We’re just three days away from Syracuse’s opening Saturday against Ohio. Dino Babers has finally named his starting quarterback, and the Fizz will be releasing its Week 1 Crystal Ball predictions shortly.
In the meantime, it’s worth going over SU’s schedule again and figuring out which of these games they should (or can) win. Not all wins are created equal. Even for a team with flatline expectations, ‘Cuse and head coach Dino Babers have some games they really need to net. We’ve ranked the top five games the team needs to take for Babers to feel good about the team – and stave off job rumors – going into 2022.
5. Virginia Tech (October 23rd, Week 8)
If this year’s game against Virginia Tech has snuck under your radar, we don’t blame you. It’s just the second time since 2003 these two teams have locked horns (2016 being the other), and Tech isn’t even an ACC Atlantic rival. On the other hand, it might be worth getting amped for this game for a couple of reasons. It’s likely the best chance for SU to break its six-game losing streak in the month of October that dates back to 2018, and a great opportunity to score a conference win after a brutal 3-15 mark against ACC teams the last two seasons. VT head coach Justin Fuente was already on the hot seat heading into this year thanks to declining win totals and recruiting classes, and now he has to deal with new depth challenges on offense. This is a vulnerable team right in line for SU to take down.
4. NC State (November 20th, Week 11)
A win over NC State late in the season would be a boon for Babers and his team for a couple of reasons. SU fans have gotten sick of the Wolfpack beating on the Orange – Syracuse is just 2-6 against them since joining the ACC in 2013 – and no loss stung more than last year’s humiliating “4th down spike” defeat. Revenge is a dish best served cold, befitting the November matchup on the schedule in 2021. That’s more than enough reason for Dino to get his troops up late in the season. If SU shows well in this game or pulls off a win over a Wolfpack team expected to be ranked, then it’ll show that Babers still has his team playing for him.
3. Rutgers (September 11th, Week 2)
The first non-conference game on the list is one that some folks have tabbed as a legitimately winnable game for the Orange. The Scarlet Knights come to the Dome for SU’s home opener this year, but they shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Don’t be fooled by Rutgers’ infamous struggle between 2017-19 when they floundered in the Big 10 under Chris Ash. Greg Schiano took over the head coaching reins last year and immediately led RU to a 3-6 record, but all three of those wins came in-conference. However, this should still be regarded as one of the easier games on Syracuse’s schedule. Score a win here and the Orange could potentially get off to a 2-1 or 3-0 start.
2. Ohio (September 4th, Week 1)
The team in the No. 2 spot on this list is the one Syracuse kicks off against in just three days’ time. The Bobcats, hailing from the MAC, serve as SU’s season opener. That alone is a reason you’d love to win this game (1-0 is infinitely better than 0-1), but this is a matchup Syracuse should win. I wasn’t confident in the Orange coming into this season, but I believe they can beat Ohio. This is a team with a new head coach for the first time in 17 years and with a defense that struggled badly against the run last season. It’s a perfect warmup for Dino Babers and company to iron out the wrinkles of their offense by feeding Sean Tucker and dethawing Tommy DeVito after last year’s leg injury. On the other hand, an SU loss in this game would be indicative of larger problems and an imminently difficult season.
1. UAlbany (September 18th, Week 3)
This is the big one on this list, and the game itself has an entirely different vibe than any other team SU plays this year. It’s not that this is an uber-important rivalry game or even a conference foe – this is just the non-conference softball that Syracuse must win. In 2020, the Orange didn’t get such a game. In 2019, it was Holy Cross. In years prior, Wagner College was often the sacrificial tune-up lamb for Syracuse. This is one of those games. If Syracuse somehow blows this one against an FCS team in UAlbany, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it may be the most embarrassing loss in school history, even more than last year’s Liberty debacle or Greg Robinson’s implosion against Akron in 2008. If Dino Babers wants to avoid taking a torpedo to his season and dodge conversations about his job this winter, this is the one game he has to have.