Syracuse Football: Orange's Real Test Wasn't Clemson, It's N.C. State

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse's loss to Clemson last week was disappointing, but looking back on it now it was a bit of a stretch to expect a rebuilding team to compete with a possible National Champion. What isn't a stretch is expecting the Orange to earn road victory against a struggling N.C. State. Well, hopefully, its not.

Fans always look for a staple victory they can refer back on to say, "That was it. That was the turning point in our program's history."

Last Saturday, Syracuse Orange fans were hoping their team would achieve that sort of victory or at least come hearwrenchingly close to achieving it -- can we assume that's why more than 49,000 fans showed up to watch SU host the No. 3-ranked Clemson Tigers?

However, a little over four minutes into the first quarter the Orange trailed 14-0 to the Tigers. From there, it was all about playing hard to avoid being completely embarrassed on Homecoming Weekend, which was also shown on National TV. Luckily, the Orange did play hard to open up the second half and were a play or two away from making things competitive.

In the end, Syracuse's loss to Clemson showed a few things: 1) The Orange are a long way from competing with the very best in the nation; 2) The Orange are very close to losing the fan base for the 2013-14 season.

Fact is basketball season is right around the corner and as picky as Syracuse football fans are, if the Orange drop to 2-4 after this week, then find themselves on the wrong end of the score at Georgia Tech next week, there's a pretty good chance there will be a small cluster of fans at the Carrier Dome, Nov. 2, when Wake Forest visits the Salt City.

Fact is, whether head coach Scott Shafer likes it or not, this game is as a must-win for the 2013-14 season as you can get; especially when you factor in N.C. State is going through a bunch of roster troubles and is trying figure itself out after losing to Wake Forest last week.

Now, this will be no walk in the park. No league conference game is, but that's the point of this column. As a fan base we are able to put losing to the No. 3 team in the nation into perspective, however, it is going to be tough to stand behind a team that can't earn a winnable game on the road. If the Orange do lose, the expectations for the team goes from, "We should be able to compete with Clemson," to "Holy crap, we should only expect winning home games against Wagner, Tulane and maybe Wake Forest," and this change happens in just a two-week period.

That's a huge drop off for a program looking to make a statement in a new league and trying to ease fans worries that this isn't a trend backward but forward.

For Scott Shafer and Co. Saturday's contest could make or break this season. This could be an overreaction seeing last year's season didn't start off perfectly, but there's no Ryan Nassib, Alec Lemon, Shamarko Thomas or Doug Marrone running through a tunnel wearing blue and orange next week.

Looking back at it now, last week's showdown with Clemson may have not been the real test for Shafer and the Orange. But this week's contest with N.C. State should be and will tell us what we should expect from SU the rest of the season.

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