Syracuse Must Spring An October Upset

With the Syracuse football team suffering back-to-back losses, and a brutal October schedule ahead of them, the Orange are approaching a danger zone, as it pertains to reaching a bowl game for the fourth time in five years. At 2-2, there is a distinct possibility that the Orange could fall to 3-5 by the time their schedule starts to get somewhat more manageable in November, leaving them with a small margin of error over the final month of the season. The only remedy for this would be for Syracuse to pull off an upset over one of the three big-time opponents on its schedule in October: Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson.
In November, the Orange will play home games against N.C. State and Duke before finishing the season with road games against Pittsburgh and Boston College. It stands to reason that Syracuse can split those four games, as all four games will likely be tossups on paper. However, without pulling an upset in October, the Orange will have to win three games in November in order to qualify for a bowl, assuming Syracuse wins an October road game against Wake Forest, a team they should be favored to beat. The Orange pulled off a 4th quarter comeback in its final regular season game last year to reach a bowl game, but to avoid putting themselves in a similar situation this year, Syracuse must pull off a surprise upset in October.
In order to pull off an October upset over Louisville, Florida State or Clemson, the Syracuse offense must show considerable improvement. The Orange defense has been fine and done its part to put the team in position to win games. Outside of allowing a few big plays the last couple of weeks, which are bound to happen to any defense that’s as aggressive as the Syracuse defense, the Orange have been solid defensively. The issue is the inconsistency of the Syracuse offense, which has they’ve failed to finish drives and capitalize on opportunities. Now, the Orange offense appears to be banged up, with a slew of injuries, both small and significant, to several key players. But to pull of the upset they need, the Orange will have to overcome those injuries and start putting points on the board with more regularity in support of a defense that’s held up its end of the bargain.
The best chance Syracuse has to get the win they covet could be this week at home against Louisville. The Cardinals are 4-1 on the season, but they’ve had some ups and downs this year and are coming off a rather unimpressive victory of Wake Forest. Bobby Petrino’s team may also have to rely on true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon if Will Gardner doesn’t return from injury by Friday night. An aggressive Syracuse defense inside the Carrier Dome against a true freshman quarterback making his second career start is a scenario that would certainly favor the Orange. However, Louisville has one of the best defenses in the country through the first month of the season, which could make it tough for the Orange offense to get going, as they try to pull off an upset of the Cardinals.
The next opportunity for an upset will come the following week at home against Florida State. Most would have counted this one in the loss column for Syracuse before the season started, but the Seminoles have looked a little vulnerable this year and haven’t exactly looked the part of the top team in the country. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that the Orange will have to play close to perfect just to have a chance against Florida State. There is some glimmer of hope in that the Seminoles could take Syracuse lightly or look ahead to a showdown with Notre Dame the following week, which could open the door for the Orange to make things interesting.
Finally, the Orange will close out October with a trip to Clemson, which is arguably the toughest road venue in the ACC. The Tiger’s defense hasn’t quite lived up to its preseason billing, but it does return many of the players that made it difficult for Syracuse to put points on the board last season against Clemson. While this game is nearly a month away, it could be another game that puts too much pressure on the Syracuse defense if the Orange offense doesn’t show substantial improvement between now and then. Otherwise, this could be the toughest game on Syracuse’s October schedule.
Mathematically, it’s possible for Syracuse to reach six wins and become bowl eligible without beat Louisville, Florida State, or Clemson. With a 2-2 record at the end of September, Syracuse can reach a bowl game with a 4-4 record in ACC play, which is the same record they had last season. However, without pulling off an upset over one of the ACC’s top teams in October, the Orange will have a substantial amount of work to do in November. Moreover, it may be difficult for the Orange to overcome the psychological burden of entering November with a 3-5 record, especially if they suffer one or more blowout losses in October. Thus, for Syracuse to create a manageable schedule in November and give themselves some confidence after three sub-par performances over the first four games of the season, the Orange must find a way to pull off an upset at some point in October; otherwise, Syracuse runs the risk of their season getting away from them.