Ed. Note - This week, TNIAAM writers are taking a stab at telling you why this football team will finish with a specific record.
Five wins for Syracuse in 2014, or maybe six, seven, eight, or how about nine victories? Who knows what this fall will bring for the Orange. Well, check that, there is one fairly respected source who has a little bit of insight we should all be listening to when it comes to projections.
"The goal is to get better each season. That's why we start off by saying we want to win eight games. Ultimately, we want to win an ACC championship, and that's the goal and we want to do that with kids graduating. That's where the bar set is right now."
The words of Syracuse Orange head coach Scott Shafer speaking on ESPN 97.7's "Upon Further Review." Another honest admission from an all-too-rare-honest coach. Sure, that was from April and it was Shafer essentially laying the groundwork for fans: Expect a little better each year until we reach the mountaintop. Seven wins last year should mean eight this year and hopefully nine the following, and on and on. Not exactly a classic prediction and certainly not too controversial.
And yet, there is a faction of fans refusing to believe eight wins is the ceiling at Syracuse. A lot of people have fairly delusional thoughts of the Orange routinely getting to 10 or even more wins, despite the fact that's really never been the case for the program.
See, eight victories for this program is really a good measure of success. Occasionally Syracuse will fall short and sometimes it will exceed, but eight wins sounds right for regular expectations. Actually, while we all debate whether "Syracuse Football is back," the Orange has gone out and averaged seven victories a season the last four years. Back or not, it sounds like things are close.
So how does this all add up in 2014? How will the program stay on the up and up and back up Shafer's kind-of prediction? What is the path for Syracuse to finish with eight victories?
Obviously, and above all, key players on both sides of the ball will have to play to, and in some cases above, their abilities. That means Terrel Hunt has to take another step forward as starting quarterback, the running back stable will have to be a workhorse by rotation, and the defense will have to replace Jay Bromley while creating more havoc.
On top of all of that?
First, avoid traps. That means there can't be a slipup at Central Michigan, and ugly or not, a W against Maryland is a necessity. I'll tell you, my "Uh Oh" senses have been tingling about that game in Mt Pleasant, Michigan for months.
Second, win a couple of road games. Last year SU was able to scratch out a couple of slobberknockers on the road (N.C. State, Maryland), the same will have to be done at Wake Forest, Pittsburgh and Boston College this year. Win two of those three and the Orange will be in great shape. And the thing is, there is no reason why Syracuse can't win all three of those contests.
(Syracuse won three times on the road in 2012 and an astounding four times away from the dome in 2010. Why do I mention this here? Because, like last season, '12 and '10 concluded with bowl trips. To go bowling, teams have to win at least a couple of roadies.)
Third, pull some magic (Troy Nunes styles) out of the hat. I'm guessing Florida State is going to run circles around Syracuse, but what about Louisville? Doesn't that seem like a perfect chance for an "upset"? Also, while it likely won't be close to what it was last year (so many injuries), a win over Duke at the dome on November 8 still looks like a potential late-season-defining moment as well.
Lastly, a little luck can only help. That's an impossible intangible to figure, but regardless, every "good" team seems to find some breaks every now and then. Remember 2004 through, oh, 2009? The only thing lucky about Syracuse football back then was that it only lasted three months out of the year. For 2014, the first "lucky bounce" may be what's happening at Notre Dame -- four key contributors are being held out of practice and academic fraud may lead to some major trouble for this Irish team and the entire program. I'm not saying Syracuse is now a lock to beat a depleted Notre Dame, but the odds have certainly shifted. Who knows, maybe this scandal indirectly helps SU move to 4-0 to close out September? And you know which team is up next? Louisville.
Hmm....maybe I've gone too low on SU?
Regardless, before we get all the way down that road, Syracuse has to get to and get through August 29. There's little question that a loss to Villanova to start the season would change the probability of eight wins happening for the worse. Of course, I think SU beats the Wildcats, and then the Chippewas, Terrapins, (I just can't pull the trigger on Syracuse beating Notre Dame, not yet anyway) Cardinals, Demon Deacons, Wolfpack, Blue Devils and Eagles. That's the way to the ceiling or the floor of eight wins for Syracuse. The way it should be, the way foretold by Scott Shafer himself.