Item: Scott Shafer declared eight wins his minimum goal for year two back in the spring, and seeking a one game improvement over last season will come against a most challenging schedule. Part I is Villanova through Florida State. Part II runs next Monday Aug. 25 and picks up with Wake Forest through the end of the season.
Except for a misplaced open Saturday on Sept. 6 that results in a grueling nine consecutive weeks of football until an open weekend on Nov. 15, the order of the first three games of the Syracuse season provides a perfect step-up in competition each week towards the goal of becoming only the fifth SU squad to start a season 3-0 in the last 48 years (’67, ’75, ’87, ’91), before the much spotlighted game with quasi-ACC football foe Notre Dame at MetLife Stadium on Sept. 27.
The 125th season of Syracuse football gets started with FCS member Villanova traveling to the SU campus for the first time in football since 1975, when the Wildcats were still playing as a Div. I program. As VU did a year ago at Boston College in the season opener (falling 24-14), they’ll hang around all evening in the typically stuffy, late summer Dome elements, before Terrel Hunt methodically leads the cementing scoring drive with 5:00 left in a 35-17 SU victory, also aided by a strong overall defensive effort before liberal substitutions late in the fourth quarter. (1-0)
First road opponent Central Michigan will have played at home versus Chattanooga and at Purdue before welcoming the Orange to the friendly college town of Mount Pleasant for a noon kickoff Sept. 13. The Chippewas will have been emotionally high aiming to knock off the Big Ten’s Boilermakers the week before coming up short, and come out flat against SU. Again, playing with poise, Hunt looks sharp in the 28-14 win before departing to allow freshman backup AJ Long a couple of late snaps. (2-0)
For the fifth time as a visiting head coach, former Orange player (1979) and assistant coach (1980-90) Randy Edsall will lead Maryland into the Dome. Ironically, Maryland was a team both the ’87 and ’91 teams defeated on route to the rare 3-0 start, a feat that will be matched by this year’s squad. Trailing 23-21 with 3:30 left, DE Micah Robinson forces and recovers a Terps fumble at midfield, and five plays later with :10 remaining, Ryan Norton’s 38 yard field goal stays just inside the east end zone left upright to give the ‘Cuse a 24-23 win, 3-0 momentum, and a scant four votes in the following week’s Top 25 coaches poll for the first time since 2011. (3-0)
There will be numerous game-week stories about this one being the biggest in Scott Shafer’s still nascent head coaching career against 3-0 Notre Dame, off an open week, this year’s home-away-from-home opponent, and an opportunity with an upset victory to announce the program’s continued upswing. Before a boisterous legion of their “Subway Alumni” who flood East Rutherford, it is Irish returning senior QB Everett Golson (from a 2013 academic suspension) who calmly leads ND downfield to a late clinching touchdown to hold off the SU upset bid 34-21, and negate Hunt’s brilliant day throwing for two scores and running for another, an Orange defense that stood its ground until late in the fourth quarter, and the debut of the alternate grey home uniform jerseys and pants, which were at least combined with the familiar and comforting orange helmet in front of a regional ABC TV audience who must have been wondering who’s playing Notre Dame when first tuning in. (3-1)
In the spirit of the long promoted “Orange Out” for the loud Friday Night national TV atmosphere inside the Dome (including some clever Bobby Petrino signs) for old Big East and new ACC rival Louisville (who will have already played three ACC games), the Orange come out for pregame warm-ups in almost all-orange, donning orange helmets and pants with the familiar blue jersey, and emotionally charged up. That carries over to the game when in the first half Syracuse concentrates on moving the chains on offense to keep the Cardinals fast-paced QB Will Gardner on the sidelines, twice scoring on time-consuming drives, and once quickly following a pick deep in Cards territory by CB Julian Whigham, to go on and beat UL, 30-20. (4-1/1-0)
Not even an extra day off for the ‘Cuse before hosting number one Florida State, the first top-ranked team to play in the Dome since a 49-7 loss to Miami in 2002’s season finale, would stop the Seminoles and QB Jameis Winston, the first reigning Heisman Trophy winner to play on the SU campus, from their intended mission to make the Orange victim number six. Winston passes for three scores and runs for two more, while the ‘Noles defense puts the clamps on the SU running game in a 40-28 win. (4-2/1-1)
Be sure to check back on Monday Aug. 25 as Orange Watch picks up from Wake Forest through the end of the season.