Item: It’s our annual August guess as to how the Orange football season will play out, in this case year number three of the Dino Babers era, and the sixth year in the ultra-competitive ACC. With both the university, the program, and fan base starving for a bowl game, can the ‘Cuse hit the minimum six victory mark (or better) to qualify for the postseason? The first half of the season ran last week, this part covers games seven through nine with our finale tomorrow.
After a perfectly placed open weekend following the first six games, Syracuse returns to the field on Oct. 20 hosting North Carolina, and SU also has the luxury of knowing it will not have to travel the rest of the month. Talk about doing the exact opposite of staying low key after being one of only four ACC schools (Syracuse, Duke, and Pittsburgh) not to get to a bowl game last season. First, UNC head coach Larry Fedora raised eyebrows and calls for his job following mid July’s ACC Football Kickoff event in Charlotte where he declared he wasn’t convinced it’s been proven “the game of football causes CTE (the degenerative brain disease).” 18 days later the school announced that 13 Tar Heels would be suspended anywhere from one to the first four games, depending on the case, (DE Tomon Fox will miss the SU game on a staggered basis) for the upcoming season, for selling their school-issued, custom edition Nike shoes to a local business for as much as $2,500 a pair. After a week off, it takes a quarter and a half for the Orange offense to get clicking in an eventual closer-than-it-really-looked 32-26 final score. Don’t look now, but the ‘Cuse is just a win away from a bowl game. (5-2, 2-2)
If there’s one other veteran quarterback in the ACC that figures to shine this season in the mode of Syracuse’s Eric Dungey, it’s redshirt senior Ryan Finley of North Carolina State, the media choice for the first team all-preseason squad announced a month ago. Finley threw for 3,518 yards and 17 touchdowns in leading the revitalized Wolfpack to a 9-4,6-2 mark last season, including a 52-21 Sun Bowl rout over Arizona State (Dungey threw for 2,495 yards and 14 TDs in nine games before a broken foot sidelined him for the final three games). Both Babers and Dungey alluded to wanting to replicate the rebuild success Dave Doeren has brought to the ‘Pack during Q&A sessions at the preseason “Kickoff” event, but that’s been a five year timeline, exactly what is reasonably to be expected competing in the ACC. While Dungey ends up with five TDs (three passing, two running) to Finley’s four, it is a late pass deflection that leads to Finley’s fourth score, a perfectly thrown pass in the corner of the end zone with just over 2:00 left to eke out a 38-37 NCSU victory. (5-3, 2-3)
With little time to lick its wounds lamenting a bowl-eligibility win they felt they let get away against N.C. State, SU begins the flip side to October with three road November dates in four weeks starting against a Wake Forest team itself playing at home for the first time in a month on Nov. 3. The Demon Deacons Dave Clawson has also done an equally remarkable speedy Atlantic Division rebuild as Doeren and B.C.’s Steve Addazio in his four seasons. Coming off his best record and a Belk Bowl win over Texas A&M, Clawson also sets the bar for Syracuse and Babers as an annual division foe, and he looks to take Wake to bowl game appearances for three straight seasons accomplished only once previously (2006-08) at the school. In another shootout, but not quite as reminiscent as last season’s Wake rally in a 64-43 debacle at the Dome, Deacons quarterback Kendal Hinton sneaks in for the go ahead touchdown with just over a 1:00 left in the fourth quarter, and a couple of long passes downfield get SU close but not in the end zone in a 42-35 defeat. (5-4, 2-4)