I’ll fully admit I was wrong on this one.
After week 11’s action, the Syracuse Orange were winners yet again, of course. But their best win — against then-No. 14 NC State — had been downgraded because the Wolfpack lost to Wake Forest. It seemed reasonable (to me, anyway) that without that win, the Orange could drop a couple spots in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings.
Instead Syracuse rose one spot, to No. 12, the same position they currently hold in both the AP and Coaches Polls.
Here’s the full #CFBPlayoff Top 2️⃣5️⃣ rankings for games played through November 10.— College Football Playoff (@CFBPlayoff) November 14, 2018
Is your team in? pic.twitter.com/wBq7fDvI8Q
I was far from the only one a little surprise (though pleasantly so) with SU moving up despite NC State dropping out. After the reveal, College Football Playoff committee chair Rob Mullens addressed media questions around the rankings, including one around the Orange:
You look at the poll, you see UCF at No. 11 and Syracuse at 12, and they both have a common opponent in the ACC Coastal leader in Pitt. UCF beat them by 31, Syracuse lost by seven. How much separation do you see between those two spots, and do you think that UCF if they win out could have a realistic shot at the playoff with a ranked Cincinnati on their schedule?
Mullens: “Well, again, I’m not going to be predictive because it’s not just what one team does, it’s what all teams do. But when you look at those two teams, Syracuse has a close loss on the road to the No. 2 ranked team in Clemson. Both are very strong offensively. The committee put UCF 11 and Syracuse 12.”
That’s a non-answer if I’ve ever heard one (especially on the UCF question at the end), but it does shed some light on how the committee chooses to consider the Orange. They’re far more focused on one specific result (a 27-23 loss on the road at Clemson) than the current lack of marquee wins. I’m not complaining about that, of course. Just glad we received some clarification around what the committee’s emphasizing: Who you lost to and how, versus who you beat.
Notably, Syracuse’s final two opponents do remain ranked, and that’s where SU could potentially rise pretty rapidly if they can pull off a win (or even two?). This Saturday’s opponent is No. 3 Notre Dame. After that, SU will be on the road against No. 20 Boston College.
By now, you’ve probably read about what happens if we get ahead of ourselves and a lot of other random losses happen around the country. So instead of dissecting that possibility again, ESPN looked at what the New Year’s Six bowl games would look like if the season ended today. Given the fact that SU is in the top 12, and all five power conferences are there too, as is the top G5 team (UCF at No. 11), it means the Orange would be headed to the Peach Bowl.
ESPN lays out the selection process for how we get there:
- Orange Bowl and Cotton Bowl are semifinal games.
- Sugar Bowl is contractually obligated to pick the best remaining SEC (No. 5 Georgia) and Big 12 team (No. 6 Oklahoma).
- Rose Bowl is contractually obligated to pick the best remaining Big Ten (No. 10 Ohio State) and Pac-12 team (No. 8 Washington State).
- Fiesta Bowl is an access bowl, though with the best G5 team (No. 11 UCF) playing in the Peach Bowl last year, they’d get sent out to Arizona this time around. No. 7 LSU’s fan base travels well and would join them there.
- Peach Bowl is also an access bowl, and it would make too much sense to match up No. 9 West Virginia and No. 12 Syracuse.
Of course, we’d take any NY6 bowl invite, but the Peach Bowl is most ideal for fan travel, and West Virginia is potentially the most ideal opponent to face in said bowl.
For starters, our fan bases hate each other, and I’d contend if we were to truly name a (ALL CAPS) football RIVAL, we’d pick them over BC or Pitt, current conference affiliation be damned. The feeling wouldn’t be mutual. That’s fine.
SU and WVU already have a trophy too, making this extra interesting. The Orange have held the Schwartwalder Trophy since 2010, after losing it from 2002-09. Syracuse has won three straight in the series, though only two of those count toward the trophy if you ask one “Saint” Doug Marrone.
Back in 2012, the year after the ‘Eers had left the Big East for the Big 12, we faced off in the Pinstripe Bowl. There was no script for how to handle such an occurrence because everyone just assumed the two schools would always be in the same conference. Doug Marrone was strangely dedicated to the Steinbrenner Trophy being the only thing on the line, and wouldn’t bring the Schwartzwalder to the Bronx. SU won 38-14, so really, we should have.
Anyway: If we faced West Virginia in a bowl game for the second time in our last three postseason trips, I’d hope the trophy would very much be on the line. Dino doesn’t seem like the type of guy to be opposed to such a move. And really, if we’re not going to put it on the line now, then might as well get rid of the thing.
West Virginia has anywhere from two (Pitt, Virginia Tech) to four (Maryland, Penn State?) opponents more important to them than the Orange. The Big 12 plays nine conference games, so the likelihood of us ever really getting on there is slim. A bowl game is the only chance to contest the trophy anytime soon, unless WVU joins the ACC at some point (which... who knows).
More importantly, though: PEACH BOWL IS ON THE TABLE. If SU wants to take advantage of this advantageous situation, it starts with upsetting Notre Dame this weekend.