Coming off another losing season, the heat is cranked up on Dino Babers’ hot seat. The pressure is on him and his squad to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2018, and for just the second time in Baber’s career. However, Syracuse will face an uphill climb to reach the postseason, as ESPN’s FPI ranks their schedule as the 21st toughest in the nation, with Georgia Tech being the only other ACC team to face a tougher slate. Here’s a look at the Orange’s schedule with my game-by-game predictions.
Week 1: vs Louisville
Syracuse starts out their season at home with an ACC foe in Louisville. Malik Cunningham and the Cardinals have given the Orange a handful of problems during his tenure with Louisville. The Cardinals have trounced Syracuse 56-34, 30-0, and 41-3 in their last three matchups. With Cunningham under center again for Satterfield’s Cardinals, I foresee Louisville taking it to the Orange once again, starting Syracuse off in an 0-1 hole.
Week 2: at UConn
These former Big East foes known for their intense basketball matchups take this rivalry back to the gridiron for the first time since 2018. Syracuse has won their last three against UConn, a team that’s coming off of a 1-11 campaign and hasn’t had a winning season in over a decade. I see Syracuse dominating the Huskies, who sported one of the worst offenses and defenses in the nation last year.
Week 3: vs Purdue
Syracuse meets Purdue for just the second time in history as a part of their home-and-home series, which was agreed upon in 2018. The Boilermakers are coming off of an impressive 9-4 season, which was capped off with a thrilling 48-45 win over Tennessee. While Jeff Brohm’s squad lost their best playmaker on each side of the ball in David Bell and George Karlaftis, the Boilermakers will return 67% of their production, including star QB Aidan O’Connell. The key to this game for the Orange will be stopping Purdue’s air attack, as they don’t boast a potent rushing attack (no Purdue rusher topped 100 yards last season). I think Tucker shreds this Purdue defense, and Shrader and the Orange passing game does just enough to keep pace with O’Connell. I have Syracuse winning in a close one that could go either way.
Week 4: vs Virginia
Another potent air attack comes to town, led by star QB Brennan Armstrong of the Virginia Cavaliers. The Cavaliers finished 6-6 despite sporting the third-best offense in the nation. Leading receivers Dontayvion Wicks and Keytaon Thompson will return for the Wahoos, however, head coach Bronco Mendenhall, along with offensive coordinator Robert Anae and quarterback coach Jason Beck, who both departed for the same positions at Syracuse, will not. This lack of continuity with the Cavs could hurt them, especially this early in the season, and I think the Orange take advantage. I expect Tucker to run all over this poor Virginia defense, leading Syracuse to an important upset win to get them to 3-1 a third of the way through the season.
Week 5: vs Wagner
Not much to analyze here. The Orange should school the Seahawks of the FCS, in similar fashion to Albany from last year, where Tucker put up historic numbers with over 100 rushing and receiving yards (132 and 121, respectively) and 5 TD. I think he’ll be pleased with his performance in this one, too. Syracuse gets above .500 for the first time in the season and reaches the halfway point to bowl eligibility.
Week 6: BYE
Week 7: vs NC State
The Wolfpack will come into the Loud House with their sights on the ACC championship. With Devin Leary at the helm of the NC State offense, I think Tony White’s defense will have a tough time slowing down the potent air attack of the Wolfpack. Shrader was abysmal against a stout NC State defense last year, which certainly will not cut it against this year’s squad. I think the Wolfpack trounce the Orange here.
Week 8: at Clemson
As dominant as Clemson has been over the past few years, one team they’ve had some struggles with is Syracuse. In their last 5 meetings, Clemson is 1-4 against the Orange, but don’t let that record fool you. Syracuse lost by a field goal last year against Clemson, and only lost by 4 to the Tigers in 2018. However, this is a new year, and Clemson boasts one of the best defenses in the nation. Their front four returns, headlined by Bryan Bresee and Myles Murohy, who will likely be hearing their name called by Goodell on the first night of the draft next season. As good as their defense is, Tucker shredded them to the tune of 157 yards (only rusher to tally over 100 yards against Clemson last year), and I could easily see him replicating that. I think this will be another low scoring game just like last year, but I’ll give the edge to the Tigers here, mostly due to the fact that I believe Uiagalalei will make a bigger jump as a passer than Shrader. I see this coming down to Clemson’s defense making a crucial, late defensive stop in Death Valley.
Week 9: Notre Dame
Notre Dame will make the trip to Central New York for the first time in almost 20 years, led by Marcus Freeman. Freeman has an impressive recruiting class incoming with his first full season as a head coach looming. The Irish sit at 8th in the AP poll with 66% of their production returning. Tyler Buchner is believed to be the starter for Freeman’s squad, replacing Jack Coan. He has an extremely talented tight end in Michael Mayer, and I think this duo will have a pretty solid game. Otto’s Army and the Orange faithful should have a big impact in this game, but once again, I think Syracuse’s passing game, or lack thereof, fails them here, and they fall to the Irish once again.
Week 10: at Pitt
Syracuse heads down to Pittsburgh to face off against the reigning ACC champs, capping off a brutal stretch against 4 ranked opponents. Pitt had a rough offseason, as Kenny Pickett went to the draft and Jordan Addison left for USC. Kedon Slovis will be the new signal caller for the Panthers after trasnferring over from USC. While Slovis will likely be a downgrade in production from Pickett, he’s still a talented QB, and I don’t think Pitt will suffer that much of a drop off. Pitt’s defensive line is argubaly their biggest strength, as they were 6th in total run defense and 2nd in sacks. Returning All-ACC members Calijah Kancey and Habakkuk Baldonado, as well as the rest of the Pitt DL, should give Syracuse’s running game fits. Tucker mustered only 29 yards on 13 carries last year. Unless Shrader has a huge game through the air, which I don’t see happening, this one will go to Narduzzi and the Panthers.
Week 11: Florida State
The Orange will look to break their four game skid when dual-threat QB Jordan Travis and the Seminoles come to town. Florida State isn’t the perennial championship contender they used to be, but they’re poised for a rebound after four straight losing seasons. Last years’ battle between these two teams ended with a Florida State game winning field goal, and it featured dominant preformances on the ground by QBs Shrader and Travis. I think this will be the biggest test for Syracuse’s run defense, with Travis and Oregon transfer Trey Benson leading the way. The ‘Noles are returning a lot of veterans on the defensive side of the ball, and Albany transfer Jared Verse should have a big impact for this defense. I think the inexperienced front 3 of Syracuse struggles to stop the run, and the Seminoles take this one on the road and extend Syracuse’s losing streak to 5.
Week 12: at Wake Forest
Syracuse fought tooth and nail with the ACC runner-ups, but fell just short in overtime against the Deacons last season. Shrader and Tucker had ridiculous performances on the ground, gashing the Wake defense for 331 total yards and 3 touchdowns. Wake’s biggest weakness once again is their run defense, and with Shrader and Tucker leading the charge, I can see them putting up huge numbers on the ground. Hartman and Perry have the ability to put up big numbers again, but I expect this improved Syracuse secondary to limit explosive plays through the air. I’ll go with Syracuse in an upset here, keeping their bowl chances alive.
Week 13: at Boston College
Phil Jurkovec returns under center for the Eagles after missing six games last season due to injury, with his top target Zay Flowers coming back. Last year, the Eagles only mustered six points against Syracuse without Jurkovec in a game where Sean Tucker dominated. He tallied 207 yards on 26 carries, and put 6 points on the board for the Orange. I think Tucker and Shrader tear up this BC defense again, with Williams and the Orange defense keeping Flowers and the Eagles offense at bay. Syracuse closes out their season with a win in Chestnut Hill, securing bowl eligibility in the final week.
FINAL RECORD: 6-6
Looking at this roster, the talent is there to make the postseason. However, will the Orange’s air attack be enough to keep up with the juggernauts of the ACC? I think that is the crucial question for the Orange this year. New offensive coordinator Robert Anae is aiming for a more balanced offensive approach this year, and if Shrader doesn’t show significant improvements with his arm, the Orange will have to fall back on Tucker to carry a massive load. I think Syracuse squeaks into a bowl game at 6-6, essentially guaranteeing Babers’ return next season. Let’s wrap it up with a few of my predicted team awards:
Offensive MVP: Sean Tucker
Defensive MVP: Mikel Jones
Most Improved Player (Offense): Courtney Jackson
Most Improved Player (Defense): Caleb Okechukwu