Posted: 10:00 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013
By Sean Keeley
Alright, what do you say we cut the chit-chat, a-hole? It's time to lay down some hardcore, barely-legal, honest-to-blog predictions for the 2013 Syracuse Orange football season. Everyone...FIRE AT WILL(JUNIOR)!
Ohhhh boy, the 2013 football season is upon us! And it's that time of year when we're asked to give our predictions. Interestingly enough, I've been perfect on predictions every year (don't bother looking it up, it's true). This season I'm predicting we'll see something we all expect but hope not to see: growing pains. There's no way Scott Shafer and company won't take some time to adapt, especially with a new quarterback and in a new conference.
Still, learning on the fly aside, Syracuse should have enough talent to be within reach of six wins. In fact, I wouldn't be shocked if Shafer gets this team there by winning five of the six Dome games. But ultimately I think the Orange fall just short of six victories, finishing a competitive there's-still-a-lot-to-like-here 5-7.
I think this is about where we expect the Orange to end up. The offense is run based, something I'm pretty confident with thanks to PTG's breakout bowl game and Jerome Smith's bruising style that can survive behind a less than stellar offensive line. As the season progresses, i think the defense will end up carrying the team. I'm high on Spruill and Davis anchoring the linebacking core that will help glue a defensive line and secondary that will improve as the season goes along.
There are definitely six wins on the schedule: Wagner, Wake Forest, Pitt, BC, Tulane and Maryland. Now injuries could derail one of these wins but then there's NC State as the "well if all goes well" win. Moral of the story: the Orange will not be as good as they were last season but there's no reason this isn't a bowl team thanks to some nice scheduling.
With six wins, the Orange will earn a bowl game berth (WAHOO) and for some inkling, I feel that the Orange will draw the Belk Bowl and face off with a foe from the...American conference. Here's to another Syracuse-Rutgers matchup! Will we play for the Chancy Nancy Trophy?
I see the 2013 SU football season shaping up much like Season 1 of Breaking Bad. The first 3/4 of the season will offer plenty of hard-nosed-ness, but our record won't show it. Then, with our record sitting at 4-6, we'll have our "Walter White shaves his head" moment and crush Pittsburgh and BC, sneak into a low-tier bowl and obliterate some random team like East Carolina. It won't be a season that we'll be writing about in years to come, but it will set us up nicely for a very successful season 2 of the HCSS era, while serving notice to the ACC that we actually know how to play football up here.
I see the Orange going no worse than 2-2 during the non-conference schedule, but feel confident by Oct. 5, when Clemson comes to the Dome, they will be 3-1 overall. Our ACC schedule features beatable teams such as: Wake Forest, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Maryland. I also see the possibility of us knocking off an ACC opponent we shouldn't -- Florida State, N.C. State or Georgia Tech. I feel very confidence in this bunch.
I'm going with 7-5 for Syracuse's first ACC season, and I would be very content with that mark. Basically, I think this team is going to fall somewhere between 6-6 and 8-4 (and no, I don't think 8-4 is a ridiculous thought by any means, if the 'unknowns' of this team pan out), so 7-5 seems like a happy medium. There only seem to be four 'absolutes' on the schedule, with Wagner and Tulane being almost assured wins, and Clemson and Florida State as very probable losses. Outside of that, I think every game is winnable (or loseable), and I can't figure out why Vegas and the majority of the pundits out there almost universally believe that Syracuse will only find two or three other wins on the schedule. After Florida State and Clemson, games at Georgia Tech and Northwestern are the next most daunting spots on the schedule. Syracuse was within a point of the Wildcats last year at the Dome, but Northwestern returns virtually the whole team and should be that much better. Even if Syracuse can match last year's squad, I still think Northwestern should win a close one. Georgia Tech is a total wild card because of their style of play and the fact that they are, in fact, Georgia Tech, but I'll take the Wreck in Atlanta, keeping in mind that Shafer defenses have struggled with gaudy running attacks in the past.
However, every team left on the schedule has question marks as big or bigger than what Syracuse has this year. Penn State is playing a new quarterback (sound familiar?), and whoever wins that job won't have been at the school for a few years, or have four years at a huge-name national championship contender. They also have major scholarship reductions which should lead to big depth issues, and just look back to 2009 Syracuse to see what depth issues can do to a team in flux. NC State has a new coach (sound familiar?) who has made his name with a system that does not really resemble what Tom O'Brien did there. They also have a new quarterback (sound familiar?) and replace more than Syracuse does off of a largely mediocre squad. Wake may be decent squad, probably somewhat similar talent-wise to Syracuse, but the game is at the Dome. Pittsburgh seems to be a total mess right now, and while they might put it together by the end of the season, I can't imagine why people think they have less questions at this point than Syracuse. Maryland's biggest upgrade is that it has an actual living, breathing quarterback this year, so they should be better, but it's not like they're looking to improve on a good season. And Boston College is also on the schedule. Is it really crazy to only find five losses between that big group of teams with issues, and Northwestern/Georgia Tech? I don't think so. I'm taking 7-5, and if only win six, I'll be okay with that. Anything below that will be very disappointing, but I don't expect that Syracuse will fall there. I'll say Syracuse will finish middle of the standings in the ACC, and I'll put us in the Military Bowl in Annapolis, mostly because I don't want to go to Shreveport, so I'm going to deny that it is a possibility.
There's been an awful lot of hand-wringing about Syracuse's coaching staff changes, new quarterback (whoever he may be), new wideouts and new offensive linemen. But since when are new things automatically bad? Shafer appears to have the right energy to succeed as head coach and he's brought in an exciting staff to try and hammer that point home. Drew Allen and Terrel Hunt have both showed why they should start at QB, which means we have more players who can start at quarterback than most teams. The receiver position will admittedly need some work and the offensive line must gel quickly, but there are very few teams in the country you can't levy the same criticism at for at least one position.
Point is, why can't Syracuse equal last year's regular season win-total? Outside of Florida State and Clemson, we've got six ACC games that could go either way. Northwestern is the only assured out of conference loss. Also, this team offsets all the aforementioned change with one of the conference's best stable of running backs and one of its best linebacker corps. I'm not naive to think this team is better than last year's. But the schedule looks a bit more navigable and everyone seems to be sleeping on SU. That's an advantageous situation to be in, and one in which the Orange have thrived of late. Expect them to do so once again.
Here's my thing about Syracuse Football. They always seem to move opposite to momentum. They have a great year, you see all the pieces fitting together again and you say they'll follow up a good year with a great year. And then they don't. And then you think the year after a bad year will be a really bad year. And then they're good. And your head just explodes and you remember predicting these kinds of things are dumb.
But I digress. I know all of this. I've seen it happen time and time again. Syracuse is coming off an 8-win season. By all accounts, I should know by now they're going to do poorly this year. It's just how the universe works. And yet...in spite of the evidence to the contrary, I have faith.
Maybe it's the way the team started 2-4 last year, stripping away hope and forcing us to assume the worst, only to rebuild itself and our faith in it. I don't look at the ACC and see an unclimbable mountain. I don't see a schedule with Penn State, Northwestern, Clemson and Florida State and think, "we're doomed." I don't write-off Scott Shafer because its his first year or Drew Allen because its his only one.
I'm still not sure how I see seven wins, but I do. As I write this, I'd be perfectly fine with six. But seven is a victory for Syracuse Football in its first season in the ACC. Proof that we're not going to drop off. And proof that we didn't have to get "better" to compete in this "better" conference.
I have faith in my hardnosed football team. That's all you can really have at this point in the season.