Syracuse coach Scott Shafer recently told a local radio station that his goal for 2014 is to win eight or more games. Given the difficulty of their schedule, can the Orange get there? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich debate.
HD says: Not gonna happen.
It’s a perfectly reasonable goal.
After winning seven games last year, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is aiming for at least eight or more wins this fall – as he should.
If only there were eight wins on the schedule.
Syracuse showed promise last season, ending on a positive note with back-to-back victories over Boston College and Minnesota, and the Orange had an encouraging spring under Shafer and quarterback Terrel Hunt. It’s a program heading in the right direction, not one in disarray. The reality, though, is that Syracuse is stuck in the top-heavy Atlantic Division with Florida State, Clemson and Louisville and has two tough nonconference games against Maryland and Notre Dame. That could very well be an 0-for-5 stretch. Last year, Syracuse lost to FSU and Clemson by a combined score of 108-17. The Orange aren't going to close that gap in one offseason.
Syracuse’s best chances for wins this year are against Villanova, Central Michigan, Wake Forest, NC State, Pitt and Boston College. Duke, the defending Coastal Division champ, is no longer a pushover, and NC State should be significantly improved in the second season under Dave Doeren. Maryland is a wild card. The Terps are no longer in the ACC, so their return and reception at Syracuse will be interesting, but Maryland should actually be the better team this year. The Terps lose only four starters, the whole defensive line returns and they should be a much-improved offense if they can keep quarterback C.J. Brown and receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long healthy.
An eight-win season is certainly not out of reach for Cuse, especially having home-field advantage for some of the toughest games, including a Friday night date with Louisville on Oct. 3, followed by a home game against defending national champion Florida State. Maybe Louisville is getting too much credit for its recent success in spite of its enormous transition this offseason, but the Cardinals were more than just Teddy Bridgewater and Charlie Strong. Louisville will be looking to make a statement in its first season in the ACC.
As a program, Syracuse will eventually get there. The Orange have been a successful football program before and can do it again, and Shafer understands how to do it. He spoke recently about staying true to the identity of the program, about recruiting tough, hard-nosed players who go to class and compete. And while they might not be four- or five-star recruits, they’re players the staff can develop into stars that the bigger schools missed out on. Syracuse can win eight games and occasionally pull off an upset against FSU or Clemson, just as NC State and Wake Forest have proven capable of in the past.
It’s just not going to happen in Year 2.
AA says: Don't count out the Orange.
Syracuse faces one of the toughest schedules in the nation in 2014, making the task of getting to at least eight wins exceedingly difficult.
But not impossible.
First, let us take a look at the games I have penciled in as W's before the season even starts. Give Cuse at least five off the top -- Villanova, Central Michigan, Wake Forest, NC State and BC, based on results from a year ago and expectations for everyone headed into the fall. Syracuse went 3-0 against these Atlantic Division opponents in 2013.
That means Syracuse has to win three of its remaining seven games on the schedule to get to a minimum eight. There are four games I think could go either way:
1. vs. Maryland, Sept. 20. I give the early edge to Syracuse in this game. The Orange handled the Terps on the road a year ago and now get them at home. The big difference in this game could be the Maryland receiver duo of Diggs and Long, who did not play in their last meeting.
2. vs. Louisville, Oct. 3. The last time these teams played in the Carrier Dome back in 2012, the Orange ruined the Cardinals' perfect season with a dominant victory. The head coaches are different, yes, but Syracuse seems to get an extra bit of motivation when it has midweek games. This game is on a Friday night; the Orange are 5-1 in Friday games since 2011.
3. vs. Duke, Nov. 8. While I think the Blue Devils have the edge on paper, Syracuse will not be overmatched. If the uptempo offense progresses the way everybody expects, this game could end up being a shootout. That would make it anybody’s game.
4. at Pitt, Nov. 22. As one Syracuse fan pointed out in the mailbag last week, I do have high expectations for the Panthers. But that does not mean Pitt is a slam dunk to win this game. These teams have split their last two meetings, contests that have been decided by a total of two points. I’d say this is the definition of "toss-up game."
As you can see, three of these four games are at home. If Syracuse can go 3-1 in these four, it can get to eight. I do not think Syracuse will have much of a shot to beat Notre Dame, Florida State or Clemson, the remaining three teams on the schedule.
One more point to remember: Syracuse exceeded expectations in both 2012 and 2013, winning more games than anybody predicted. Eight wins might seem like a lot for this year’s team, but Syracuse has made a recent habit of proving us all wrong.