The answer to this question may surprise you.
In the last 40 seasons, how many Syracuse football teams have started the season 3-0?
I’ll allow you to flip through your media guide now.
A careful examination will show that during this time period, only the 1975, 87 and 91 teams achieved this feat. If you throw in the 1967 team, then it’s four times in 48 years.
In recent years, Syracuse has played a strong non-conference schedule to begin the season, so a 3-0 start wasn’t a realistic possibility. Look no further than last season, when the Orange started against a formidable Penn State team at MetLife Stadium. Before that, SU had a home and away series with USC in the first three games.
Not exactly a formula to make history.
Well, that changes this season. If you look at SU’s first three games, they are certainly (though not definitely) winnable.
The Orange opens the season against FCS opponent Villanova. They then travel to MAC foe Central Michigan before returning home to face new Big 10 addition Maryland.
Those three teams combined to go 19-17 in 2013, and keep in mind Syracuse defeated Maryland 20-3 last year.
“I think a quick start is important, but not eminent,” Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said to my colleague Brad Bierman at ACC Kickoff when asked about the rarity of a 3-0 start.
“It’s so cliche, but one game at a time. We’re going to have a good Villanova football team. Everyone on the outside going to say, ‘That’s what coaches are supposed to say.’ But turn the tape on and watch them.”
To be sure, it is coach speak, and I’m certain that Shafer will be telling his team about the importance of not looking past the first game. But on the flip side, Shafer is well aware that this year’s schedule allows his team a shot at school history.
At the very least, a 3-0 start would put the Orange in contention for the top 25, which is a place SU hasn’t been since the 2001 season. It would also go a long way toward helping recruiting.
“There is this persona or this image from the mid 2000s that’s still kind of hanging around when we were like a 1-and-11 team,” offensive tackle Sean Hickey said. “People sometimes when they hear Syracuse they think of that, and I think recruits think of that, too, because they were growing up in that time.”
The image is a bit unfair. The Orange has won three bowl games in the past four seasons. But it takes time for perception to catch up to reality after nearly a decade of what can only charitably described as mediocrity.
A hot start would speed up that convergence.
“I understand why they think that way,” Hickey said. “But that’s really why we have to keep winning.”