We are setting up preview pages for each of Florida State's football opponents. This is the page for Syracuse. FSU visits Syracuse on October 11, and will be looking for another game like 2013, in which FSU destroyed the 'Cuse in ridiculous fashion.
The last time FSU visited the Carrier Dome, Jeff Bowden was still the offensive coordinator and Florida State almost lost, as "Leon Washington rushed for a career-high 164 yards and scored twice in the second half, and No. 8 Florida State survived a major scare, rallying past Syracuse 17-13 on Saturday night."
Syracuse will have played Notre Dame and Louisville in back-to-back weeks before this one. FSU will be coming off a game against Wake Forest, but Notre Dame looms the week after.
We kick off our Syracuse coverage with a few hundred words from Bill Connelly's 4,000-word behemoth of a preview. Syracuse should continue to have a good running game, an aggressive, gambling defense, but the passing game may continue to be lackluster. As always, click the link to check out the whole preview.
Syracuse has enough experience and potential that, while a return to the top 40 is probably too much to ask for, improvement isn't. And if the Orange can move up into the 50-60 range, another bowl is probably in the cards. That would put them in position to beat the four home opponents projected below 50th, along with CMU and Wake Forest.
The margin for error with this schedule isn't huge, however, and October will pose quite the challenge. Syracuse hosts Louisville and FSU in back-to-back weeks and, after a trip to Wake Forest, visits Clemson. Survive a likely 1-3 stretch in the middle, and there are wins to be found in November.
We'll begin to learn a lot more about Syracuse's ceiling under Shafer this year. There is potential for entertainment here, especially if McDonald gets an efficient offense moving at a breakneck pace and the defense racks up the big plays while suffering fewer breakdowns. But if it's the same story as last year, with great performances getting overshadowed by horrendous ones (and the great-to-horrendous ratio still breaking slightly toward horrendous), then there might be reasons to wonder what kind of consistency a Shafer program will have to offer.
I think eight wins might be overly optimistic. Six wins? I'd bet on it, and I'd plug a seven-win finish if I knew Hunt, these receivers and this passing game could deliver against top-tier competition. But eight seems a stretch: Syracuse doesn't seem built to eke out eight wins against a high-quality schedule. There's Florida State and Clemson, those clear – and very likely ugly – losses; there's Louisville, and this secondary might not have a prayer against the Cardinals' passing game; there's Duke, and Duke is no longer Duke; there's Notre Dame on the road, and the Irish's defense is built to squat on the Orange's chest; there's Maryland, which seems significantly improved; and there's Pittsburgh and Boston College, both on the road, to end the regular season.
I typically save the schedule for last, because it's often not as important a standard as personnel and scheme, but not in this case: Syracuse must be gauged against the difficulty of this schedule, and it's a beast. Again, however, I do think the Orange knock out another six wins during the regular season, earning a third bowl bid in as many years. My optimism – though six wins may seem pessimistic to this fan base – stems from the returning core of contributors: Hunt, Tyson-Gulley, Hickey, Broyld, Trudo, Crume, Thompson, Davis, Lynch and Eskridge. In a similar vein, Syracuse's roster and personnel are more familiar with both the staff's philosophies – particularly McDonald on offense – and the general feel of the ACC, and the latter is of crucial importance.
But it's hard to ignore some of the issues – with four standing out above the rest. One is the passing game: Syracuse lacks the ability and the personnel to stretch things downfield, so let's get ready for more of the horizontal attack. A second is the defensive line, which might have flexibility and a promising talent in Thompson but lacks the horses and proven production to handle a good slice of this year's opposition. A third is the secondary, which could be an Achilles heel all season. And then the fourth: Syracuse does not quite possess the depth needed to weather the storm against the cream of the crop.