Orange Watch: One third complete, Syracuse football season on track for a bowl game

A 3-1 start and eyeing a bowl game provides optimism that the atmosphere will remain festive at the Dome the rest of the season
A 3-1 start and eyeing a bowl game provides optimism that the atmosphere will remain festive at the Dome the rest of the season

Item: Based on the schedule, it wasn’t too hard to predict a 3-1 start out of the gate for this year’s Orange, notwithstanding that no one could have forecast a second straight, season- ending injury for Terrel Hunt in the opening game and the subsequent early launch of the Eric Dungey era running the offense, with the Dungey injury then necessitating the switch to first Austin Wilson followed by walk-on Zack Mahoney. Four quarterbacks seeing action for the second straight year might prove a program’s undoing, but give credit to Scott Shafer and the ‘Cuse coaching staff for the recruitment of better talent the last three cycles, and for putting those players in position to win games. Oh, by the way, we did join many who also correctly predicted a 3-1 September start, but unlike most, we were pretty close on the LSU score at 31-23 Tigers instead of the 34-24 final.

For the most part, are you pleased with the Orange on the field so far in ‘15? What’s not to like, except for perhaps not pulling off the LSU upset, assorted potentially fixable ailments across all three units, and the illegal hit by Central Michigan D-lineman Mitch Stanitzek on Dungey in the Sept. 19 game?

There’s very few dominating teams across the national landscape, and the total number of unbeaten teams, which currently stands at 29, will be greatly reduced a month from now. Why won’t the Orange have a good shot at winning virtually every game left on the schedule?

Yes, the likely exceptions are No. 9/11 Florida State at Tallahassee on Oct. 31, and No. 11/12 Clemson invading the Dome on Nov. 14, although that game, like the competitive LSU loss, will provide another chance at a monumental program win inside the (hopeful) Loud House. After those two ACC division rivals when you look at South Florida, Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, N.C. State and Boston College, precluding an onslaught of more injuries, they’re six winnable games even the one’s on the road, and that’s the mentality inside, and at the top, of the program.

“We can win any game we play,” Shafer said is response to a question concerning the program’s national perception after playing LSU close until the final 12:00 of the game. “Our kids, I think our kids believe that, I really do. And I want our fans to believe that to. We’ve had some incredible circumstances over the last couple of seasons being down some guys (with injuries), but we can beat anybody in the country, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

» Related: Syracuse hangs tough, but can’t top LSU

That message gained traction with the players each week of September as the competition increased, culminating with the on field performance against a stellar SEC team in LSU with former fifth string quarterback Mahoney leading the offensive charge, and sophomore captain Zaire Franklin anchoring the equally young but athletic and improving defense.

“Coming into the game, we knew how good a team LSU was, how great a back (Leonard) Fournette is, but at the same time we believe we can beat anybody on any given day,” Franklin said echoing his coach’s mantra. “That’s just how college football is anybody can be beaten on any day. We came out here (vs. LSU) expecting that things would go our way, unfortunately it didn’t.”

With several injured players expected back during October, including Dungey to resume his early eye opening play, and the defense, especially the secondary tightening up its play, along with the continued bright spots on special teams in the return game and kick coverage, there should be plenty of reasons for crowd support for now only three remaining home games over the season’s final nine weeks.

“I want our fans to come to this Dome when we play teams like (LSU) and expect us to make them fourth quarter games, and be part of a big celebration when we beat someone we’re not supposed to,” Shafer said after his 29th game as head coach of the Orange. “We owe that to our fans. That’s what we want, that’s what we work hard to do, and we’ll get there…we’ll get there.”

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth 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.