Last Saturday was a pretty noteworthy day for the ACC, specifically its Atlantic Division. You may not have paid that much mind to it, as you were likely directing the majority of your attention to just one team from the division, specifically Syracuse manhandling Wagner at the Dome.
Several of SU’s divisional mates were displayed on center stage this past weekend, as #22 Wake Forest played at #23 Florida State in the 3:30pm ABC national broadcast window, then, after some studio show highlight time, the primetime 7:30pm ABC slot went to #10 North Carolina State and #5 Clemson. Heady stuff for the conference, which also had #24 Pittsburgh in the ACC Network’s primetime slot, hosting Georgia Tech.
It was also heady stuff for the Orange once all the weekend activity was in the books. The updated AP poll came out on Sunday with SU debuting at #22. Unsurprisingly, the Seminoles and Panthers plummeted from the rankings after their respective losses. The Wolfpack slid to #14, one spot in front of Wake Forest.
Syracuse will probably take a step or two higher next week, pending the outcomes of the teams listed immediately above them, many being involved in big games. #14 NC State faces Florida State, #16 BYU takes on Notre Dame, #17 TCU and #19 Kansas will lock horns, and #18 UCLA battles #11 Utah, among others. When Saturday’s smoke clears, it certainly looks like the Orange will levitate up a couple spots in the polls with the “0” in their loss column lifting them up like a helium balloon.
And then, once the bye week is in the rearview mirror, SU gets acquainted with all of those ACC teams in and around the top 25, starting with the Wolfpack. The one team who was not in the top 25 last week, yet appears in the next six games of Syracuse’s slate, is Notre Dame, who picked up some points in the coaches’ poll this week.
So, business is going to pick up. And SU may not be ready for all of it.
Going into the season, the Orange looked like a young team, carrying the consequence of being thin. The roster has a handful of pro prospects, but still has problems. And that roster keeps losing players.
Opening day starters Chris Elmore, Stefon Thompson, and Terry Lockett are all lost for the season and Denis Jaquez Jr. ended Saturday’s contest with a cast on his arm. While Jaquez was not on the two-deep coming into the Wagner game, it’s one less body available on the defensive line.
The offensive line has also struggled at times in both run- and pass-blocking. Sean Tucker was held below five yards per carry in three games last season. This year, he is yet to crack the five-yard barrier in four games against FBS opponents. Garrett Shrader has been sacked 13 times already this season, a number that does not account for the number of times he has scrambled for yardage.
Advanced numbers also do not think as kindly of SU as the voters do. Syracuse ranks much lower than #22 based on the statistical analysis of Football Outsiders, who compile their own rankings called FEI ratings. In those FEI rankings, which are determined by the results of non-garbage time play in games involving two FBS teams, the Orange stand 43rd in the nation.
That six-pack of upcoming opponents? Five of the six are higher in the FEI rankings.
- Clemson – #7
- Notre Dame – #14
- Wake Forest – #32
- North Carolina State – #35
- Florida State – #37
- Pittsburgh – #45
Of course, three of the teams ranked above SU are close enough where you can see the Orange winning the game and would not think it is a significant upset, especially since they have already taken down #29 Purdue.
Pittsburgh getting upset at home by Georgia Tech dropped them from comfortably in front of Syracuse, having previously been ranked at #30. And if they lost to ACC bottom-feeder Georgia Tech, they should not be that big a task, right?
Notre Dame looks oddly placed, as they dropped their first two games, including at home to Marshall. However, since being pressed into service due to Tyler Buchner’s injury, Drew Pyne has responded by winning his two starts at quarterback for the Irish, tossing five touchdowns and zero picks. The Irish also have three more games to figure some things out before paying a visit to SU.
And those two teams look like the most vulnerable of the next six opponents for the Orange.
For those of you who want to rely on cliches like “the game is played on the field, not on a computer”, here are some more traditional statistics that suggest the Orange may be offsetting their five-game win streak with a similarly-sized losing skid.
North Carolina State: 9th in pass efficiency ranking allowed
The Wolfpack seems like a bad matchup for Garrett Shrader, even with his excellent performance this season. And in case you think SU will just run the ball instead, NC State is 15th in rushing yards allowed per game. Purdue is the only team SU has faced thus far to rank in the top 75 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game and they allowed Sean Tucker just 42 yards on 18 carries.
Clemson: 4th in rushing yards allowed per carry
While Dino Babers has been relatively successful against the ACC’s measuring stick (1-5 with a pair of one-score losses), this matchup will never not be an uphill battle for the Orange. Sean Tucker had 157 yards on the ground against the Tigers last season, but that is not something to be counted upon, particularly with the offensive line’s struggles.
Notre Dame: 5.5 penalties committed per game
That number is a sharp contrast to the Orange, who are next-to-last in the nation with ten infractions per game. The Orange have only been able to move the offense in fits and starts to this point of the season and their infractions have proven costly at times.
Pittsburgh: 15-2 in the last 17 games against Syracuse
The head-to-head record kind of speaks for itself. Babers is 1-5 against the Panthers, pulling out a 2017 victory by a field goal before losing the last four, including the only loss to an unranked team suffered by the 2018 team.
Florida State: 11th in the nation in yards per play
The Seminoles have a very balanced offense, ranking 35th in passing yards and 24th in rushing yards per game. This might be the toughest test the Orange defense faces all season, with the possible exception of…
Wake Forest: Sam Hartman has a 15-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio
Hartman has been lethal as a triggerman for the Demon Deacons, who rank 27th in the nation in yards per completion at 13.55. The senior quarterback, who missed some time earlier this season, is even better than the team average at 13.91 yards per completion, which would be good for 21st nationally.
Any way you slice it, Syracuse is nearing a very dangerous six-week stretch. While their prospects look better than they did last Friday, they have not gotten any easier. 5-0 looks great on paper and so does the number in the polls, but the Orange are about to hit choppy waters. It remains to be seen if their season ends up on the rocks.