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 was Villanova through Florida State that ran last week. This week, Part II picks up with Wake Forest through the end of the season.
Coming off the emotion of falling to the top team in the nation, and playing only their second true road game, the SU players look like they missed their hotel wakeup call in Winston-Salem for the 12:30 kickoff against Wake Forest falling behind early 17-3. But SU bounces back behind the passing game of Hunt and Jerrod West, Ashton Broyld, Josh Parris and Kendall Moore on the receiving end to mount a second half comeback. West’s long catch sets-up George Morris II’s short go-ahead TD run to escape with a 24-17 win against the improved Demon Deacons. (5-2/2-1)
There are but a few major spots on the map that Syracuse has missed in 125 years of playing college football. Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge (changing in 2017), and Athens come to mind, along with Death Valley Clemson-style, which finally gets crossed off the list in ACC year number two. Orange fans will get to take in the pre-game spectacle of major college tailgating in a major college town, and the Clemson players touching Howard’s Rock and running down the hill onto the field, but they won’t be happy with the second half in which the Tigers take control behind a defense that forces three SU turnovers to produce an eventual 31-17 victory. (5-3/2-2)
After finally getting the North Carolina State hex off its back last season by beating the Wolfpack for the first time in seven meetings dating back to 1972, Syracuse has a bit of payback in mind for the last time NCSU played under the Teflon Top in ‘97. A week after blitzing Wisconsin 34-0 in the Kickoff Classic at the Meadowlands, N.C. State shocked 13th ranked SU in its first-ever OT game 32-31, opting to try a quick, two point conversion pass play after its tying OT touchdown, and converting to stun SU and the crowd of nearly 43,000. The Orange will make it two straight over State 24-16 in a turnover-plagued game by holding off ‘Pack QB Jacoby Brissett on the game’s final drive, and more importantly at 6-3 cement bowl eligibility for the third straight season, leading to a sloppily-planned liquid dousing of Coach Shaf following postgame handshakes. (6-3/3-2)
Of the five Dome visitors this season, one is a first-time guest, but it represents the one ACC program that has become Syracuse’s biggest instant rival. Duke’s first football meeting with SU since the universities played a home-and-home series in 1938-39, will rekindle the back-and-forth between the two schools following a couple of spectacular basketball meetings and a dramatic lacrosse finish earlier this calendar year. Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe has upped the recruiting in seven years directing the program, and after Duke escapes with a 31-27 win, disappointed Orange fans are left waiting for their next Blue Devil fix once college hoops conference play begins after the first of the year. (6-4/3-3)
What is it about Pittsburgh having SU’s number? Sure, the ‘Cuse won 14-13 in 2012, but that was only the fourth win against the longtime (69 games) rival this century, and we all remember the frustration of last year’s 17-16 defeat in the Dome postponing bowl eligibility a week. On a cold day with snow flurries at Heinz Field, freshman Erv Phillips will give the Orange a quick 7-0 lead on a 54 yard punt return for a score and SU leads 17-7 at halftime, before the Panthers QB-WR combo of Chad Voytik and Tyler Boyd repeatedly go after the SU secondary to loosen things up for the running game, resulting in three second half touchdowns from short yardage and a 28-24 win. (6-5/3-4)
At 6-5 and not wanting to end the season with a three game losing streak which would likely mean a third appearance in five years in the Pinstripe Bowl this time against a Big Ten opponent, Syracuse will clearly have its sights set on beating conference-designated, season-ending rival Boston College, also 6-5, for the second straight year. In a taut game played in frosty conditions and tied 14-14 midway through the third quarter, special teams turns out to be the difference. First, Wayne Morgan partially blocks a BC field goal attempt and the Orange recover in Eagles territory leading to a Hunt-West TD pass and a 21-14 lead. Later, Norton converts a 40 yard FG with the wind at his back with 5:00 left to provide the defense enough of a cushion in a 24-14 victory, win number seven, but still one shy of the coach’s springtime proclamation. (7-5/4-4)
After some intense behind-the-scenes lobbying seeking the ACC’s Tier One Music City Bowl bid for a trip to Nashville (southern recruiting prescience) to face an SEC team on New Year’s Eve afternoon, the Orange reluctantly settle for the December 27 Tier Two Military Bowl spot with game-week activities in Washington, and the contest itself against American Athletic Conference foe East Carolina (6-6) at Navy’s not-so-ritzy 34,000 seat Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (especially when you compare Houston’s NRG Stadium from last year’s Texas Bowl) in near-by Annapolis, tremendously displeasing the fan base.
Undeterred by the perceived conference snub, SU will come out blazing on an unseasonably warm (48°) and sunny Dec. day, scoring the first three times it has possession for a 13-0 lead. But the Pirates roar back to take a 21-20 lead with the ball at midfield with 3:00 to play. On 4th and inches, ECU coach Ruffin McNeill decides to go for it, but the snap is bobbled by QB Shane Carden and SU stuffs the play taking over at the Pirates 49 yard line with 2:30 left. With one timeout and driving deep into East Carolina territory knowing a field goal would win it, Hunt calls his own number on a QB draw scampering in nimbly from 16 yards out with :12 to play to pull out a 27-21 victory, and finish with Coach Shaf’s much hoped for eighth win. (8-5)