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 9-13 in schedule order appear below.
We had to do a double-take when researching the Syracuse-Pittsburgh series dating back to the Paul Pasqualoni years. First off, Syracuse has only won once (2001) on the road since the Panthers moved off-campus to Heinz Field (now Acrisure Stadium) that same year, and in the last 20 games against its longtime Eastern rivals, SU is just 3-17. 3-17!
Even the strong 2018 bowl-winning Orange team lost 44-37 in OT on the road, one of only two ACC defeats that season.
This year will likely result in the same tough challenge because Pitt (17th AP preseason poll) figures to be fighting for the Coastal Division title (with Miami and North Carolina) for the second straight year, and the road game concludes a brutal stretch of four straight matchups against AP preseason ranked teams.
Gone are the explosive duo of quarterback Kenny Pickett (drafted in the first round by the crosstown NFL Steelers) and wideout Jordan Addison (transferred to USC), but back the other way is USC transfer QB Kedon Slovis to run the offense. In a shootout with Garrett Shrader, the Panthers score last and keep the hex on the ‘Cuse with a 41-38 win. (5-4, 2-3)
It seems incomprehensible with the resources that the program has, the fanbase, the talent in the state, and the legacy of winning under Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher, that Florida State would have fallen so far so fast since Fisher left for Texas A&M in December 2017.
The plummet actually started in Fisher’s final season when he departed after the 11th game (5-6 under Fisher with a 7-6 final record), continued through the disastrous 21-game tenure under Willie Taggart in 2018-19, and has produced two losing seasons so far in the Mike Norvell era. So, there’s no place to go but up.
The ‘Noles are primed to take a step forward this year, but it’s relative to four straight losing seasons. Like SU, FSU is eyeing six wins and bowl eligibility against a tough schedule.
Syracuse lost a winnable game in Tallahassee last season on a final play field goal, and this year will dominate in the home Dome finale. Sean Tucker will run for three scores and Shrader will pass for two more in a 42-28 victory clinching bowl eligibility, prompting a sideline liquid soaking of Dino Babers as the final seconds tick down. (6-4, 3-3)
The news on August 10 that Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman is out indefinitely with “a non-football related medical condition” was stunning. The redshirt junior and two-time captain is the Demon Deacons all-time leader with 72 touchdowns passes, coming off a season in which he led the team to an 11-3 record, threw for 4,228 yards and 39 of those 72 career touchdowns, and ran for another 11 TDs as a second-team all-conference selection.
Wake coach Dave Clawson expects Hartman to return this season, but the Syracuse game is second-to-last on the schedule November 19, so it’s unknown if Hartman will indeed be back by then or not.
In the meantime, redshirt freshman Mitch Griffis is expected to take over the job running the RPO which has multiple talented options running and catching the ball, and the WF defensive front is one of the most talented in the league.
While it’s hard to predict if Hartman plays in this game or not, we do predict that Syracuse will frustratingly fall victim to a fluke play in the fourth quarter when an apparent Duce Chestnut interception instead deflects in the air to Deacs WR Donovan Greene for a 28-yard game-winning TD pass. Wake 31, SU 28. (6-5, 3-4)
We have said it often, there should be permanent regular season-ending rivalry games for all 14 ACC teams. In alphabetical order: Clemson-South Carolina, Duke-North Carolina, Georgia Tech-Georgia, Florida State-Florida, Louisville-Kentucky, Miami-Pittsburgh, North Carolina State-Wake Forest, and Virginia-Virginia Tech.
That leaves the annual Syracuse versus Boston College meeting which should played in the Dome or Chestnut Hill every Thanksgiving weekend.
Last year, Syracuse played one of its best games defensively, and Tucker ran for 207-yards in a 21-6 triumph. This year figures to be closer in the fourth quarter, but we have a sneaky suspicion that the Orange will finally gut-out a cherished (and rare) ACC road victory with a late defensive stop to end the regular season on an up-note with a 30-22 win. Let bowl game preparations begin. (7-5, 4-4)
With all but four ACC teams bowl eligible, Syracuse has to settle for playing a non-Power 5 conference team as its bowl opponent. At least SU gets a post-Christmas date with placement in the December 28 Military Bowl against American Athletic Conference member Memphis at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
The Tigers are the preseason pick to finish fifth in the AAC, with new OC and DC coordinators under third year coach Ryan Silverfield.
Unlike last season when COVID-19 played havoc preventing the Military Bowl (Boston College-East Carolina) from being contested, and the Hawaii Bowl being canceled after Memphis traveled all the way to Honolulu only to have the host school Hawaii pull out the day before kickoff, SU and UM after a week of practice in the Washington, D.C. area, play a spirited game.
Tied at 17 at halftime, the Orange score on two of three possessions in the third quarter, and add another 10 points in the fourth quarter, while holding Memphis to only one touchdown and field goal after intermission to win 37-27. Tucker runs for 211-yards in his SU finale to be named the game’s MVP. The program is moving in the right direction on and off the field, and John Wildhack is rewarded for his faith in Babers. (8-5, 4-4)