Welcome to the Syracuse football roundtable! The Orange no longer have any path to a bowl game. Yet we're still here, and so is this football team... So yeah, let's talk about everything they could still do -- outside of making the postseason.
As is and will be the norm all season, we've opened the floor to the TNIAAM football wing to discuss this week's burning questions about Syracuse on- and off-the-field, the ACC and more. Join us below:
Be honest: Would you rather finish 5-7 or 3-9 this year?
Ben Burrows:: 5-7, no question. 3-9 looks bad for recruiting and SU needs all the help it can get. Missing a bowl by one game hurts but not nearly as much as having recruits walk away when they see the team was terrible rather than bad.
Ben Norowski: Absolutely 5-7. We played a tougher schedule than last year with a huge amount of injuries, had a chance of winning every game pretty much, and to finish 5-7 means we beat BC and Pitt, which are games we just can't lose. Also, it means Shafer doesn't have to knee jerk fire anyone, and gives us some positive momentum (albeit very limited) recruiting-wise.
Michael Burke: I’d much rather finish 5-7, not only because it would create some positive momentum as we move into the offseason, but also because I grew up hating Pitt. We need to beat those guys this week.
Matt McClusky: Well, I would think 5 wins would be better. Of course, 3 wins is nice for the masochists out there. But why go through that torture? It's not like this is a professional team; you can't bottom out and then expect to get better via a high draft pick and free agency.
Jared Smith: Obviously, two more wins would make everyone feel a tad bit better. It also makes you feel better when you see your program ahead of other ACC schools in the division. Boston College plays FSU and Syracuse, so they could slip to 3-5 and the tie breaker goes to SU. Meanwhile, N.C. State could lose its final game, so the Orange would slip ahead of them. Overall, if SU can finish fourth in the Atlantic Division behind FSU, Clemson and Louisville, you'd take that this year.
Dan Lyons: Definitely 5-7, and aside from the masochistic segment of our fanbase, I'm not sure how the alternative could be a viable answer. There is no recruit draft, losing these last two games against Northeastern rivals only hurts Syracuse, where winning two games at least gives Syracuse a bit of momentum heading into the off-season.
Sean Keeley: I'd much rather finish 5-7 so we don't have to hear cries for Shafer to be fired. I mean, we're going to hear them anyway, but it'd be nice to have some more ammo to throw at those numbnuts.
John Cassillo: How about 4-8? As much as five is greater than three, it's also one short of six -- the number we would've needed to be bowl eligible. Given all the close calls this year, wouldn't that just be the ultimate insult to finish 5-7? So I'm going with 4-8, just for my own sanity.
Now that we're near the end, which of the Orange's various injuries has been the toughest to overcome?
BB: Hunt. It looked like he was making real progress at the end of last year and I was a believer that he would do some good things this year. He got off to a rough start but his injury kind of threw the whole team into chaos with Wilson not really getting it done and AJ Long being tossed into the job before most would like.
BN: Terrel Hunt's injury was huge, and losing both Broyld and Estime for most of the season was bad, but it allowed us to find new playmakers and see what we had depth wise at those positions. But the biggest injuries were the ones on the offensive line, as it never gave us the chance to see our best offensive line and our offense greatly suffered because of it. I even think if it was fully healthy McDonald might not have been demoted.
MB: I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Terrel Hunt’s. When Hunt went down and A.J. Long was inserted, I honestly believed Long gave Syracuse a chance to win. But he never seemed to play quite as well after the Florida State game, and I can’t help but to wonder if Hunt could’ve pulled out wins against Clemson, NC State, and/or Duke.
MM: Is "all of them" too much a cop out? Although, Terrel Hunt may have been able to scratch out those N.C. State and Duke games.
JS: Still think it is Terrel Hunt's injury. I know Hunt wasn't lighting up things with McDonald's offense, but I sure think he was good enough to squeeze out a win at Clemson and N.C. State. Win those two games and the outlook on the season is a lot different.
DL: I don't know that one, even Hunt's broken leg, has sunk Syracuse this season, so I'll cheat and say that the constant issues along the offensive line. That unit was playing fairly well through the first few games, but in the back half of the season, it has had no chance of establishing any kind of consistency or gelling at all.
SK: Hunt's injury threw the quarterback position into chaos but Long certainly held his own...until he got injured. That one revealed just how far behind Wilson & Kimble are as well as just how.
JC: I'll actually go with Ashton Broyld and Brisly Estime, because once they were out, you really did see the offense take on a much different (and much less impressive) tone. They weren't all-world, and it's debatable if they would've remained productive with A.J. Long and others under center. But I feel like it would've helped Syracuse's young QBs to have experienced targets out there.
Other than James Conner, which Pitt player are you most concerned about on Saturday (if any)?
BB: Tyler Boyd is the other obvious choice but Chad Voytik could do some damage in the run game. He’s been running a lot more lately so I wouldn’t be surprised if that is big in Pitt’s game plan against SU.
BN: Tyler Boyd is going to be an absolute menace against our secondary. He's a future NFL player and I wouldn't be shocked if he put up 200 yards against us.
MB: Tyler Boyd. He’s had totals of 137, 140, and 160 yards receiving in Pitt’s last three games. Syracuse held him to 82 yards receiving and no touchdowns last year, but my guess is they won’t be so fortunate this time around.
MM: There are some interesting battles to be had on Saturday, but I have to pick Conner as the most interesting player that poses the most prevalent problem. Syracuse has been fairly stout against the run ever since the days of Marrone's tenure, but will that last given the injuries, the site of the game and the fact that the Orange is done?
JS: It has to be Tyler Boyd right? I don't know if I know anybody else on Pitt (Sorry Pitt fans!).
DL: Tyler Boyd. The Syracuse secondary has been a bit better this year, especially with the star turn of Brandon Reddish, but if Boyd finds himself matched up across from Julian Whigham, or gets free deep, I'm very worried about what he can do against SU. Chad Voytik is no great passer, but anyone can hit an open receiver down the field.
SK: How about Tyler Boyd? He's got 57 receptions and is second in the ACC in receiving (95.1 ypg). He's going to get over 100 yards receiving...what else will he do?
JC: He can't throw the ball very well, but QB Chad Voytik can run, so Syracuse needs to be slightly concerned there. The Orange have obviously struggled against mobile passers, and Voytik could be a warm-up for a much better player in BC's Tyler Murphy next week. They need to figure out how to contain Voytik if they stand a chance against the Eagles.
If Syracuse could have a different crossover rival -- other than Pitt -- who would it be?
BB: Miami. I think it would be huge for SU to go down to Florida and have some of those recruits get to see the Orange. Florida is a huge recruiting base and I think SU needs to get into that area if it wants to really compete with some of the better teams in the ACC. I don’t think going for a team that gets easy wins is really the best way to go long term.
BN: I would love for it to be Miami, but Miami wouldn't want it to be us, which means it wouldn't be a rivalry. It would be like the one Rutgers fans tried so badly to create over the last few years. Empty, only between the fans, and one team's so far ahead of the other that it's essentially meaningless. But if we ever got back to our best and they started putting out ranked teams that didn't choke every year it could be very interesting and would be a fun throwback.
MB: I’d like it to be Virginia, because, you know, someone would have to win those games.
MM: Virginia Tech. Zero question to me. There's plenty of back-story and the two programs have played some classics. I'm one-hundred percent against playing Pitt every year, so any other team would be better, but Va. Tech just makes more sense to me than any of the other teams.
JS: In order of priority: Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke. I'll take Pitt, though, cause it seems we can match up with them year-in and year-out.
DL: Give me Miami. I'm a bit bullish on the future of the 'Canes with Brad Kaaya at the helm—he looks fantastic after a rocky start, as is expected from a true freshman—but they've been a largely beatable program for a while now. Assuming the series would follow the same pattern as SU/Pitt, this would give Syracuse a Florida road game every year, and even more exposure in the Miami area, where we've picked up so many important players over the years.
SK: You could probably make a case for Virginia Tech. We've got a decent history with them and it's been long enough that it'll feel fresh and exciting.
JC: My vote's for no crossover rivals. But if we have to, Virginia would be ideal. They've struggled for consistency, and would be a chance for a nice league win, sure. Most importantly, however, is the chance to head down to Virginia every other year and get in front of a growing base of talent. No, they don't have the history of other Coastal teams and SU, but it could work out over time.
Could the Orange learn a thing or two from how the Panthers have recruited in recent years, or not so much?
BB: Not really. It’s been said, but Pitt sits in one of the best spots in the country for recruits and they don’t even do that well. I’m from Pennsylvania and have covered preps and Penn State is easily the big destination for many of the Pa. recruits that want to stay in the state. Pitt seems more like a consolation prize if PSU doesn't like you enough and that says a lot when some of the top recruits in the country live very close.
BN: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA Oh wait you're serious? Pitt's recruiting has been horrendous since Dave Wannstedt left, outside of them landing a few big players from that area and a few diamonds in the rough. Our recruiting has been much better. We have a more talented roster that is just unbalanced at a few key positions. If we played in the Coastal we'd be better than 4-6, I'll tell you that.
MB: No, I’m not buying that. I actually feel we’ve been recruiting a little better. And it’s not like Pitt’s program is all that much better than ours. They likely aren’t going bowling this year, either.
MM: We're really going to see how much Syracuse, specifically this coaching staff, has to learn when it comes to recruiting once George McDonald leaves town. And Pitt is a pretty good example in a way to go -- kind of me reminds me of the 80's/90's style of grabbing specific guys for specific roles, "stars" be damned.
JS: I dunno if we should be taking notes for the way Pitt recruits. Let's just win games and things will take care of themselves.
DL: Not really. Despite being located in talent-rich Western Pennsylvania, Pitt's recruiting hasn't been that much better than Syracuse. One would assume that a team built around stars like James Conner and Tyler Boyd would be better than 4-6 in their third season under the current coach, but that's where Pitt is. I'm not sure there are a ton of players on that squad that I would trade for, outside of the two aforementioned obvious guys, despite the fact that Pitt hasn't bottomed out as recently as Syracuse, and they have a huge advantage in location.
SK: I have concerns with anyone using Pitt football as a model for anything.
JC: Overall recruiting's not great, but Pitt does understand how to key in on one position (running back) and churn out talent after talent there. We've sort of done that with linebacker and halfback, but Pitt gets the subjective stars to go with it. As much as it pains me, it wouldn't be the worst idea to follow that lead.