Entering the 2023 season, Syracuse had a lot of expectations after winning seven games and getting to its first bowl game in four years in 2022. But, the Orange were presented with a very challenging schedule that included games against the three possible best teams in the conference all in a row, plus not a single home game in October.
On top of that, SU had to pay the debt of hosting Purdue last season with a trip to West Lafayette in 2023, as well as playing Pittsburgh, an annual loss on the schedule, at a neutral site at Yankee Stadium instead of at home in the JMA Wireless Dome.
Heading into the year, it seemed pretty likely that Syracuse would be 3-4 or 4-3 after its bye week, with losses to Clemson, North Carolina, and Florida State (the three teams referenced earlier), plus that difficult Big Ten trip to Purdue. But, after week one, things have changed dramatically in how SU might stand after that bye week, where it looked likely the Orange were going to be fighting for bowl eligibility, that may not be the case anymore.
The Boilermakers, who do have a new coach and quarterback, lost at home to Fresno State 39-35, showing that road trip may not be the most intimidating or difficult one anymore. The Bulldogs are no slouch, as they did go 10-4 in 2022 with a win in the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl over Washington State last December. That should provide Syracuse and its fans some more optimism that the Orange can go to Indiana and win, but the challenges of playing on the road, at night, and on national television are still large obstacles to overcome for a team that perennially does not play well away from home.
If Syracuse can sneak out a win there and be undefeated after non-conference play, that is a huge plus to the Orange’s hopes of making a bowl game for the second straight year, because winning potentially two of your final five games instead of three is a much different task. But, that’s not the only good news for SU and how their opponents fared in week one.
Number nine Clemson got trounced 28-7 by Duke in Durham on Monday night, bringing up a lot of questions about Dabo Swinney, and what realistic expectations for the Tigers program should be. This should be delightful news for Syracuse, who usually plays Clemson well, and could have beaten the Tigers last season if not for some costly mental errors.
Swinney and Clemson come to Central New York in week five, and the last time the Tigers were in the Dome they escaped with a 17-14 win over the Orange thanks to some bad clock management from Dino Babers. But, it’s possible that Clemson could come into the Dome on a bad note as the Tigers face Florida State, who dominated number five LSU on Sunday night, the week before. It could be a dream scenario for SU to potentially start 5-0 for the second straight season.
Overall, this is not a declaration that Syracuse is going to be undefeated heading to Chapel Hill to face Drake Maye and UNC in early October, but it is a sign that SU’s schedule may not be as difficult as it looked on paper before the season, and that is surely a welcome sign for Babers and his staff as they look to match or exceed last season’s win total.