It’s early, but Syracuse football is worth believing in again

Dontae Strickland
Dontae Strickland rushes downfield against Florida State. Mandatory Photo Credit: Initra Marilyn, The Juice Online.

Step back into the time machine for a moment and set the dial to 2015.

That was the last time Syracuse started 3-0 in a season, and Scott Shafer was giving his opening statement following a 30-27 overtime win against Central Michigan.

“It’s been 24 years since Syracuse has been 3-0, so let’s not lose that with our questions. You guys with me?” Shafer said, while adding a fist pound for emphasis. “We’re 3-0 and it’s been 24 years since we’ve been 3-0. Let’s not twist it, turn it, let’s give these kids credit.”

Shafer’s demeanor during the press conference was wary and defensive, telegraphing that the quick start was more serendipitous than presumed.

And he was right. That Syracuse team won only one more game the rest of the year, and it led to Shafer being dismissed at the end of the season.

Let’s step back into the present.

There was a very different feeling when the Orange easily handled Florida State, 30-7, on a steamy Saturday afternoon at the Carrier Dome. The Orange got there by dominating a more talented opponent as opposed to squeaking by a non-Power 5 team.

There was no need to rush the field unlike beating Virginia Tech in 2016 or upsetting No. 2 Clemson last year. Both wins were thrilling, but both wins were flukes.

» Related: Behind Tommy DeVito, Syracuse easily handles Florida State

In contrast, beating Florida State was expected. The Orange was technically a three-point underdog prior to the game, but SU was also a popular upset pick, and showed why.

Dino Babers’ opening statement to the media reflected as much, drawing a stark contrast from his predecessor.

“It’s just one game, let’s not go overboard,” Babers said, with a smile on his face. “But we’re 1-0 in the ACC, and all that does is give us a chance.”

And unlike in years past, the chance is very real.

Look ahead one game, and the Orange hosts Connecticut at the Carrier Dome. The Huskies needed to rally in the second half against FCS opponent Rhode Island, much in the same way Florida State needed the same to subdue Samford.

The Huskies gave up 49 points in the process and have given up 56 points to UCF and 62 points to Boise State. The Orange will be heavily favored.

While SU will be heavy underdogs against Clemson at Death Valley and later faces a tough contest against No. 8 Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium, the Orange will be either favored, or slight underdogs against the remainder of its ACC schedule of Wake Forest, Boston College, Pitt, NC State and North Carolina.

If Syracuse does in fact beat UConn like the prognosticators expect, and does the same against a UNC team that is in a down year (the Tar Heels were trounced by East Carolina, 41-19, and are currently 0-2), they’ll only need one more “coin flip” win among the Deacons, Eagles, Panthers or Wolfpack to reach bowl eligibility.

Perhaps even more encouraging is that the Orange defeated Florida State mostly without its most important player, Eric Dungey. He was knocked out in the second quarter with blurry vision, and was replaced by Tommy DeVito, who had two forgettable games against Wagner and Western Michigan.

But DeVito showed why he was such a prized recruit, throwing for 144 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another.

It was the first time since 2015 that the Orange had won without its starting signal caller.

In the past, so much depended on Dungey’s health. Syracuse doesn’t need to worry as much about that now.

And that has Syracuse football setting its aspirations higher than it’s been in the last five years.

“To get a win like this, we need to enjoy it,” Babers said. “We want to be consistently good, not occasionally great.”

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for covering the New York Knicks, as well as for covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]