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 our season prediction was off by one game with the 5-7 record. A look at games 5-8 in schedule order appear below, games 9-12 will be published next Tuesday.
The first game in October is Syracuse’s third all-time meeting with FCS opponent Wagner. The previous two matchups in the Dome were both blowouts – 54-0 in 2013, and 62-7 in 2018, which also happened to be the last two seasons SU went to a bowl game, so perhaps there is a good omen playing the Seahawks again in 2022.
Wagner plays two FBS road games this year (at Rutgers September 10) earning hefty paychecks to support the program, which plays its home games at 3,500 seat Wagner College Stadium on Staten Island, originally built in 1967.
Syracuse has not lost to an FCS school since FBS programs separated from their smaller FCS counterparts in 1978 (16-0), and that will not change this year in a 45-10 victory. (4-1, 2-0)
Following a weekend off which occurs the week before the halfway point of the season (October 8), the ‘Cuse begins a four-game stretch against the preseason-ranked 4th, 5th, 13th, and 17th ranked teams in the AP media poll. It’s easy to see why it’s the toughest portion of any 2022 schedule among Power Five conference teams.
It begins with North Carolina State (13th AP), a team picked as a dark horse to win the ACC, although the team’s conference opener at Clemson two weeks before heading to the Dome will go a long way to determining the Wolfpack’s fate.
NCSU quarterback Devin Leary is the real deal, passing for 3,433 yards and 35 touchdowns last season in an offense tilted to the air than the ground, bur expected to be more balanced this season behind a top-notch O-line. The ‘Pack’s defense is just as good, with a linebacker corps of Drake Thomas, Devon Betty, and Payton Wilson that might be a step ahead of SU’s starting trio of Mikel Jones, Stefon Thompson, and Marlowe Wax.
This already third ACC home game will also come down to the wire with Leary doing what he does best, throwing a short touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter to stun the Orange 38-34. (4-2, 2-1)
It’s been 14 years since Clemson (4th AP) pushed Tommy Bowden out the door following a 3-3 start to the 2008 season and replaced him with one-time wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Swinney, never more than a position coach prior to replacing Bowden first on an interim basis then permanently, is 150-36 (81%) over that time, with two national championships, four CFP appearances, and nine New Year’s Six bowl game invitations, the envy of the ACC.
He’s also lost once to Syracuse as the No.2 ranked team in that famous Friday night Dome affair in October 2017, so SU is always a marked game on the Tigers schedule.
Despite “dipping” to 10-3 season last year with “only” two 2022 NFL draft picks, CU is the most talented team in the ACC, the pre-season media choice to win the league, with a team-high six preseason all-conference selections. The big question mark is at quarterback where returnee DJ Uiagalelei looks to hold off star recruit Cade Klubnik.
The ‘Cuse players love the challenge of playing in front of 81,500 at Memorial Stadium and will forge another spirited game until two late Tigers scores secure a sometimes tense 30-20 victory much to the relief of the home crowd. (4-3, 2-2)
We all remember the last time Notre Dame (5th AP) ventured into the Dome in Paul Pasqualoni’s penultimate season.
It was December 6, 2003 in front of an announced crowd of 48,170, and the game’s star was the late Walter Reyes who rushed for five touchdowns in SU’s 38-12 romp, tied with Floyd Little and only behind Jim Brown’s six TD game versus Colgate in 1956. The unsung Reyes also had a 241-yard rushing performance earlier that season against Central Florida, second only to Joe Morris who ran for 252-yards at Kansas in 1979.
New Fighting Irish coach Marcus Freeman is a defensive wizard and has brought a fresh perspective to the program following Brian Kelly’s 12-year run. One element is similar, a tough intersectional schedule as an FBS Independent. ND will have already faced Ohio State and North Carolina on the road, and BYU in Las Vegas among its seven games before arriving in the ‘Cuse, so keeping his team mentally tough week-in, week-out is a challenge for Freeman.
This game turns out to be a 7:30 p.m. (ET) ABC telecast with a crowd of 45,000 + rocking the Dome. From the opening kickoff, that leads to a nine-play Syracuse drive for a touchdown punctuated on a nifty 15-yard Sean Tucker burst, to the contest’s conclusion, the Orange play off the loudness to an impressive 28-17 upset victory. For the second consecutive year SU is a win away from clinching bowl eligibility before Halloween. (5-3, 2-2)