In the latest edition of a multi-part series, editorial staff of The Juice Online discuss various topics on Syracuse football. Today’s topic: Can Syracuse return to a bowl game in 2012?
Wesley Cheng: Rachel, Syracuse was one win short of qualifying for its second straight bowl game last season. Do you see Syracuse getting back to a bowl game this year?
Rachel Marcus: While Syracuse was just one win away from making a bowl game last season, it’s important to keep in mind that it was also one win away with five games to play before it lost those last five. So the Orange have some regrouping to do. Last year, the team was coming off its Pinstripe Bowl win. This year, people don’t expect as much and the Big East schedule won’t be easy. On top of that, the Orange play a dangerous nonconference schedule. I just can’t see them making a bowl game this year.
WC: That seems to be the general consensus with this team. I think this team is more talented than it was last year, but the brutal non conference schedule makes a bowl game a tough place to reach. That being said, let’s try to look on the bright side. Taking a look at SU’s schedule, which are the “swing” games that will make the difference between a 6-6 bowl season and a 4-8 clunker?
RM: I think you have to start with the first game on the schedule — Northwestern. Even though it’s not a conference game, beating a Big Ten team in Northwestern could give the team confidence heading into the next game against USC. And Northwestern, who will be the favorite, is beatable. They came into the Dome three years ago and were upset by Syracuse. I don’t see why the Orange can’t do that again. Looking further down the schedule, I think the last home game, against Louisville, will be key. Assuming SU is in the bowl discussion, beating the Cardinals would be a huge boost. They’re one of a couple Big East teams SU hasn’t been able to beat lately and are expected to be one of the better teams in the conference. But as we saw last year with the West Virginia game, SU is capable of showing up against the best and winning.
WC: No question that Northwestern will be a key game for the season. The other game I see as being critical is the week 4 matchup against another Big 10 team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Though it’s at TCF Bank Stadium, the game is definitely winnable. Minnesota is coming off a tough 3-9 year and has yet to establish a true home field advantage. If Syracuse can win weeks 1 and 4, it would start the season 3-1 heading into the Big East schedule. As you accurately stated, Syracuse is capable of beating (and losing) to anyone in the Big East and if it has that kind of momentum heading into conference play, anything is possible. So, while most are expecting a losing record this season, let’s play the role of an optimistic fan. What is the best possible finish for this team?
RM: I agree with you on the Minnesota game. That’s a must-win for the Orange. If SU manages to enter Big East play with a 3-1 record as you said, I think it is definitely capable of winning at least three Big East games and possibly four. I can see Syracuse finally beating UConn and Louisville, and especially Temple. I’d even say wins at home against Pittsburgh and at Rutgers aren’t out of the question. SU needs to get the job done against teams it should beat and is also good enough to give some of the better Big East teams a run for their money. With that being said, I think the Orange have an outside shot at 7-5. But more realistically, I see 6-6 as a best possible finish for this team. Do you see them performing any better than .500?
WC: Let’s break this down into tiers:
1st Tier (No shot in hell): USC.
2nd Tier (A puncher’s chance): Louisville. Rutgers. Cincinnati. Missouri.
3rd Tier (A chance): USF. Pitt. Northwestern. Minnesota.
4th Tier (Should win): Temple. UConn.
5th Tier (Will win): Stony Brook.
An optimist in this situation would take one win from the second tier, two wins from the third tier and three wins from the fourth and fifth tier. That would give SU a 6-6 record. An extreme optimist would sneak another win out from the second or third tier, which would give them a 7-5 record. A pessimist would only take wins in the fourth and fifth tier, or a 3-9 record. Personally, I see them finishing either 5-7 or 6-6, so to answer your question, no, I don’t see them performing better than .500. That being said, finishing .500 qualifies them for a bowl game, which is impressive given their tough schedule this season.