Ed. Note - This week, TNIAAM writers are taking a stab at telling you why this football team will finish with a specific record.
- Monday: 3-9 (Brian Tahmosh)
- Tuesday: 4-8 (Michael Burke)
- Wednesday: 5-7 (James Szuba)
- Thursday: 6-6 (John Cassillo)
- Friday: 7-5 (Sean Keeley)
Even coming off a 3-9 season, 4-8 might sound pessimistic for Syracuse in 2015. But on paper it's entirely possible and, if you ask Las Vegas, maybe even probable. In May, both offshore sportsbook 5Dimes and Chris Andrews of Against the Numbers set the Orange's over/under win total at 4.5 wins.
If SU does finish with four wins, it might be the ultimate worst-case scenario. Anything worse than 4-8 and it's probably time to move on from Scott Shafer. Anything better and it's probably enough to warrant keeping him at least another year. But 4-8 itself is tricky, because it doesn't indicate much progress but it is a slight improvement after a dreadful 2014.
Whether or not Shafer were to keep his job after a 4-8 campaign might depend largely on how the Orange arrives at four wins. Here's how I see it playing out:
Rhode Island: Last year, we thought Villanova was a cupcake. The Wildcats didn't turn out to be, but Rhode Island certainly is. The Rams finished 1-11 in 2014 and had a point differential of minus-259. They likely won't be much better this season, either. So on this Friday night opener, it won't come down to a goal-line stand. Syracuse cruises. W (1-0, 0-0 Atlantic Coast)
Wake Forest: Though Wake Forest's front seven could be really good in 2015, there are no signs pointing to its offense being anything but really bad. As was the case in last season's loss to SU, the Demon Deacons can't score enough points to keep it close. W (2-0, 1-0)
Central Michigan: Behind Cooper Rush's arm, the Chippewas keep it interesting -- or at least more interesting than the 40-3 drubbing they suffered to the Orange a year ago. But Terrel Hunt and Syracuse get the best of a shaky CMU secondary and pull away in the second half.
LSU: From the first whistle onward, this one isn't close. Syracuse has extreme difficulty even moving the ball against one of the country's best defenses. On the other side of the ball, Tigers running back Leonard Fournette runs all over the Orange defense. But, hey, it's a good thing SU scheduled a home-and-home with LSU, because losing 34-3 is really attractive to potential recruits and a great way to get bowl eligible. L (3-1, 1-0)
At South Florida: At this point, the wheels will be falling off for USF and Syracuse will still be feeling pretty good about itself despite the LSU loss. With a tough schedule ahead, this is a must-win for the Orange, and Terrel Hunt takes full advantage of a Bulls secondary that finished 2014 ranked 116th in defensive passing S&P+. W (4-1, 1-0)
At Virginia: The Hoos were better in 2014 than their 5-7 record indicated; they lost five one-possession games and had college football's 28th-ranked defense. And though they only return five starters on defense, they should have enough talent on that side of the ball to avoid an enormous step backward. Virginia's offense will again be mediocre, but that's good enough to beat Syracuse in the Orange's first conference road test. L (4-2, 1-1)
Pittsburgh: This will be a big one for Syracuse. Win and you're 5-2, just a victory shy of bowl eligibility with all the momentum in the world on your side. Lose and you're suddenly 4-3 with the gauntlet of your schedule awaiting. Unfortunately for the Orange, Pittsburgh's offensive weapons -- see: Tyler Boyd and James Conner -- are too much to contain. L (4-3, 1-2)
At Florida State: Even in the post-Jameis Winston era, Florida State is still far, far superior to the Orange in just about every aspect. But you didn't need me to tell you that. Syracuse loses big. L (4-4, 1-3)
At Louisville: Beating the Cardinals won't be as impossibly difficult as topping the Seminoles, but Syracuse will still be a heavy underdog when it travels to north-central Kentucky. Look for Louisville's excellent front seven to overwhelm the Orange throughout the day in a rather convincing victory for Bobby Petrino's group. L (4-5, 1-4)
Clemson: Unless Deshaun Watson gets hurt again, Syracuse will stand little chance against Clemson. After missing last season's meeting with the Orange in Death Valley, Watson torches Syracuse's inconsistent secondary, and Terrel Hunt fails to do the same against the Tigers' top-notch pass defense. Suddenly the Orange is one loss from again missing out on bowl season. L (4-6, 1-5)
At N.C. State: With its back against the wall, Syracuse keeps things interesting in Raleigh. But between Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton, the Wolfpack's offense is simply too versatile. This turns into a shootout, and the Orange can't keep up. L (4-7, 1-6)
Boston College: Save for whatever importance senior day holds, this game will be essentially meaningless from Syracuse's perspective. But for Boston College, a win could mean bowl eligibility. And that incentive is all the Eagles need for an easy win against a flat SU squad. L (4-8, 1-7)
Again, technically, this would be a small step forward after last season. But after seven consecutive losses to end the season, it wouldn't feel like improvement. At least Syracuse would have the 2016 recruiting class to look forward to, which might be enough to save Shafer his job in this scenario.