Let’s just come right out and say it. Saturday’s 35-17 loss to Florida State was nothing short of demoralizing and debilitating. Not only was it the Orange’s third straight loss since the bye week, but it also kept SU as the only winless team in the ACC.
Dino Babers and company have still yet to beat a Power Five team this season and are in danger of going winless against Power Five opponents for the first time since 2005 when the Orange went 1-10 with their only win of the season coming against Buffalo.
Now, with four games remaining and its overall record sitting at 3-5, SU has to win three of its next four games to become bowl-eligible. Talk about a far cry from how the season ended last year and how many of us here at the Fizz thought this season might go.
So three wins in four games. It seemed very plausible if not a guarantee before the season with the high expectations for Syracuse and the low expectations for the rest of the ACC, but boy have the tables turned. The entire complexion of this final stretch is different from what we thought it would be and with the way things are shaping up, those three wins may be very hard to come by.
11/2 vs Boston College
This game feels like an absolute MUST-WIN for Syracuse. First and foremost, this BC game on Saturday is one of just two home games left on the schedule for SU. Outside of the opener against Liberty to begin the season, the Orange have not played a single quality game on the road this year and really haven’t been particularly competitive in any of them either. Home games simply have to be won if Syracuse has any chance at becoming bowl-eligible.
As for the game itself, one of the biggest issues SU has had this season has been defending quality running backs and Boston College has the best RB in the ACC. Junior A.J. Dillon leads the conference with 1,044 rushing yards this season, over 100 more than FSU’s Cam Akers who throttled the Orange for four touchdowns over the weekend. Adding to the problems that SU could have in defending Dillon is the fact that BC also has one of the best offensive lines in the entire country blocking for him. If Akers could run roughshod over the Orange with one of the nation’s worst O-Lines, imagine what a more productive back in Dillon can do with one of the country’s best. If the Orange can’t limit him and the offense doesn’t take a massive leap, SU is in trouble.
11/16 @ Duke
This is another good opportunity for the Orange to pick up a win, but the problem with this one is that it’s on the road in Durham. Duke currently checks in at 4-4 on the season and is coming off a disappointing (but close) loss to North Carolina over the weekend. The biggest upper hand the Blue Devils have over the Orange at the moment is the fact that Duke actually has a couple of wins in ACC play. The Blue Devils annihilated Virginia Tech 45-10 in the last game of September before rolling past Virginia Tech 41-23 on October 12.
To be perfectly honest, SU hasn’t even been competitive in any of its ACC games, so the fact that Duke has a couple of conference wins is more impressive than anything the Orange have done this season. The Blue Devils may be the most mediocre team in the ACC (7th in the league in both total offense and total defense), but even mediocre is better than downright disappointing which has been the MO for SU this season. If the Orange can contain dual-threat QB Quentin Harris (1,500 pass yards, 13 TD and 408 rush yards, 6 TD), they’ll give themselves a good shot to pick up a big road W in a few weeks.
11/23 @ Louisville
After the Cardinals ended last season 2-10, including an embarrassing 54-23 loss to Syracuse in the Dome, it looked like the program was going to continue spiraling downward and that any matchup with the Cards over the next few years would be an easy win. That was until Scott Satterfield took over the program and transformed its offense into one of the most dangerous attacks in the ACC (3rd in the conference in scoring offense at 32.8 ppg, 4th in total yards at 454.8 ypg). He’s got the Cardinals (5-3, 3-2 ACC) looking like they could be a force to reckon with for the foreseeable future.
Similar to the problem AJ Dillon poses for the Orange when they take on Boston College, Louisville’s Javian Hawkins has quickly established himself as one of the best running backs in the ACC. The redshirt freshman is third in the ACC in rushing yards (887) and checks in at fourth in the conference in touchdowns with six scores on the season. Hawkins is one of the most explosive and athletic backs in the ACC and could cause huge problems for SU which, at times this season, has struggled mightily with containing speedsters and wrapping them up in the open field (Clemson’s Amari Rodgers). Once again, this is an opponent that preys on the Orange’s weaknesses. Couple that with the low chance that SU’s anemic offense is able to keep up with the Cardinals’ explosive attack in a hostile environment and the odds of SU stealing one in the Bluegrass State seem low.
11/30 vs Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons have proven themselves to be the undoubted second best team in the ACC behind Clemson. They’ve got wins over Utah State, UNC and Boston College just to name a few and their only loss this season came in a wild shootout against Louisville. Wake has the best wideout in the league in Sage Surratt who averages almost 126 yards per game, a full 42 yards better than the next closest pass catcher (SU’s Trishton Jackson). The Deacs also have the best quarterback in the ACC in Jamie Newman (295.3 ypg) to complement the league’s second best total offense (523.9 ypg).
To put it lightly, the Orange are going to be pretty outmatched when Wake comes to the Dome for senior day. Maybe at that point they’ll have something to play for with a bowl berth on the line if they can pick up a few wins beforehand, but if the whole bowl thing comes down to the season’s final game, the Demon Deacons are going to be VERY difficult to take down.
It seems like in every game except Duke, the Orange are going to be faced with a pretty daunting mismatch in one area or another. This week’s game against Boston College is going to be absolutely imperative to kick off this final four-game stretch. If the Orange can set the right tone with a win in the Dome on Saturday and carry some positive momentum into the second bye week of the year. Even then, the task at hand is very difficult. If the final three games of the season are must-wins, the ‘Cuse could be doomed.