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Syracuse football: A roadblock of another kind

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Can the Orange get past some extra demons on Saturday?

NCAA Football: Florida State at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse at Florida State? Normally that’s a no-dice, ain’t-happening situation for the Orange, but the ‘Noles are banged up and seemingly average at best. Plus, there is concrete evidence to believe the Syracuse Orange have improved enough to get a couple of much-needed road victories — a bugaboo in Dino Babers’ short time leading the program. But then again, can this Orange squad win a game it “should” otherwise lose?

The thing about winning at the Florida State Seminoles is that there are a lot of things to actually winning at a place like Florida State. That, of course, goes double for Syracuse, a program with history of not winning those games.

I’m sure Dino Babers and everyone on the team will lean on cliches this week: “It’s about Xs and Os. If we execute our game plan, I like our chances. We’re going to go play Syracuse football and hopefully come out on top.”

All first-day-of-class shit right there.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

But the truth is, those 18- to 22-year olds from little ol’ Syracuse University will have to not only just play the game, and “execute” schemes against the Seminoles, who have under-performed but are still really talented. The Orange also has to soak in Doak Campbell Stadium — a place where SU lost 45-21 in 2015, and was defeated by 56 points in a 2013 trip. It’s not being affected by that pregame slamming of the flaming spear into midfield. It’s the never-ending war chant, either piped in or a belted out by drunk fans screaming over the band. It’s the name on the jersey.

There’s a lot going on at Florida State, even if there isn’t a lot going on with the team.

“But, Matt, you beautiful son of a bitch, Florida State is 2-5 on the year, was just blown out at Boston College (BOSTON COLLEGE) and demoted its defensive coordinator this week. If FSU was ever going beatable at home, THIS is the year!”

Yes, but: Syracuse.

This is SU we’re talking about here, yes? We have all read this book or have seen the not-as-good-as-the-book movie adaptation. As Sean Keeley (who called running this website his “dream job” until leaving on the first train to Chicago), said via Twitter, “I mean, we should be able to beat them, but, that's never stopped us from losing before.”

Miami v Syracuse Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

I can’t help but go back to a game from over 20 years ago. Syracuse’s first Miami trip of the Donovan McNabb era. At the time, the ‘Canes were more than assailable, but the higher-ranked Orangeman never got comfortable and ended up losing by 11 in the old Orange Bowl. That place with the smoke, and the orange and green and a whole ton of history all got to Paul Pasqualoni’s bunch. Maybe the 1995 ‘Canes weren’t that bad. Maye I’m washing over the fact they rolled to seven-straight wins to close out the year. Okay, it wasn’t an unexpected loss, but, just the same, I was never okay with it being a “good loss.” You’ll never convince me that the game at the Canes’ place that season wasn’t there for the taking for McNabb’s crew.

And there are so many other “bad-good losses” to choose from for Orange fans.

The aforementioned Mr. Keeley threw out the road trip to Oklahoma in ’97 as an example of games that probably should have had an opposite result. That one was a two-point classic Pasqualoni defeat. You can throw in neutral-site bowl losses (hello, ’97 Fiesta Bowl), old Big East tilts against lesser opponents.

The list is really probably endless, as in the last half century-plus, more often than not, Syracuse has been on the losing side in certain big games and certain not so big games. So while the ‘Noles will not only miss out on the playoffs, they aren’t likely to even be partaking in any of the roughly 6,000 bowl games. And yet this game still represents something fairly big for Babers. It could be the pelt of one of the biggest bears out there in college football. A continuation of attempting to change the tide of an ocean filled with so many losses.

Florida State v Syracuse Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

You get a victory at a joint like Florida State, Ohio State or Notre Dame, records be damned, you’re saying something to your fan base. It’s about perception that your team can play anyone, anywhere, it can even win AT the big boys. Who cares if there are thousands of empty seats? What’s it matter that Florida State is down this year? It won the dang national title just a few years ago; it’s likely to be back in the mix for another championship in a year or two.

This one is big.

And you know what? With just two road wins in his tenure, beating a team that’s three games below .500 at its home is also pretty damn important. Syracuse football is clearly something better than it was a couple of months ago, a couple of years ago. It really should be able win some games away from the Carrier Dome, something it has only done three times since 2014.

So on one hand, it’s like Syracuse has a chance to overcome its own demons and take another “signature win,” this one on the road. And on the other hand, it’s like SU has to win this coming game because it’s simply the better of the two teams.

The question is will Syracuse remember that once the smoke from the spear clears and the war chants start ringing on Saturday?