-3 regular season would put the Orange in a good position to make the Capital One Orange Bowl. 2018 was not one of those years. Every three years, the Orange Bowl hosts a College Football Playoff semifinal game, eliminating the ACC’s only tie to a New Year’s Six Bowl. If the Orange Bowl was out of the CFP rotation in 2018, Syracuse would have been the frontrunner to appear in the Orange Bowl.
To be fair, last season was a down year for the ACC. Syracuse overachieved, while usual mainstays like Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech all had disappointing campaigns. Because of that, SU received an invite to the Camping World Bowl, the best option for an ACC team outside of a New Year’s Six game.
Your 2018 Camping World Bowl Champs pic.twitter.com/GDlg7A9Apl
— Orange Fizz (@OrangeFizz) December 29, 2018
That was fun and all, but the Camping World Bowl isn’t the long-term goal for this team. The goal is to be at the top of the ACC year in and year out. The next step is obvious: make a run for the 2019 Orange Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, this is no small task for the Orange. This would require another season as the clear second best team in the ACC, so which teams are standing in SU’s way?
Due to a number of injuries and an overall young roster, the Hokies finished 2018 with a 6-7 record. Quarterbacks Ryan Willis and Josh Jackson both return next season. Much like the Orange, the Hokies lose some talent on the offensive line: guards Kyle Chung and Braxton Pfaff and tackle Yosuah Nijman. On the other side of the ball, VT returns most of its defensive starters. Scheduling wise, the Hokies have to deal with Clemson as their cross-conference matchup. That’s never an easy task.
We should expect Virginia Tech to improve next season, but anything over eight wins would be a surprise.
A program in a weird situation after Mark Richt suddenly resigned earlier this week. Many were calling for the Hurricanes to go after Syracuse’s Dino Babers, a coach they passed on in 2016. The return of former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz should calm the nerves of recruits who considered de-committing when the coaching search began.
This is the biggest threat for SU’s Orange Bowl hopes. Miami plays its regular season games at Hard Rock Stadium, the annual site of the Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes also appeared in the game back in 2017, the last time the game included an ACC team.
Here’s the good news: Miami’s quarterback situation is not good. In the Pinstripe Bowl, Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry combined for four interceptions. That’s never a good sign for a team in desperate need of a signal caller. If the Hurricanes don’t find consistency at QB in 2019, they can kiss their Orange Bowl hopes goodbye.
The Seminoles edged Michigan 33-32 in the 2016 Orange Bowl. That was back when Jimbo Fisher and company were three years removed from a BCS National Championship. With Fisher at Texas A&M and Willie Taggart in Tallahassee, things are much different now. FSU finished 5-7 and missed out on a bowl game for the first time in 37 years.
With an Atlantic Division matchup looming next fall between Syracuse and Florida State, a head-to-head win for the Orange would go a long way towards an Orange Bowl bid. Taggart struggled to run his west coast offense with Fisher’s pro-style recruits. It’s hard to imagine Taggart’s first ‘Noles recruiting class making too much of an impact in 2019.
A win in Tallahassee will be essential for the Orange’s New Year’s Six Bowl chances.
These projections depend on Clemson making the College Football Playoff again next season, which we can assume will happen with another strong recruiting class coming in. If the ACC has no teams in the CFP, the Tigers will be a lock for the Orange Bowl. If it does, that opens the door for the Orange.
Nine or 10 wins should be good enough for Syracuse to make the Orange Bowl. My way-too-early prediction is that it happens. A friendly non-conference slate combined with winnable ACC road trips makes me optimistic that the Orange can repeat as the second-best team in the conference.
Syracuse has plenty of challenges ahead of them, but so do the other teams who project to be at the top of the ACC next season. Buckle up Orange fans, 2019 could be an even wilder ride than 2018.