Say what you want about Syracuse’s Week 3 opponent in UAlbany. Yes, they’re an FCS team who stood no chance. Yes, SU paid a pretty penny to wallop them. Yes, the win felt about as artificial as the Dome’s black-speckled turf – but at the end of the day, it was a game Syracuse desperately needed.
Dino Babers and his staff never got to slouch and pick off a runt opponent in 2020. They were always standing at full rigid attention, wringing their hands over which key player would tear his knee in warmups or opt-out in midseason next. One win and 10 losses later, it’s safe to bet Babers was relieved when it was all over. This week, he got a bite-sized portion of that relief in UAlbany. What better way to blow off some steam than by taking a subdivision program to the woodshed and declining to kneel while up 38 points? I guess it was just a guilty-pleasure, two sugar cube type of day for the Orange. Treat yourself.
Jokes aside, UAlbany was an important game to have as a rare break from tough competition. 2020 began with a road matchup with a UNC team ranked No. 18 by AP’s preseason poll. The Heels eventually climbed as high as 5th in the nation last year. No. 25 ranked Pitt came next in Week 2, and things never got much easier after those back-to-back ranked tests. Syracuse’s lone non-conference game of the year was against Liberty, whose dominant victory over ‘Cuse was bemoaned at the time as an abject humiliation against some hopeless Division III entity. Never mind that the Flames also beat Virginia Tech and a good Coastal Carolina team en route to a 10-1 season and a No. 17 spot in the AP Poll.
That same Liberty team comes to the Dome this Saturday, and they’re considered roughly a touchdown favorite over the Orange. If you think that’s unreasonable, you’re probably in denial. It’s not like Syracuse has played anybody yet. Week 1 opponent Ohio is currently 0-3 and hands-down the worst team in the MAC after losses to Duquesne College (yes, really) and Louisiana-Lafayette. Rutgers hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since its Big 10 move, and UAlbany is UAlbany.
From here on out, Syracuse doesn’t get any more slow-pitch wiffle tosses. At the Fizz, there was general consensus that this was the point in the season where the Orange would start losing games. After Liberty, it’s an eight-game ACC gauntlet to close the year. Syracuse could show a lot by winning a couple of those games, but they’ve got plenty to figure out. One of the only sure things on the team seems to be running back Sean Tucker, whose performance last Saturday shouldn’t have anything taken away from it – 253 total yards and five touchdowns is no joke against anybody.
However, Babers and his staff have some wrinkles to iron out. Syracuse set a team record for penalties last weekend, and Dino still hasn’t seen a definitively solid performance from either one of his quarterbacks. Unfortunately, the best time to figure those things out was during the past three weeks. Now, SU has to collect itself on the fly as it ventures into a much more dangerous part of its schedule.