With Syracuse unlikely to replicate its then-record 2007 feat under Greg Robinson, when as 37 point underdogs at Louisville shocked the Cardinals 38-35, when they start this week as a school-record 38.5 point ‘dog at No. 2 BCS ranked Florida State Saturday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET / ABC or ESPN2), it’s going to come down to the final two (home) winnable games of the season against longtime rivals Pittsburgh and Boston College to see what shakes out in the lower tier of the final ACC bowl lineup.
With six ACC teams already bowl eligible for eight guaranteed slots (the order can fluctuate if two teams play in the BCS and if non-BCS bound 7-3 Notre Dame comes into play), the three former Big East teams are all 5-4 with three conference games remaining; B.C. faces N.C. State and Maryland before SU, while Pitt has North Carolina and Miami sandwiched around Syracuse.
As was the case a year ago when the ‘Cuse won three straight to end the regular season, including most impressive victories over Louisville and Missouri, the Orange are playing their best football in November while simultaneously going above .500 for the first time as an ACC member and into third place behind only FSU and Clemson in the Atlantic Division, where they were picked sixth in pre-season.
The wakeup call that was the Georgia Tech 56-0 disaster Oct. 19 has seemingly transformed the SU defense into a force, holding ACC opponents scoreless over seven of the last eight quarters since then, and like a year ago when Scott Shafer had his hands all over that unit’s turnaround as the coordinator, he sees the work his staff has put in to get the players in a position to succeed.
“(Our coaches) did a great job getting this defense prepared to play a couple of weeks in a row when there were a lot of doubters out there,” Shafer said following the near shutout of Maryland. “We never doubted ourselves. We got beat by a good Georgia Tech team a month ago, and these kids never doubted themselves. I’m so pleased with the job that defensive side of the ball has done, I love the way they’re hitting.”
Forecasting SU is indeed 5-5 heading into the final two weeks, not only will the defense have to contain quarterbacks Tom Savage (Pitt) and Chase Rettig (B.C.) in hopefully a loud Dome, conversely it will take the continued emergence of Terrel Hunt in directing a predominant rushing attack to replicate a scoring drive like SU’s opening sequence against the Terrapins; 16 fast-paced, no huddle plays run, covering a long 80 yards, with a huge 7:54 taken off the game clock.
To Hunt after nine games, realizing the team’s one win from bowl qualification, he also sees the culmination of hard work paying off.
“(We’ve) been hungry from the beginning of the season, the defense covers our backs, we cover theirs,” he explained after directing his third ACC win. “It’s just one win at a time. We enjoy the wins, and then it’s back to work.”
In this case it’s only going to take one more win to achieve the most critical program goal of securing back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time this century.