It might very well be the year.
That’s the thought that probably crossed around 35,000 Syracuse fans’ minds as they skipped out of the Dome last Saturday following SU’s 32-29 shocker over Purdue. In a year that has seen a whole bunch of basketball schools tear it up on the football field to start the season, SU has fortunately hopped along for the ride. All the blue-blood hardwood magic seemed to be just enough to lead Syracuse past sixth-year quarterback Aidan O’Connell, silky-smooth wideout Charlie Jones, and a previously bruising Purdue defense.
Cut and dry SU’s first win over a Big 10 team in nine years with the closest finish we have to McNabb-to-Brominski since ‘98.
For the second consecutive year, Syracuse has surprised out of the gate. There just can’t be any mistaking whether SU’s 3-0 mark this time around is better than last year’s 3-1. By a million miles, the answer is “yes”. ‘Cuse’s group of homegrown mold-breakers and trendsetters is doing it as a team and is no longer a one-man show. Nowhere is that more apparent than Sean Tucker’s 18 carries for 42 yards last week, easily his lowest total since last year’s season finale against Pitt.
“It’s something [Tucker’s slow start] we’re definitely putting underneath the microscope…he’s doing other things as well, but still, those numbers need to be better.” (Dino Babers, 9/19/22)
Despite the plodding day from its crown jewel running back, SU still put up 30 or more points for the third time in as many games this year. The Orange have done it with and without Tucker so far thanks to a suddenly dynamic passing game and a scheme that has instilled newfound confidence. The main difference maker has been much-heralded offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who now stares down his previous employers (along with SU colleague and former Cavalier quarterbacks coach Jason Beck) on Friday when the Virginia Cavaliers come to the Dome for the first time since 2005.
You don’t have to squint to see what Syracuse could be without Anae this year. Whatever special sauce Anae had circulating at Virginia seems to have gone missing from last year’s 4th-best scoring ACC offense’s kitchen. UVA has five new offensive linemen starting, but senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong and one of the strongest wideout rooms in the conference have combined for 17.7 points-per-game, a 3rd-down conversion rate that ranks 107th in the FBS, and eight turnovers. After a two-point squeaker over Sun Belt juggernaut Old Dominion, Armstrong all but admitted he and the team are pressing. Anae and the entire ‘Cuse sideline must be licking their collective chops at the chance to go 4-0 against a 10.5-point underdog.
“They’re young, they’re eager…it reminds me of our first year that I was here.” (Babers on Virginia, 9/19/22)
After Saturday’s win, AP Poll voters were ever-so-slightly swayed enough to give the ‘Cuse seven whole votes. That’s not enough to make the actual poll, but it’s more than either Wisconsin (who began the year ranked) or LSU got in its latest edition. That, coupled with the added attention of toppling a good Power Five opponent on national television, has Syracuse receiving some added buzz.
Friday night’s clash might be billed as the Anae-Beck Revenge Bowl, but it means plenty more for Syracuse than that. With a limping UVA squad coming to town, now is the time for SU to really put its foot on the gas. If the Orange can start an unthinkable 4-0, the entire dynamic of the season and program could change. Will SU choose to sink under pressure or swim with the tide? In a matter of days, we’ll have our answer.