Before every football season starts, Syracuse fans go on a scavenger hunt. They check out the Orange’s schedule, do some prognosticating, and pick six games that look winnable. Pick up those six victories, and SU is going bowling. It’s a pretty simple exercise.
This season, one of those six wins on every fan’s checklist was Week 2 vs. Middle Tennessee State. In fact, a common trope before the season was “if Syracuse wants to make a bowl game, it has to go 3-0 to start the season.”
So much for that. After the Blue Raiders marched into the Carrier Dome as touchdown-plus underdogs and walked away with a 30-23 win, the Orange is staring at another dangerous team that comes from the middle of a state some people probably couldn’t place on a map: Central Michigan.
With a trip to LSU followed immediately by the ACC slate looming after SU’s date with the Chippewas, Saturday’s game can safely be called a “must-win.” That’s one of the five more victories the Orange needs to ultimately reach six. It would leave Syracuse with two wins. Let’s find four more.
SYRACUSE FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
- vs. Central Connecticut State — W 50-7
- vs. Middle Tennessee State — L 30-23
- vs. Central Michigan
- @ #12 LSU
- @ NC State
- vs. Pittsburgh
- vs. #3 Clemson
- @ #17 Miami
- @ #11 Florida State
- vs. Wake Forest
- @ #14 Louisville
- vs. Boston College
To begin, we should toss out road tilts in which SU’s opponent is ranked inside the top-20 and will likely be favored by multiple touchdowns: Week 4 at No. 12 LSU, Week 8 at No. 17 Miami, Week 10 at No. 11 Florida State, Week 12 at No. 14 Louisville (the Orange gets its bye in Week 9). Combined with the Middle Tennessee State upset, that’s five losses already — and it doesn’t even include the home game against No. 3 Clemson, in which Syracuse will be a heavy, heavy underdog.
So, can we realistically expect wins over Central Michigan, NC State, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest, and Boston College?
The Chippewas’ aerial attack is deadly, and they’ve already proven they can hang with (and beat up on) Power Five competition: CMU cruised past Kansas, 45-27, in Week 2. The numbers are eye-popping — top-10 in both completion percentage and yards per pass — but they came against Rhode Island and KU, two bad teams that each scored 27 points against Central Michigan. Syracuse’s offense is, in theory, far superior to those of the Rams and Jayhawks, and, frankly, the Orange has no choice but to win this game.
Here’s the upset the Orange needs. The Wolfpack was better than its 7-6 record suggested last year (it was a chip-shot field goal away from taking down Clemson), should improve in 2017, and features a pass rush that could terrorize SU’s unproven offensive line. NC State isn’t a member of the ACC’s elite, but it’s in that next group. Knocking off the Wolfpack in Raleigh is a tall task.
Another team whose record didn’t reflect its true performance level last year, Pittsburgh was pretty close to a top-25 group in 2016. Fortunately, SU gets this one at home, but the Panthers will not roll over. Plus, the Orange’s defense may still be having nightmares about the 76-point meltdown at Heinz Field last season. On the bright side for Syracuse, Pitt lost its star quarterback (Nathan Peterman) and running back (James Conner), both of whom were drafted.
The Demon Deacons should get better this season due simply to extra experience: Wake returns nearly every player from last year’s two-deep depth chart, including quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton and each of the team’s top eight receiving threats. In 2016, Wake Forest suffocated Syracuse, albeit in a game played in Winston-Salem in the midst of a hurricane. Again, the saving grace is that this year’s battle takes place in the Carrier Dome.
BC boasts a sneaky-good defense that could give SU problems… oh, who am I kidding? Boston College sucks. This is a win.