In most media outlets’ ACC season predictions, the same six teams appear at the bottom of the projected standings. Syracuse is one of them, but at least the other five all appear on the Orange slate and will be coming to the Carrier Dome. That’s correct, SU’s revised schedule can easily be split into having its toughest games on the road and its more winnable contests, including the lone non-conference game with Liberty, coming at home.
|Sat, Sep 12||12:00pm||at North Carolina||ACC Network|
|Sat, Sep 19||12:00pm||at Pittsburgh||ACC Network|
|Sat, Sep 26||TBD||GEORGIA TECH||TBD|
|Sat, Oct 10||TBD||DUKE||TBD|
|Sat, Oct 17||TBD||LIBERTY||TBD|
|Sat, Oct 24||TBD||at Clemson||TBD|
|Sat, Oct 31||TBD||WAKE FOREST||TBD|
|Sat, Nov 7||TBD||BOSTON COLLEGE||TBD|
|Fri, Nov 20||7:30pm||at Louisville||ESPN|
|Sat, Nov 28||TBD||NORTH CAROLINA ST||TBD|
|Sat, Dec 5||TBD||at Notre Dame||TBD|
Of course, that means every road contest is expected to be an extremely difficult matchup. Clemson sits atop the preseason AP poll and Notre Dame resides at #10 (polls included all college teams, not just those scheduled to play in the fall). The Orange kick off at #18 North Carolina, bookending the schedule with ranked foes. Louisville also earned votes in the opening poll, leaving Pitt as the lone road opponent not to have that honor.
Even with the five conference foes coming to Syracuse having fairly similar expectations, only Georgia Tech looks like one the Orange will be favored to beat. That means a winning season likely rests on the Orange having their best performances in every home game.
So, can the Orange have their best performances at home when the season will start without fans in attendance? And that is just the first of a slew of challenges. The team has two new coordinators, including an entire overhaul of the defense, minimal spring football practice, and the possibility of multiple players opting to sit out.
After last season, it is impossible to say anything other than the offensive success will be determined by the line. The unit gave up 24 sacks in three games in October, but when it shifted to feature four of the five expected 2020 starters, it permitted just five sacks in the final three contests last season. And will Chris Bleich, likely the fifth starter if he was available, be ruled eligible by the NCAA?
Tommy DeVito had a solid first season as a starter, but the line hindered him, particularly when it came to finding receivers downfield. The wide receivers feature Taj Harris, who has established himself as a complimentary piece, but can he be more? Was Nykeim Johnson’s freshman season a fluke? Can Aaron Hackett and Luke Benson increase their production at tight end in an offense that does not traditionally rely on that position? Will a running back step up into a full-time role and, if so, who will it be?
And on defense, the 3-3-5 seems like a good idea given the strength of the personnel in the defensive backfield. Andre Cisco, Ifeatu Melifonwu, and Trill Williams can hang with almost any trio. But, the linebacking corps is almost completely devoid of meaningful experience and the line is short on it beyond the expected starters… again, in the new scheme. Of course, everyone on that side of the ball is yet to play it in a game.
The schedule is built to help SU with the easier matchups on paper all on familiar turf, which should help to some degree. Its bye weeks also come fairly spaced out with three games before the first and three games following the second.
But, so much is unknown. How long will Chris Elmore start on the offensive line? Will Dakota Davis return this season and, of so, when? (Why did Chris Bleich’s appeal get denied by the NCAA?) Will the line as a whole be functional? Better? Worse? Will the running backs contribute? And all the skill position questions, particularly at wide receiver?
And will all the new linebackers work out on defense? Will Cody Roscoe and Steve Linton help provide pass rush? Will the defensive backs take to the new alignment and make even more plays? Can Garrett Williams hold up at corner?
And you laugh because Riley Dixon and Sterling Hofrichter made this not a question for several years, but will one of the punters provide steady work on special teams?
There is little margin for error for the Orange with all their unknowns. If things break at their realistic best, 8-3 is the ceiling. Again, that is their realistic best, which is unlikely to happen with that sheer number of unknowns.
The path to a winning record includes Syracuse sweeping all six of their home games and even that seems unlikely. I think a fair prediction for the Orange is 4-7 with a 3-7 mark in ACC play. Every college football team has questions this season, but SU has a long list that does not even touch on the coronavirus pandemic and all that entails.