Remember back to 2022 if you will for a quick second. Syracuse started 6-0 before Clemson ended that unbeaten run. No harm, no foul right? The Tigers are a perennial powerhouse and there is no shame in losing to them. But, that loss catapulted the Orange toward a disappointing 1-6 finish. Fast forward one season, and SU’s first loss in 2023 also just to happened to be at the hands of Clemson. The question becomes can they avoid another spiral? We’ll get that answer this weekend.
A year ago, Syracuse’s first game after the Clemson loss came against Notre Dame. It was one of the weakest Irish teams in years, we thought it was a great opportunity for the Orange to get back on track. We were proven wrong quickly. A pick-six on the first play from scrimmage doomed SU from the get go, and it never got its mojo back in the game or in the season. If Syracuse had played more competitively in that game, not even necessarily winning, who knows how the season might have shaken out? North Carolina and Notre Dame last year are probably comparable in terms of talent level, so the Orange have to come out ready to play.
This is definitely not the only thing to blame, but a big reason SU limped down the stretch last season was Garrett Shrader’s health, or a lack thereof. The Mississippi State transfer left the Notre Dame game at halftime and didn’t suit up in Pittsburgh. The offense took a notable step back in those games, even when he was on the field. When Shrader returned against Florida State, he was a shell of his normal self. He looked better against Wake Forest, Boston College, and Minnesota, but there was only so much he could do. Health is an important topic here because Shrader was walloped early on against Clemson and did not look the same after that. If it’s a lingering issue, it could spell trouble.
Finally, let’s take a look at what Syracuse has down the line. The next two weeks are a bloodbath- on the road against ranked foes North Carolina and Florida State. But then, things ease with a mediocre Virginia Tech team on the road, Boston College for family weekend, Pitt at Yankee Stadium, then closing things out with Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. You would have a very strong argument that each of the final five games are very winnable for the Orange. But, you probably could’ve made that argument a year ago and look what happened. Can SU win the games it can and should, differentiating itself from last year’s squad in the process?
This all goes to show that a solid game- not necessarily a winning one- against North Carolina is vital. So what’s it going to be? Can Syracuse bounce back in a big way this weekend, or are we going to watch the same old story unfold that we saw a year ago?