There’s still plenty to learn about this Syracuse football team

Kyle Strickland
Syracuse defensive back Kyle Strickland smiles during warmups. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

I get it, I get it, I get it. Really, I do.

Syracuse is 3-0 on the strength of beating Florida State for the first time in over 50 years. The unheralded Orange defense dominated FSU’s top-notch recruits, holding them to 1-of-14 on third downs, 62 rushing yards, and 240 total yards of offense. Tommy DeVito was forced into action by a metaphorical grain of sand in Eric Dungey’s eye and led the SU offense to a superb second half performance, blowing open a tight game.

Syracuse fans, you’re totally stoked about what’s happening. Things look like a return to 2012, when the Orange won eight games, could be in the cards. And maybe a return to 2001 is in the near future. That is when SU last logged ten wins, including a bowl game rout of Kansas State.

But, what have Dino Babers and his troops really accomplished to this point? And is this sustainable?

To the first point, Syracuse had their way with Western Michigan for three quarters en route to an easy win. The Orange then toyed with Wagner, a lower-division school. And SU methodically wore down Florida State on Saturday, gradually pulling away with three consecutive second half scoring drives that turned a 6-0 lead into a 23-0 stranglehold.

The win over the Seminoles is obviously the notable one, as that name-brand program sticks out like a sore thumb on the early part of the schedule. But, are they deserving of that name-brand status?

FSU lost their opener at home to Virginia Tech, turning the ball over five times and giving up five sacks. The next week, Florida State fell behind FCS opponent Samford in the first three minutes, never led until just over four minutes remained, and needed a pick-six to hold on for the win. Then, the Carrier Dome happened.

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As a result, the 1-2 Seminoles are rated 56th in the nation by ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) and projected to end the season 4-8. The Orange? That same rating has them ranked 38th in the country and projected to go 8-4.

The Sagarin ratings have SU at #42 and Florida State at #59.

It sounds like the name of the state should be replaced with a different geographical location to make more sense of Syracuse’s big victory, like maybe San Diego State, Kansas State, or Iowa State. After all, those teams are all within shouting distance of the ‘Noles in the Sagarin rankings.

Now, back to that second point about sustainability.

The depth on the roster is looking improved, at least at certain positions. The offensive line has looked solid, the defensive line and backs quite good, even when the reserves get into the mix, and freshmen Tommy DeVito, Andre Cisco, and Jarveon Howard have all played a significant role in SU’s success.

But, are the Orange still one injury away from having major problems? And no, I’m not talking about the obvious one.

What if wide receiver Jamal Custis sprains a knee ligament and goes on the shelf for a month? Or if Chris Slayton, the defensive tackle who eats up blockers to free Alton Robinson and Kendall Coleman to wreak havoc in the opponent’s backfield, goes down with more than what Babers would call “an owie”?

On the whole, the team looks more prepared to deal with the physical attributes of their ACC brethren, be it size, speed, or strength. But, if a linchpin should fall, can the results hold?

Now, these doubts are not to put a damper on Syracuse fans’ feelings following a big upset win (no, really, they’re not).

But, we’ve seen even bigger wins in Dino Babers’ short tenure as SU. And, unfortunately, those wins were followed by… little else positive.

And this coming Saturday, Connecticut visits the Dome. UConn is #125 in the FPI and #161 in Sagarin after giving up an average of 59 points per game to a pair of FBS opponents, then needing a score in the final minute to defeat FCS team Rhode Island a couple days ago.

So, it’s unlikely anyone will learn anything on Saturday about the Syracuse football team aside from if they’re overlooking their opponent or otherwise distracted.

Why would they be distracted on Saturday? Well, there’s a trip to #3 Clemson the following weekend for a game that was decreed Monday to be nationally televised by ABC. You know, Clemson, who might have a little bit of revenge on their minds after one of those even bigger wins in Babers’ tenure at Syracuse.

So, while the Orange are 3-0 and looking very likely to reach 4-0 for the first time since 1991, what is also very likely is that we will all learn more about this SU football team in that Clemson game than we did in the preceding four games.

Hopefully, what we learn is there is a lot to like about this Syracuse team.

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Jim Stechschulte
About Jim Stechschulte 499 Articles
A 1996 graduate of Syracuse University, Jim has reported on Syracuse sports for the Syracuse University Alumni Club of Southern California on nearly a decade, where he currently resides. He has also written a fantasy basketball column published by NBA.com. Follow him on Twitter @DSafetyGuy.