Orange Watch: Part IV, Game-by-game predictions for 2018 Syracuse football

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Moe Neal breaks free for a run against Wake Forest. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: It’s our annual August guess as to how the Orange football season will play out, in this case year number three of the Dino Babers era, and the sixth year in the ultra-competitive ACC. With both the university, the program, and fan base starving for a bowl game, can the ‘Cuse hit the minimum six victory mark (or better) to qualify for the postseason? The first half of the season ran last week. Part III ran yesterday. This part covers games 10 through 12 and a bonus.

Haven’t the last two games against Louisville been downright awful for those in Orange Nation? Having to watch Lamar Jackson leap over poor former Orange DB Cordell Hudson (now at Middle Tennessee State) on route to making it look easy with 610 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the first half of a 62-28 shellacking in the Dome in 2016 on route to a Heisman Trophy, and last year in the miserable weather at the ‘Ville Jackson accounted for “only” 381 yards and four scores in a 56-10 rout. The good news for the Orange is Jackson is now turning heads this preseason on the roster of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens; the bad news for the Cardinals is they open minus Jackson against defending champion and pre-season No. 1 Alabama in Atlanta Sept. 1. Jackson’s successor, however, sophomore Jawon Pass, not only has the perfect last name for, well, a quarterback that passes, but he’s pretty good in his own right completing 70% percent of his throws in limited action in ’17, including a touchdown “Pass” versus SU. Replicating how the Florida State game played out in the first quarter, the Orange come into this Friday night nationally televised game ready to protect “Our House” and thanks to long Dungey-led drives in each half keep Pass and the Louisville offense on the sidelines for long stretches. The ‘Cuse “D” excels when it has to in the fourth quarter and after the Friday night 62 point Jackson bomb in ’16, the Friday night win over No. 2 Clemson last season, the Orange gets another Friday night win this season beating Louisville 31-27 to celebrate bowl eligibility in front of a delirious Dome crowd that causes a delayed start to the conversion of he floor for the next day’s basketball game against Morehead State. (6-4, 3-4)

» Related: Louisville Cardinals — 2018 Syracuse Football preview

Who has the most wins among active FBS head coaches heading into this season? If you answered Alabama’s Nick Saban you would be wrong. He trails Brian Kelly of Notre Dame by one victory, 219-218, which is certainly a testament to the jobs Kelly has turned in at both the Div. II level and Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Notre Dame over the last 27 seasons. Kelly will again have plenty of talent among his two-deep roster, and as usual a challenging schedule opening at home with Michigan and ending at Southern California, with the likes of Stanford, Virginia Tech, Navy (in San Diego), and Florida State in-between. It’s going to be downright sacrilegious that the Irish will not be wearing their trademark gold helmets in this game Nov. 17 at Yankee Stadium, instead paying homage to their Shamrock Series hosts by choosing to wear this customized, New York Yankee-themed uniform, including a dark blue helmet, that was not universally well received upon it’s unveiling Aug. 16. The Orange will have plenty of alumni and fans on hand in “The City” coming off successive basketball victories over Connecticut and Oregon, respectively, at Madison Square Garden the two days prior, but go home disappointed heading into Thanksgiving week when the Irish kick a late field goal to seal a 30-24 victory. (6-5, 3-4)

As we wrote about last month in what jumped out to us when the all-ACC preseason team was announced on July 23, Boston College had four first team selections led by unanimous preseason player of the year sophomore running back AJ Dillon. If Louisville’s Jackson had the most impressive visiting performance in the Dome in 2016, it was Dillon who took those honors last season by steamrolling a visibly outmanned Syracuse defense to the tune of 193 yards and three scores in the Eagles lopsided 42-14 win. The key to the Eagles success under Steve Addazio has been its line play on both sides of the ball. OT Chris Lindstrom and versatile TE Tommy Sweeney help open up the ground game for fellow first-teamer Dillon, while the defense is bookended by first team safety Lukas Denis who finished tied for second in the nation with seven interceptions last season. The good news continues for the Eagles heading into the season with the return of quarterback Anthony Brown from a torn ACL in his right knee suffered two weeks before last year’s Syracuse rout. In this season-ending rivalry game as the ACC has scheduled it in all but one of SU’s six seasons, Dillon’s second scoring run puts the Eagles up 28-24 with 5:00 to play, and being stopped on a 4th and 2 dooms the Orange to disappointment. (6-6, 3-5)

For a team that beat Florida State and Louisville, but finished .500 overall and just 3-5 in the ACC dropping three of its last four games and still unable to win on the road, the invitation to the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in chilly and grey Detroit on the day after Christmas to face the Big Ten’s Indiana, is a nice early Holiday present. After all, a bowl invite means critical extra December practice time before that month’s early signing period for a Syracuse program eager to showcase to ACC-caliber recruits that its stock is rising in arguably the nation’s most competitive conference top-to-bottom. At the site of his final victory as Bowling Green head coach, Babers tastes his first post-season victory guiding the Orange. Dungey takes home the game’s MVP award accounting for four touchdowns and making good on his summertime vow to leave his own legacy with a masterful running and passing performance. The other highlight of the eventual 28-17 win over the Hoosiers is that several key underclassmen contribute on both sides of the ball, painting an optimistic tine for the transition to winter workouts and the February signing day. (7-6, 3-5)

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Brad Bierman
About Brad Bierman 537 Articles
Now in his fifth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.