Two days ago, Syracuse football finally learned of its bowl season destination. A 250-mile trip down to Yankee Stadium to play Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl later this month may not shatter any Nielsen records, but you can’t say the Orange didn’t earn their trip to their first postseason since 2018. SU’s 7-5 record is the program’s best since that same ‘18 campaign.
On August 15th, we wrote about some potential checklist items the ‘Cuse would have to fulfill to make it to a bowl in the first place. With a bout against the Golden Gophers just over three weeks away, It’s time to take a look back and see whether or not we hit the mark and whether or not the Orange did their part. We said Syracuse would make a bowl if:
1. Garrett Shrader Throws For Over 2,000 Yards
“A Top 10 in-conference yardage season at minimum from Shrader would suggest that he’s taken another step, used offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s system to great effect, and brought out the talent of the receiving room. Consider the passing game the 2022 SU squad’s largest X-factor.” (OrangeFizz, 8/15/22)
Consider this a slam dunk all the way around. Prior to the year, we put plenty of faith in new offensive coordinator Robert Anae’s system and what it would bring to the Orange attack. Anae’s secret stuff that turned Virginia into a high-flying outfit during his tenure came through for Syracuse, reinvigorated its passing offense that was the ACC’s worst a year ago, and led Garrett Shrader to set a new career high with 2,310 regular-season passing yards.
Granted, not everything Anae did turned to gold. Several of our “most important player” picks at the receiver position didn’t pan out, and there are a few names out of that receiver room hitting the transfer portal. Apart from Oronde Gadsden, the SU offense couldn’t get many pass-catchers involved on a regular basis, and the offense’s four-week lull in late October and early November only cemented that issue.
2. A D-Lineman Needs to Finish With At Least 4.0 Sacks
“‘Cuse lost all four starters to graduation and the draft last year, and suddenly needs to replace 15 sacks from its defensive line. Some combination of Caleb Okechukwu, Terry Lockett, Steve Linton, and others will have to scrape together a new-look pass rush.” (OrangeFizz, 8/15/22)
This requirement was borne more out of concern for what was an unknown unit at the time. SU didn’t suddenly trot out true freshmen on its line, but none of its returning pieces had played on a consistent starting basis. Instead, those who did fill the roles of departed starters performed admirably, led by defensive end Caleb Okechukwu. Our piece in August underrated him, much like the All-ACC selection team just did – the redshirt-junior finished his regular season with a team-leading 7.0 sacks. Linebacker Marlowe Wax also notched 4.5 of his own for good measure.
3. Sean Tucker Plays in Every Game
“266 touches over 12 games add up, but Tucker never missed a game [in 2021] and finished with fewer than 100 yards just three times. His presence in every game dictated opposing teams’ defensive gameplans.” (OrangeFizz, 8/15/22)
Looking back, it seems we were all hoping against hope that someone could step up and take a piece of the offensive workload off Sean Tucker’s back. Surprisingly, that ended up happening, but proved to be a double-edged sword for SU’s star back. Tucker’s diminished role in the offense compared to a year ago (206 carries, 1,060 yards, 11 TDs) doesn’t paint a bad picture; it’s just simply a step down from what was a record-breaking campaign last season.
However, Tucker didn’t look right for a lot of the year. He plodded along to silent games against Purdue and Virginia and then again went MIA once Syracuse started to freefall in October. Almost a quarter of his yardage on the season came against FCS foe Wagner College. Some of Tucker’s slowdown was owed to questionable play-calling, while some of it may have been health-related (though we’ll never know for sure). In any event, Tucker did play in every game but too often didn’t make as much of an impact as we expected.
4. SU Springs a Bonafide Upset
“If the Orange can take a game they’re not supposed to win, that above all else could separate this team from all the others over the past decade or so who couldn’t manage to go bowling at season’s end.” (OrangeFizz, 8/15/22)
Unequivocally, SU pulled this one off and did it more than once. More than any individual player’s performance, the quality wins Syracuse scrapped out against good teams saved it at season’s end.
What we now know is that the 2022 schedule was an unusually brutal one for the Orange. SU played nine (!) bowl teams who combined for a collective .599 winning percentage. Three upset victories that helped solidify Syracuse’s season spring to mind:
- Week 1 vs. Louisville (W 31-7): Syracuse was a home dog and picked by a majority of our writers to lose to a Louisville team that had beaten it seven of the past eight meetings.
- Week 3 vs. Purdue (W 32-29): The future Big 10 West champions badly hurt themselves in this game, but SU still pulled its most impressive win of the year out of the fire.
- Week 6 vs. NC State (W 24-9): Syracuse caught NC State during the one exact week in the year that it didn’t have a reliable quarterback under center and took advantage.
Without one of these, SU would be Fenway Bowl bound. Without two of them, Dino Babers’ job might be in question. Instead, the ‘Cuse got to its bowl the hard way in taking down some quality opponents and fulfilled our preseason conditions.