It’s OK to believe in Syracuse football

It's OK to believe in Syracuse football

Commentary: The undefeated Orange has a chance Saturday against No. 3 Clemson.
Published: September 28, 2018
Football: Syracuse vs. Wagner

Syracuse football is 4-0 for the first time since 1991.

The narrative, however, from the national and even local media is “well, they have not played anyone.”

In the first month of the season, the Orange beat mediocre Western Michigan on the road; Wagner (equivalent to a pop warner team, let’s be real); a Florida State team that is just not that good; and a dysfunctional UConn squad, who statistically has the worst defense in the country.

Syracuse SHOULD have beaten those teams, and they did. Badly. That should not go ignored.

In past years, SU has let opportunities to add a W to the schedule slip away (a la Middle Tennessee last season). This Orange team has been different. They have capitalized, and they find themselves in a position to put Syracuse football back on the map. For good.

With a win tomorrow, Syracuse would be 5-0 and in all likelihood would be ranked for the first time since 2001.

There’s just one small problem: Clemson is on deck.

This Tiger team won’t overlook ‘Cuse this time around, a year after one of the most stunning upsets of the decade in college football. A 3-3 Orange team beat the undefeated, defending national champs as a 24-point underdog. It was the Tigers only loss of the regular season. I can assure you that Dabo Swinney and his guys remember that night all too well.

Oh, another big difference from last year: the game is not in the Carrier Dome. It’s in Death Valley. 81,500 screaming fans make it one of the toughest places to play in college football. But keep in mind that SU was on the verge of pulling off an upset in the other Death Valley in Baton Rouge last season.

This group won’t be intimidated.

Many Syracuse fans think the recent news out of Clemson won’t help the Orange’s chances. They are probably right.

Senior quarterback Kelly Bryant, who led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff last season, was benched in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. The new starter for Clemson was the #1 ranked high school QB in his class. In four games off the bench in 2018, he has thrown for 600 yards and 9 touchdowns. He is incredibly accurate and has a CANNON for an arm. He also has great hair.

He is probably better than Kelly Bryant. That is why Dabo made the move.

BUT, Clemson won’t have Bryant to fall back on. The recently benched QB called the decision made by his head coach a “slap in the face,” and he has announced he is transferring out of the program.

That means redshirt freshman Chase Brice, who has thrown eight careers passes, is the new backup for Clemson.

Lawrence will be making his first career start against a Syracuse defense which has looked really, really good since the Western Michigan game. I don’t care how good he is. That is a lot of pressure on the freshman.

In his toughest test thus far – at Texas A&M in Week 2 – Lawrence struggled. Kelly Bryant came back in and won Clemson that game.

Another thing to consider: with the Kelly Bryant transfer news, this Clemson team has had to deal with a significant distraction heading into the game tomorrow.

Here is the bottom line: Syracuse is good enough to beat Clemson. They have the top ranked scoring offense in the ACC, averaging nearly 50 points per game.

Eric Dungey – who went OFF against Clemson last year (278 yards, 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) – comes into this week’s game in the top 10 in ESPN Heisman poll. He is leading ACC quarterbacks in rushing yards, and by the looks of last week, appears to be healthy.

And if he does go down, Tommy DeVito is on the sideline ready to roll.

This Syracuse defense is much better than they have been in recent years. Since the WMU game, they have only surrendered 12 points per game. The defensive line has looked suburb the past three weeks, combining for 12 sacks. Kendall Coleman and Alton Robinson are tied for third in the ACC in sacks. Freshman Andre Cisco leads the nation in interceptions.

I think it may be time to accept the fact that Syracusenot only has a good team but also a decent defense. I know, crazy times we live in.

If this unit can put pressure on Clemson’s freshman QB, and maybe force an early interception, watch out. Kelly Bryant is not going to be available to save the day like he did at Texas A&M.

I get why Syracuse fans are having a tough time believing that this team is legit. The last time ‘Cuse had a good start to the year (3-0) was in 2015, and ‘Cuse finished 4-8. After beating Clemson, last season’s team did not win another game. Heck, the Orange have not been to a bowl game since 2013.

This group though has a different vibe. They aren’t satisfied with 4-0. They want to be 5-0. Then 6-0. Then 7-0.

Dino Babers (and Stephen A. Smith) have been preaching that not just winning, but “annihilation” is the goal.

Will Syracuse win tomorrow? Probably not. However, even with a loss, this Syracuse team will be 4-1 with Pittsburgh (2-2) and North Carolina (1-3) up next. SU would still be able to do some serious damage in the ACC.

But can they beat Clemson? Absolutely.

This is the most talented Syracuse team in YEARS. The offense is one of the best in the country, the defense is really improved, and you have a quarterback who knows how to rise to the occasion.

Did I not mention that Dino Babers is one heck of a coach? Syracuse has averaged the 55th best recruiting class the past four years. Florida State is ranked 5th in that category. The Orange beat the Seminoles 30-7 two weeks ago.

I am confident that this Syracuse team will keep it close tomorrow. They might even have a chance to win in the end.

So Orange faithful, as hard as it may be to accept, just know this Syracuse team is different. This is not 2015. This is not 2017. This squad is much, much stronger. This can be a legitimate top-25 team.

It’s okay to believe.

Avatar for Will Scott

is a contributor to The NewsHouse at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.