Item: It’s that time of year again. Our look into the crystal ball as to how the SU football season is going to turn out, in what’s a most critical year for Dino Babers to move the needle on the program’s success. A .500 record and bowl game participation are the minimum standards. Last year, we predicted the ‘Cuse would beat Pittsburgh in the regular season finale to go 6-6 and bowling, so we were off by one game with the 5-7 finish. A look at games 1-4 in schedule order appear below, games 5-8 and 9-12 will be published next week.
Also time for our annual rant about college football being the only sport that the team’s don’t play some sort of pre-season exhibition game. It’s crazy. All teams need live action against someone wearing different colored jerseys with a winning stake in the matter, and getting used to game management conditions with a final result that doesn’t count.
If you’re going to put an FCS team on the schedule, like Syracuse has with Wagner, then make it the season opener. It’s the closest resemblance to an exhibition contest.
Instead, the ACC and ESPN want to make sure there’s enough quality programming on the ACC Network week-in and week-out. So, with five league teams already opening with games against FCS opponents in Week 1, seven others playing FBS out-of-conference games, and Clemson-Georgia Tech the designated Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta on Labor Day evening, Syracuse has to open right up away with a conference game against Louisville. Don’t like it.
At least the game is in the newly renamed JMA Wireless Dome, and hopefully a crowd in the range of 35,000 shows up to make it a ‘Loud House.’ But UL simply owns SU in ACC play winning seven of the eight games, with three straight blowouts at Cardinal Stadium.
This time we have a hunch the Orange are going to come out a team possessed from the opening drive and through the first half to lead at intermission. The Cardinals sensational quarterback Malik Cunningham (he has accounted for nine touchdowns in the last three games against SU) will forge a second half comeback to put the ‘Ville on top, before one final Syracuse drive results in a winning field goal from Andre Szmyt and a most satisfying 34-32 victory. (1-0, 1-0)
New Connecticut coach Jim Mora was vacationing in Italy last fall when one day his agenda was uprooted. An intermediary reached out to inquire if Mora would be interested in the school’s open head coaching job, vacant after former Syracuse player and assistant coach Randy Edsall was forced out following a 0-2 start in ’21.
Mora returned home, mulled the offer, and accepted the herculean challenge of restoring the program to competitiveness with the handicap of playing as an FBS Independent. While there’s a positive buzz in Storrs, there’s also the reality of a program needing an influx of talent over several recruiting and transfer portal cycles to be in a position to win games against a hodgepodge of a schedule.
Following an emotional win over Louisville and in its first road game of the season, it takes Syracuse until the beginning of the fourth quarter to control a pesky Huskies team, settling for a 35-21 win and first 2-0 start since 2018. (2-0, 1-0)
Every current Big Ten team has been a visitor to the Dome except Wisconsin and Purdue. That changes with the Boilermakers appearance on campus in week three of the season, a home-and-home series that has the ‘Cuse playing in West Lafayette, Ind. next year.
Like Syracuse, Purdue jumps right into the season with a difficult home conference game against Penn State (September 1), then faces Indiana State before heading to the Dome for the first time.
This game will be a test for the SU D-line and secondary. Purdue quarterback Aidan O’Connell directs a more pass-centric offense, throwing for 3,712 yards and 28 touchdowns last season and impressively named to the All-Big Ten second team.
The Orange offensive line will have a standout game opening up space for Sean Tucker who will have his second straight 150 yard plus performance, but SU can’t offset a late Purdue drive capped off by an O’Connell touchdown pass in a 28-24 Boilermakers win. (2-1, 1-0)
In this last season of the ACC’s Atlantic and Coastal Divisions, the final non-permanent crossover opponent is Virginia, which just so happens to be where both SU offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterbacks coach Jason Beck spent the last six seasons racking up huge numbers.
There will be a ton of mixed emotions on both sidelines amongst the players and staffs for each program as Anae’s and Beck’s former and current players dual to one-up the other in a highly entertaining Friday night affair.
UVA’s Brennan Armstrong and SU’s Garrett Shrader will trade offensive marksmanship, each passing for two first-half touchdowns, and Tucker takes one to the house from 35-yards out to give the ‘Cuse a 12-point lead midway in the fourth quarter.
Armstrong’s fourth TD pass cuts the lead to five, before SU holds the Cavaliers on fourth down on their final possession with 1:30 to play capping a sweet 32-27 victory. Anae and Beck then receive a spirited postgame shower in the locker room, while fully dressed, from the ecstatic Orange players. (3-1, 2-0)