There she is, folks. Shiny, modern, expensive, dull, corporate, bland: Met Life Stadium.
It's home to the New York Giants, the Woody Johnson Traveling Jets Circus, and game one of the Syracuse Orange season. And in all reality, the most important game of 2013.
It's pretty simple, should Scott Shafer start his coaching career 1-0, SU will likely end September with no worse than three wins, half way to a bowl berth. But lose to Penn State and SU is probably looking at no better than a 2-2 start with games against Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State still ahead. (Not to mention the games against the Yellow Jackets and 'Noles are on the road.)
So, not to be too dramatic here, but the fate of the entire season rests on the outcome of Saturday's game.
OK, maybe not.
SU could start 0-2, rebound and still beat teams like Wagner, Tulane, and then maybe Wake Forest, Boston College, and Pittsburgh. Sneak a win at N.C. State (new coach) and Maryland (soon to have a new coach) and Syracuse would find itself in its third bowl game in four years. I mean, it's not like Syracuse hasn't done this in the past -- like just last season.
All very doable, but all the more difficult with an L in game one.
And for today's purposes, let's quickly walk down the fine line that is a winning season turned losing season in a little piece I like to call "Let's Quickly Walk Down the Fine Line that is A Winning Season Turned Losing Season."
- Penn State - Terrel Hunt and/or Drew Allen (my guess is it's Allen) struggles to adapt, the wide receiving corp doesn't provide relief for Jerome Smith and the running game, as SU slops it's way to an ugly close loss (the Lions aren't exactly pushovers, yet). L
- @Northwestern - The Wildcats return 15 total starters, 8 on offense alone. Remember Kain Colter? He's back at quarterback. Remember Venric Mark? He's back at running back. L
- Wagner -Drama here? How many people show up. W
- Tulane - The wave will have more success in the Dome than the Green Wave. W
- Clemson - I maintain, given Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd and company, Clemson is a legit BCS sleeper. L
- @North Carolina State - A program in transition, but can a 2-3 Syracuse team really put itself off the mat for a tough road win? For these purposes, I say no. L
- @Georgia Tech - The Jackets return 16 starters, a ton of them are seniors. While I am picking the Tigers to win the ACC, this Georgia Tech team has the stink of "9-4 ACC Champions" written all over it. SU will struggle in Atlanta. L
- Wake Forest - I just think Syracuse is better than Wake Forest, all the way around. W
- @Maryland - Sure the Terps aren't very good. Yes Randy Edsall seems like a dead coach walking. But there is something about Maryland and football, and I don't think it's the crab cakes. Edsall gets his teams ready to play SU. L
- @Florida State - Unless it's South Florida recently, Syracuse never enjoys itself in the Sunshine State. L
(By the way, that's a brutal stretch for Syracuse. Home to top-ten Clemson, then four of the next five on the road? Yikes.)
- Pittsburgh - Hmm...
- Boston College - I'm sure I buy either of these games as a loss.
How about this?
- Pittston - I'll combine the Panthers and Eagles, the last two opponents of the season for Syracuse. Two teams that will struggle in '13. Two potential winnable Dome games for the Orange. However, this is Syracuse, a program that has historically dropped games like these in the past. Remember 2010? SU played both teams at home during a "resurgent" season that ultimately ended with the first Pinstripe Bowl championship.
The thing is, SU was blown out by Pitt (much better at the time than now) and beaten up by a B.C. team playing with backups at key positions (QB and RB). Again, I think Syracuse will win both of these games, but home or away, the Orange seem to turn left when everyone expects them to turn right. For this column, I'll count one loss here, in some form or another.
Which brings us to: 4-8 in 2013. I think five or six wins is much more likely, but the fall to seven or eight losses isn't far. Just think back to 2011.
Plus, for this little scenario I didn't even get into how much of an issue Shafer taking over has head coach could be for this particular team. Or the fact that Allen or Hunt hasn't really separated himself from the competition during fall camp - which could mean major growing pains for the quarterback position this season. And what about injuries? Imagine Smith or a Jay Bromley going down? Four wins may be a difficult proposition.
Just about everything is in play. But the good thing is, even if the wheels fall off, or if they are never really put on this season, there's a different feeling to the Syracuse football program. Shafer and his staff are putting in the work and 2014 and beyond should make my work to find eight losses that much more difficult.
In fact, future games at the "Met" may have even more on the line. Too bad there are more games at that expensive drab stadium for Syracuse, though.